Essential oils are now widely available, unlike in the past when they could only be bought at specialist stores and natural food stores. Due in large part to their appealing scents and the advantages associated with them, the popularity of these natural plant-derived oils has soared in recent years. Not only do essential oils make our houses smell wonderful, but supporters say the calming aromas may also be able to boost our health and make us feel more focused.
But are our pets safe from these products? The use of essential oils to enhance pet health is still debatable. While some holistic veterinarians and practitioners of alternative medicine may advise using particular essential oils, the majority of veterinary specialists advise pet parents to avoid them. The advantages of essential oils for dogs are, at best, untested. Some essential oils have the potential to seriously jeopardize your pet’s health.
Unfortunately, because our pets frequently can’t metabolize things the way we do, products that are labeled “all natural” or “organic” are not necessarily suitable for dogs and cats. They find it challenging to get rid of some essential oils and other contaminants from their body as a result. If consumed, inhaled, or administered topically to pets, especially in forms that are very concentrated, they can be extremely harmful.
Pet owners should use caution while utilizing essential oils near their animals. Make sure you are aware of safe essential oil usage techniques and which essential oils should never be used. Pets other than dogs and cats are also susceptible to injury from essential oils, including rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, and other small animals. Particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of inhaled oils are birds.
How Essential Oils Affect Dogs and Cats
It’s crucial to understand the fundamentals of how essential oils function in order to keep your pet safe around them. The fatty aromatic chemicals known as essential oils are taken from numerous plants. These substances are extracted through distillation into a variety of concentrations, ranging from 100% pure essential oils to concentrations as low as 1-2%, which are then diluted with a non-aromatic carrier oil. The risk to pets increases as the oil’s concentration increases.
Due to their lipophilic nature, essential oils are easily absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes (including the lining of the mouth and nose), which then transport the oils into the bloodstream where the liver metabolizes and excretes the majority of them.
Essential oils can also be inhaled as fragrances, which can then travel through the nose to the olfactory nerves and the amygdala, where they cause a reaction in the brain’s emotional center. For instance, the aromas of peppermint and lavender might generate feelings of strength and enthusiasm respectively. Numerous individuals utilize essential oils for a variety of potential health advantages, such as regulating sleep, lowering anxiety, and relieving muscle aches and nasal congestion. Some essential oils may also serve as insect repellents in addition to aromatherapy, keeping mosquitoes and other bugs away.
Pure essential oils, air fresheners, room sprays, flavorings, herbal remedies, perfumes, aromatherapy jewelry, bath and personal products, home cleaning products (like Pine-Sol), candles, liquid potpourri, as well as passive or active diffusers are just a few of the many forms that essential oils can take.
Reed diffusers, warmers, and plug-in diffusers are examples of passive diffusers. Essential oil aromas from these diffusers might irritate dogs’ and cats’ respiratory systems. In contrast, active diffusers, such nebulizers or ultrasonic diffusers, release microdroplets of oil that stick to adjacent objects in addition to a scent. Using active diffusers can actually put your pet at risk for an even bigger danger when they consume the oil on their fur while being groomed, in addition to respiratory irritation.
Pet-safe Essential Oils
Most essential oils should be avoided by pet owners, however a handful can be used on animals safely. For instance, the safest essential oil for both dogs and cats is probably lavender (when used sparingly and in the right proportion). Other oils, nevertheless, which are healthy for dogs might not be suitable for cats due to species differences.
When using an oil, it must be properly diluted and applied. Since essential oils’ toxicity is dose-dependent, a product’s potential risk increases as it becomes more concentrated.
Your veterinarian can provide guidance on the proper carrier oils to use for your pet as well as dose and dilution recommendations for various oils (such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, almond oil, and grapeseed oil). For adequate dilution of pet-friendly oils, it is typically necessary to use at least 1 drop of pure essential oil to 50 drops of a pure carrier oil.
Remember that even safe essential oils can irritate the airways when breathed. Before using an essential oil product advertised for pets, such as shampoos, sprays, or relaxing treats, it is always a good idea to consult your veterinarian about its safety.
Additionally, just because an oil is safe for a dog or cat doesn’t mean it will automatically make them healthier. For instance, citrus oils, such as citronella and lemon, can potentially help lessen the severity of flea and tick infestations as well as the prevalence of mosquitoes when applied to repel pests. However, no scientific study has established that these essential oils are completely successful at avoiding mosquito bites or disease-carrying external parasites, particularly not at a level that is safe and non-toxic. As a result, essential oils should never take the place of year-round, monthly flea, tick, and heartworm prevention methods that have been approved by a veterinarian.
Dogs can safely use essential oils:
- works as an insect repellent Cedarwood oil
- Chamomile oil: induces a calming effect and aids in calming the digestive system
- Citrus oils, such as lemon oil and orange oil, serve as a deodorizer and a mosquito repellent.
- Oil of eucalyptus
- Flaxseed oil
- Frankincense oil is currently being studied as a treatment for canine and human bladder cancer.
