You may have heard about the healing properties of essential oils. Could they have similar effects for our dogs? And which ones are safest for our canine family members?
Essential oils are extracted from plants and the quality of the oil is impacted by several conditions—the sunlight, altitude, and even how much water a plant receives.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils – the concentrated, aromatic oils extracted from plants through distillation, most often by steam. “To get an idea of how precious these oils are, consider how much of the plant is required to produce them: 220 pounds of lavender yield only seven pounds of lavender essential oils,” says the author of The Holistic Dog.
The author of Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals, Kristen Leigh Bell, explains, “Oils that are produced specifically for the aromatherapy industry are typically made with the same care and attention that goes into a fine bottle of wine.”
How can essential oils and aromatherapy help dogs?
Essential oils are known to help with everything from skin irritations to fighting fleas. Lavender is popular for dogs because of its calming effects, and peppermint is thought to stimulate circulation and deter insects, for instance. Veterinarian Dr. Janet Roark, known as the “essential oil vet,” has many good links and resources available about the benefits of essential oils (and how to safely use them) on her Facebook page and website.
Essential oils are often used by veterinarians, in fact, as calming tools—as so many dogs experience anxiety in their offices (unless, of course, they’re lucky enough to offer in-home vet care.)
One recent survey, reports BARK Magazine, reveals that veterinarians use essential oils in disparate ways. “They were diffusing lavender in waiting and exam rooms, using essential oils for odor control, doing light massage with frankincense, blending lemongrass in sweet almond oil for cruciate or joint injuries.”
Other uses include everything from increasing appetite in dogs to combating fatigue and addressing an animal’s physical and emotional issues.
For example, my dog Sherman suffers from anxiety, so we use lavender to help calm his nerves. We add a few drops of lavender to the essential oil diffuser we have in our kitchen to help calm all the dogs when we leave the house.
How to use essential oils with your dog
Based on research, remember this about using essential oils with your pets: LESS IS MORE.
Always start with 100% pure essential oils, and then DILUTE these oils before using them topically on your dogs.
- A rough guideline is to add about 3-6 drops of essential oils to 1 oz. (30 ml) of carrier oil.
- Uuse a smaller amount of diluted oils on small dogs vs. big dogs – and less amounts of diluted oils on puppies and senior dogs.
- Use a hydrosol, a water-based byproduct obtained during the steam distillation process of an essential oil.
Dr. Janet Roark adds the following precautions about using essential oils with cats or dogs:
- Do not use around eyes, ears, nose, or genitals.
- Exercise caution with pregnant or nursing pets.
- Know your pet’s health status and behavior, and discontinue use if concerns arise.
Note that all of these tips apply to dogs only. In general, essential oils are more dangerous for cats, and you should absolutely check with your veterinarian before considering their use with cats.
More safety tips
Before trying aromatherapy at home with your dogs, keep these safety tips in mind—and be sure to check with your vet if you have any questions or concerns. Dogs are more sensitive to essential oils than we are, so even if you’re familiar with them for yourself, remember that it’s a different story with your dog.
- Essential oils should always be diluted before use, even if just inhaling.
- Only use essential oils with your dogs when needed to address a specific, ongoing and active concern – not to “prevent” a health issue.
- Do not add essential oils to your dog’s food or drinking water.
- Avoid using essential oils with puppies under 10 weeks of age.
- Check with a holistic vet before using any essential oils on pregnant dogs. In particular, do not use stimulating oils (e.g. peppermint, rosemary, tea tree) on pregnant dogs.
- Do not use oils on epileptic dogs or dogs who are seizure-prone. Some oils, such as rosemary, may trigger seizures (in humans too).
- Do not use oils in or close to the eyes, in the ears, directly on or close to the nose, on mucous membranes, or in the anal or genital areas.
Five most common essential oils to use with dogs
Aromatherapy dates back to 1912, and a great deal of research has been done in the veterinary industry on how it can be used to treat specific issues.
Below is a short list of essential oils that experts say are safe to use on animals.
- Lavender: Universal oil, can use pure or diluted. Useful in conditioning patients to a safe space. May help allergies, burns, ulcers, insomnia, car ride anxiety and car sickness, to name a few.
- Cardamom: Diuretic, anti-bacterial, normalizes appetite, colic, coughs, heartburn and nausea.
- Chamomile: Anti-inflammatory, non-toxic, gentle and safe to use. Good for skin irritations, allergic reactions, burns.
- Spearmint: Helps to reduce weight. Good for colic, diarrhea, nausea. Helps balance metabolism, stimulates gallbladder. Not for use with cats.
- Thyme: Pain relief, good for arthritis and rheumatism. Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral, excellent for infections and other skin issues.
Essential oils to avoid
Essential oils can be dangerous to dogs when ingested or otherwise when coming into contact with the skin. Keep this in mind for any oils you’re using with your dog, and always diffuse. Some oils should be avoided, regardless, because of their higher risk to dogs. These include tea tree, cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, pine, sweet birch, wintergreen, and ylang ylang.
Symptoms of essential oil poisoning for dogs have included:
- Muscle tremors
- Difficulty in walking
- Low body temperature
- Excessive salivation
- Excessive pawing at mouth or face
The bottom line
Be sure to consult with your vet before trying any essential oils with your dog. And if you’ve tried aromatherapy with your dog and had success, we’d love to hear about it!