Essential oils can shift our mood, balance our bodily systems, improve respiratory function, relieve pain, invigorate and lift vibrations, amongst several other things. But have you ever thought abut how essential oils can impact the little furry ones in our lives?
In my own experience as an animal lover and aromatherapist, I have studied up on precautions and specifications for using essential oils on animals. Since cats and dogs have a stronger sense of smell, and smaller bodies, the biggest mistake we can make is using too much of a strong essential oil on our pets.
Just because you love a certain fragrance doesn’t necessarily mean your pet will too. This goes for alcohol-based perfumes as well. There can be dire long-term effects if you don’t take care in providing a scent-safe environment for your pet. Here are some guidelines for using essential oils that will ensure the safety and happiness of your pet.
Three essential oil application methods
There are three ways living beings can apply and benefit from essential oils. We can start by diffusing them into the air, and if this is received well, we can continue to topical application, lastly, there is the option (for dogs only) to ingest essential oils.
This is the gentlest way to affect the bodily system. Within 45 seconds of inhaling essential oils, all of our bodily systems are slightly altered. Dogs and cats have millions of olfactory receptors and therefore are very susceptible to odour particles.
If you are using a diffuser in your home, it is best to use an ultrasonic or nebulizing one, as these use electricity to slowly disperse essential oil particles into the air. It is not wise to use candle diffusers as they burn off essential oils too quickly, reducing their therapeutic and medicinal effects. These also have the potential to harm animals with a highly saturated scent dose that can adversely affect them.
When diffusing essential oils around your pet, make sure your diffuser is out of reach of your pet. In addition, you should start small by only putting one to two drops of essential oil into the diffuser. When using oils for the very first time, make sure you observe your pet’s response. Be mindful, as your pet is not verbally able to tell you if the essential oil you are diffusing is giving them breathing problems or a skin rash. Take notice of how your pet reacts. If they snuggle up next to the diffuser when you diffuse certain oils, take that as a sign they like it. If they start scratching furniture, barking or hissing or want to stay outside while a certain scent is on – take that as a nonverbal cue.
I started diffusing Four Thieves essential oil blend (cinnamon, clove, lemon, eucalyptus & rosemary) at bedtime with the bedroom door closed. I noticed my dog would always sleep on the opposite corner of the bed when I did this. I later realised that this is because some of the ‘hot’ oils in Four Thieves have adverse affects for dogs (as well as cats). Now if I use thieves, I make sure to do so in the living room during the daytime, so my pup can go outside or hang out in another room.
Once your pet has responded favourably to a particular essential oil, you can then graduate from diffusing oils to applying them topically. Remember that an essential oil is 100 times stronger than their plant source.
Topical application is done by diluting an essential oil with carrier oil or water and applying it directly directly to your pet’s fur or skin.
Massage: Dilute 1 – 2 drops of essential oil in 20ml of carrier oil, such as coconut, olive or sweet almond oil. Rub the oil into your hands and then massage your pet. Be mindful of the size of your pet. Smaller pets will benefit from only one drop of essential oil, while larger pets (20kg and over) can be ok with two. Try not to apply essential oil to an area your pet can reach with its tongue, or to their face. This method is not recommended for cats.
Cologne: Apply one drop of essential oil and 3 – 5 drops of carrier oil to your palms and then stroke your pet’s fur. This is like applying cologne to your pet.
Shampoo: You can also put 2 – 3 drops of essential oil into your pets shampoo bottle so they get an extra burst of natural healing when being washed.
Bathing: Add two drops of essential oil for every five litres of water while bathing your dog.
Spray: Combine two to four drops of essential oil to a one litre spray bottle, shake well and spray on bedding, car seats, pet area, throws and pillows your dog or cat tends to lay on. Do not to spray this essential oil and water-based spray directly onto your pet.
Brush application: You can also apply two drops of essential oil to your dog or cat’s brush to help them to relax while grooming, as well as to manage fleas and ticks. To do this, put essential oil directly onto a tissue and then rub the tissue over the bristle tips.
Cats: a word of caution for topical application
Cats are particularly at risk for reacting negatively to essential oils (or any scents in the home). Some essential oils can cause liver and kidney toxicity since cats use a different system to detoxify their liver. They are particularly sensitive to essential oils that contain polyphenolic compounds, which interfere with their liver detoxification process. Cats are not able to absorb and eliminate essential oils in the same way that humans and dogs can if ingested. Scent molecules build up in cat livers, which can eventually lead to illness. Therefore keep topical application to a minimum with your cat.
The last way of applying essential oils to your pets is the most controversial: ingestion. There are many sources that say not to do this. However, I have done so for years and have seen no adverse effects. There is only one essential oil that I would feed my dog, and that is peppermint. Since I do not frequently brush my dog’s teeth, I have made up a basic edible toothpaste with high quality peppermint essential oil, baking soda and coconut oil. I sometimes give it as a treat when my pup’s breath is particularly bad.
What kinds of oils to use on your pets
It is crucial to know which essential oils are safe to use on your pet. This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, it gives a general overview of which oils to focus on and which to avoid when offering support to your pet via essential oils. The following are safe to use in small amounts on both cats and dogs.
Lavender: great for relaxing your animal companion when they are anxious, home alone, on road trips, or at bedtime.
Frankincense: is a natural antiseptic, and is great for healing injuries, relieving itchiness, allergies, and infections. With massage, it can also ease pain and discomfort from arthritis.
Cedarwood: helps to repel fleas and ticks and promotes a healthy skin and coat. It can be also used as a cheaper substitute for frankincense. It will relax your furry companion and also helps treat skin conditions.
Myrrh: helps to fight allergies and promotes a healthy skin and coat.
Clary Sage: calms nervousness and excitability.
Peppermint: Helps freshen breath and soothes arthritis pain, hip dysplasia, and repels pests. (Not good for cats)
Carrot seed: supports healthy skin and combats dryness when applied topically.
Ginger: relieves arthritis and hip dysplasia pain and supports healthy digestion.
Helchrysium: when applied topically can help with pain relief and skin issues.
When it comes to being cautious about which essential oils to avoid – dogs and cats both have a different set of hazardous oils. However, both dogs and cats will have adverse reactions to clove, wintergreen and thyme.
Dogs should avoid anise, garlic, juniper, horseradish, and yarrow.
Cats should avoid cinnamon, citrus, oregano, peppermint, tea tree, nutmeg, birch, pine, citronella, cypress, myrtle, rosemary.
Essential oil quality
Above all, make sure you purchase 100% pure essential oils from a trusted supplier. Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA and thus, most cheaper oils will be diluted or adulterated to keep costs down. Even if they say 100% pure on the label, this does not guarantee that they have been distilled several times before being put in the bottle for sale. Always be sure to store your essential oils away from sunlight and extreme hot or cold temperatures. Beware of cheap synthetic copies and fragrance oils, which are often the cause of toxicity amongst dogs and cats.
In my opinion, Young Living essential oils are the highest quality you can get, since their business is completely transparent and anyone can go to their numerous farms around the world and witness / participate in the distillation process. No other essential oil producers offer such a transparent business model. In any case, use your own digression when choosing where to purchase your oils from.
Talk to your vet
Veterinarians are skilled in the diagnosis of disease in animals and should always be consulted. This is especially important in situations where symptoms are severe or persist for long periods of time. Always tell your veterinarian what natural products you plan to use on your pet, to ensure they think it’s a good idea.
Lastly, I am not a doctor. None of this information is intended to diagnose or treat any illness or irritability. These are examples of my own experience with treating my dog with essential oils, and should not be used in place of expert medical advice.