- A member of the sunflower family called helichrysum oil may be able to treat bleeding issues.
- Dog parents may also want to think about the relaxing line of Adaptil canine appeasing pheromone products, such as collars, sprays, and diffusers. Lavender oil: has a calming effect.
- oil of lemongrass
- Some mint oils (peppermint, spearmint) can soothe gastrointestinal distress.
- rosé oil
Suitable Essential Oils for Cats:
- oil of chamomile
- jojoba oil
- Lemongrass oil
Keep These Essential Oils Away from Pets
It’s not a good idea to presume that an essential oil is safe for the pet parent is also safe for the pet when it comes to essential oils. Due to metabolic variations, the same oil that we can consume without experiencing any negative consequences might harm our pets’ respiratory, neurologic, and liver systems in addition to causing GI discomfort and chemical burns to their mouths or esophaguses. In extreme circumstances, death might occur.
Essential oils can have hazardous effects on animals, cats in particular. Cats are particularly susceptible to developing toxicity when oils cling to their skin or fur since they are such meticulous groomers. In such situations, oils concurrently pass the skin barrier, are ingested, and are inhaled into the body, quickly building up to toxic concentrations in the bloodstream. Pet parents should refrain from using oral, topical, and other inhalation oils around cats because felines are deficient in the enzymes that allow the liver to digest many essential oils and eliminate toxins.
Use of essential oils should also be avoided around dogs and cats with liver diseases, elderly pets, puppies and kittens, pregnant or nursing animals, and pets with respiratory diseases (including asthma and bronchitis). Additionally, keep dogs away from such oils in direct dermal contact if they have open wounds or sores because the broken skin may allow for quicker absorption.
The eyes, ears, nose, and genitalia of your pet should not be exposed to essential oils. Applying an essential oil to the ear canal in an effort to treat ear mites, for example, can harm your pet’s skin, nerves, and eardrums. Your veterinarian should handle the ear mite treatment! Furthermore, applying an essential oil topically, such as tea tree oil, to address dermatological disorders like hot spots or skin allergies frequently results in considerably more skin irritability. Any potential benefits are considerably outweighed by the risks.
The list that follows is not all-inclusive, but it does include some of the most popularly harmful essential oils. If unsure, speak with your veterinarian or look for dangerous and non-toxic plants on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) website.
Dogs shouldn’t use essential oils:
- Cannabis oil
- Hot oils (such as oregano, clove, and cinnamon oils): Due to its putative insect repellent effects, cinnamon oil is a component of certain over-the-counter “natural” flea and tick spot-on treatments and collars, however it can be poisonous to dogs and cats and offers only partial protection against external parasites.
- Oil of pennyroyal
- Pine resins
- Oil of sweet birch
- The majority of essential oil toxicity instances in dogs and cats are caused by tea tree oil, commonly known as melaleuca oil. Tea tree oil has some antibacterial characteristics, however dogs and cats should never be given it or have it rubbed to their skin or fur. If given directly to a dog or cat, tea tree oil can be extremely poisonous, even when diluted.
- herb oil
- oil of wintergreen
Unhealthy Essential Oils for Cats:
- herb oil
- Astringent almond oil
- Citrus oils, which include citronella, bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, and tangerine oils and include the chemical d-limonene: Citrus scents are often not liked by cats. While you might be tempted to use citrus oils like lemon or orange oils around areas where your cat is marking their territory with urine or jumping in inappropriate places, these products should be avoided because cats are toxic to the d-limonene component of citrus oils. Consider a secure and reliable substitute, like Feliway pheromone spray or diffuser, to help soothe your cat and prevent undesirable harmful behaviors.
- Garlic oil
- Oil of geranium
- warm oils (including cinnamon oil, clove oil, and oregano oil)
- oil of juniper
- Mint or menthol oils, such as those from eucalyptus, peppermint, spearmint, sweet birch, and wintergreen:
- *These two oils include methyl salicylates, which are poisonous to cats and are substances related to aspirin.
- Iris oil
- Spice oil
- Garlic oil
- Pine resins (these contain toxic phenols)
- rosmarinic oil
- Oil of sandalwood
- Oil of sassafras
- Turmeric oil
- Oil of tea tree (also known as melaleuca oil)
- Wisteria oil
- Oil of ylang ylang
How to Spot Signs of Essential Oil Poisoning in Pets
Pet owners should keep an eye out for these symptoms of essential oil intoxication in their animals. It is essential to seek immediate veterinary care as soon as any of these symptoms emerge in order to avoid permanent hepatic, pulmonary, or neurological damage.
Is it safe for dogs to breathe lavender oil?
So, if something is beneficial for humans, it must also be good for dogs, right? both yes and no
Lavender essential oil is first and foremost completely safe and mild enough to assist in treating dogs. However, you only need to be a little extra cautious around your furry pet.
