I recently sent out a survey asking my subscribers what aromatherapy topics they are interested in reading about. At least one respondent indicated they were interested in learning how to use essential oils with pets. I need to disclose upfront that pet aromatherapy is outside of my scope of practice and so I am not qualified to administer essential oils to anyone but humans. However, if a subscriber says that a certain topic is important, then I’m going to do my best to provide the information he or she needs.
As you know, essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts and need to be treated with respect. Since humans can be poisoned from excessive exposure to plant materials, the same is true of our furry companions. This article will focus primarily on practical applications of essential oils for pets and safety information.
I talk about safety in a number of previous articles. As adults, we are better equipped to handle the administration of essential oils than children or pets. Children and pets generally don’t have the ability to understand safety precautions, nor are their immune systems as well developed as adults. It is our responsibility to protect our kids and pets from dangers such as dermal irritation, sensitization, photosensitivity and ingesting essential oils without professional guidance. What you don’t know can hurt you, your child, or your pets.
We all know that young children will put just about anything in their mouths. Cats and dogs generally like to lick things. I’m going to leave this advice here: if you think your pet may have consumed or had contact with essential oils, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888-426-4435 and contact your veterinarian.
We know that pets react differently to substances than humans. What is generally regarded as safe may not be okay for animals. Cats can be especially sensitive to essential oils. Your pet can inadvertently inhale, lick or eat essential oils, and the oils can be absorbed through your pet’s skin. (1)
Since most pets have a lower body mass and different digestive and respiratory systems than humans, they cannot handle the same concentrations of essential oils as we can. A safe dose of an essential oil for a 150-pound adult human could very well be toxic or overwhelming to a 20-pound pet. Please consult your veterinarian before you use essential oils on or near your pets.
Since dogs and cats have a much better sense of smell than humans, essential oil vapors can be irritating to them. Birds especially should be protected from strong scents — they have very different and more sensitive respiratory tracts than we do, and the diffusion of essential oils around birds is not recommended. (2)
Essential oils in pet care products are generally constituted in greatly diluted amounts. Many natural flea shampoos may contain essential oils, but because of the dilution of these oils with other ingredients, they are generally safe to use according to label directions. Never apply essential oils undiluted (NEAT) to the skin of your pet, especially if the skin is broken. The volatile compounds can quickly be absorbed into the bloodstream and possibly damage vital organs. Essential oils should also never be given orally because many of them can damage the liver. If your pet has ingested essential oils, call your veterinarian immediately and/or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888-426-4435. (3)
Many commercial products are available for repelling fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and flies from the fur of cats and dogs. Some of the essential oils you can safely use on dogs for flea and tick prevention are lavender, lemon, citronella, sage, clary sage, bergamot, cedarwood, lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint, geranium, sweet orange, and rosemary. Dogs have sensitive noses and smaller organs than we do, so dilution is essential, and to a greater extent than for humans. (4)
Many essential oils that are considered unsafe for humans are also unsafe for dogs. This site has a comprehensive list of such oils in the middle of the article.
According to Animal Wellness Magazine, the following six essential oils are natural insect repellents, and some are actually insecticidal: lavender, cedarwood, geranium, lemongrass, eucalyptus, and lavender tea tree, also known as swamp paperbark or Rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia). (5)
One way to repel insects from your dog’s fur coat is to prepare a lotion made from unscented aloe vera gel diluted with filtered water, and incorporating one or more of the six essential oils listed above. To increase the power of the lotion, add a small amount of cold-pressed Neem Seed Oil (Azidirachta indica), one of nature’s strongest insecticides. Essential oils evaporate quickly, so they don’t last very long on their own, yet neem oil will stay active for a few days. Rub a small amount through your dog’s coat every few days. Concentrate on the places where pests congregate. (6)
Another way to repel insects from your dog’s fur coat is using hydrosol sprays for daily applications, or around the face to protect from mosquitoes. Dilute a hydrosol such as Eucalyptus or Lavender (or both) 50/50 with distilled water. (7) If you are unfamiliar with hydrosols, one of my previous blog articles talks about them in depth.
Yet another insect repellent method is to add a few squirts of the lotion to a bucket ¼ full of water to make a coat conditioning/flea repelling wash. Wet your dog down first, then sponge the conditioner on his coat, leaving it to air dry. (8)
As with humans, essential oils possess aromatherapeutic benefits for animals. For example, rubbing diluted essential oils such as Roman chamomile helps to calm and soothe your pet’s irritated skin, due to the anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties of this particular oil. The same can be said for lavender, which can also reduce a dog’s anxiety levels. According to Dr. Karen Becker, “many pets have [a] dramatic improvement in their response to stress and anxiety with the use of oils.” (9)
Essential oils such as lavender can be diffused into the air, or diluted in another carrier oil like coconut oil or jojoba oil and then applied to the pads of their pet’s feet. Do not apply essential oils near a pet’s face or other sensitive areas. Only high-quality oils from reputable companies should be used for aromatherapy. (10) In a previous article, I talk about the prevalence of fake essential oils being sold online and in stores. Adulterated essential oils are less effective and can also result in unwanted side effects.
Special Considerations For Cats
Do not apply undiluted essential oils directly onto cats. Cats are not able to metabolize essential oils because they lack the liver enzyme glucuronyl transferase. Instead, apply a diluted version of the oil at a strength of 1 drop in 25 ml of carrier oil, which equates to approximately 0.2 percent. Here is a link to a convenient essential oil dilution calculator. Let your cat choose whether it wants to use the essential oil and stop using the oil if your cat resists. Important: do not use an essential oil that contains phenols. “Hot” oils such as cinnamon and clove are examples. (11)
An Amazon reviewer mixed a bit of cedarwood essential oil with a lotion and rubbed it on the back of her cat’s neck where she cannot lick it, and consistently uses this blend to keep fleas away. Another reviewer diffuses a few drops of lavender oil so that her cat can gently inhale it throughout the night. (12)
In my opinion, lavender essential oil is one of the safest in existence, as well as one of the most versatile. Anyone considering using essential oils with their pets should start with this one, diluted in a carrier oil, for topical application. Pets require special considerations because their digestive and respiratory systems are different from those of human beings. A “safe” amount of an essential oil for a human can be overwhelming and toxic to a pet.
Have you ever used essential oils on or around your pet(s)? After reading this article, do you feel more comfortable and/or knowledgeable in the use of essential oils with animals? Does your pet’s veterinarian have an opinion about aromatherapy for pets? Please feel free to comment in the form below.
Thank you for your time and support,
(1), (2), (3) Do Essential Oils Pose a Risk to Pets?
(5), (6), (7), (8) Essential Oils: Natural Insect Repellent for Dogs
(9), (10), (11), (12) Skip The Vet: Essential Oils For Dogs and Cats