Approximately 3 pounds of lavender flowers are required to make just 15 ml of lavender essential oil, and this, together with a variety of biologically active and potent chemicals, can provide some potential issues for our canine friends.
Dogs, for example, have a much better sense of smell than you do. Dogs are thought to have a 1,000–10,000 times stronger sense of smell than humans. Since it is their main sense (yours is sight), it makes natural that they always have their faces lowered to the ground. What you perceive as a gentle aroma for others may actually be a forceful attack on their senses. Therefore, it’s crucial to dilute the essential oil before using it on dogs.
In addition, dogs are considerably lighter and smaller than their human counterparts. Although they can topically apply lavender oil to their skin and safely inhale it, their small bodies are far less equipped to handle human-sized dosages. The breed, size, age, and general health of your dog will all help you determine the proper dosage and dilution levels for your pet, which is where things can become complex. If in doubt, speak with a holistic veterinarian.
Aside from being smaller than humans, dogs also have a very different metabolism. Therefore, it is undoubtedly a bad idea for your dog to consume essential oil through their drinking water, food, or even by licking it off their skin. Furthermore, you shouldn’t leave any essential oils lying about where your dog can unintentionally ingest them. They could get really sick from it.
It’s crucial to use only lavender essential oils that are 100% pure and of the highest caliber on your dog. Numerous solutions that look like essential oils but are really just fragrances that have a pleasant scent will not function as effectively as essential oils and may even be harmful. Make sure you purchase from a reliable company and keep an eye out for the Latin name Lavandula Angustifolia on the bottle.
Can lavender be used to relax dogs?
Lavender is most well-known for its relaxing effects, which extend to dogs as well as humans. When working with a dog that is very anxious about getting groomed, our groomers occasionally apply some lavender oil on their hands. Their worry and stress are reduced by breathing in the lavender. This method can also be applied to soothe a dog during thunder or fireworks.
What scents can dogs relax with?
My cat Pretzel made it known when I was a young kid that she did not enjoy car rides. Luckily, my mum came up with a fantastic idea.
She suggested, “Let’s put your sweatshirt inside her carrier instead of that blanket. ” It smells like you and is soft. She’ll probably find it reassuring.
It was quite helpful, and even today, when my pets stay at a friend’s house or a boarding facility, I still have a piece of clothing or a toy that smells like me in my bag. Animals in fact respond favorably to a variety of fragrances, not just our own, according to veterinary studies, which is one of the reasons why pheromone dispensers are a common sight at Fear Free offices.
We also know that dogs have up to 220 million scent receptors in their noses, compared to humans’ five million, making their sense of smell considerably stronger than ours. Because of this, dogs are trained to identify lost hikers, look for the strays of extinct species, find drugs being smuggled, and even detect changes in blood sugar levels in diabetics.
It’s hardly surprising that smells can alter dogs’ behavior and comfort levels given their keen sense of smell. Because of this, a group of British researchers sought to investigate whether using essential oils could improve the welfare of shelter dogs by lowering stress levels.
The study (Applied Animal Behaviour Science, May 2018) examined the behavioral effects of olfactory stimulation on dogs in a rescue facility using four scents: vanilla, coconut, valerian, and ginger. In two animal shelters in the United Kingdom, fifteen dogs of various breeds, genders, ages, and sizes were subjected to six different “olfactory conditions”—four different cloths scented with the essential oils, in addition to two controls (an unscented cloth and a control situation without any cloth present).
The dogs were given only two 10-minute walks a day, leaving them in desperate need of environmental enrichment. Eight of them had previously been stray animals, four had been owner surrenders, and three had been moved from another shelter. To avoid results being influenced by anticipation, the two-hour observation sessions were planned far from the dogs’ meals and walks. The cloths were placed in the middle of each enclosure by the researchers, where the dogs were free to touch or otherwise “interact” with them.
The canines’ stress markers were shown to be significantly improved by the smells. When exposed to the oils, all four scented cloths resulted in reduced vocalizing (such as barking, snarling, or whining) as well as less pacing and more relaxing. The canines spent more time napping after exposure to the coconut and ginger samples.
The study came to the conclusion that exposure to the scents of vanilla, coconut, valerian, and ginger has the potential to reduce stress in shelter dogs since barking and excessive activity are frequently indicators of stress in shelter dogs—in addition to being undesirable behaviors in the eyes of many adopters.
In the end, the research provides encouraging news for those who want to use environmental enrichment to improve the lives of dogs both in shelters and in our homes. Apply a few drops of an essential oil with the aroma of vanilla, coconut, ginger, or valerian to a bandana if you want to do your own experiment. Allow your pet to examine the bandana. Tie the bandana around her neck if she gives you a positive response. She might tone down her barking or even lie down for a nap. Regardless of how it happens, your activities and attention will stimulate your dog’s mind and deepen your relationship.
Dr. Kenneth Martin, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, and/or veterinary technician Debbie Martin, an expert in behavior, evaluated and revised this material.