Today, most people have at least a passing familiarity with the use of essential oils — by and for humans, that is. Fewer people, however, are aware that essential oils are sometimes used on/for pets. As this topic is the subject of some debate, and we have received questions about it, we felt it necessary to put together a page covering our take on the subject.
There is some evidence that essential oils can have therapeutic value for pets, and at least one prominent DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), Melissa Shelton, has based a large part of her practice on using essential oils to help treat dogs, cats, and horses. However, there is also an equal amount of evidence that oils are, at the very least, difficult to use effectively and safely on pets. The area of essential oil use on pets is a relatively young one, in terms of hard scientific research and evidence.
Essential Oils and Dogs
In this arena, caution and common sense are the rules to go by, and if you plan to use an oil on your dog, it is recommended that you do as much research as possible regarding the use of the oil in question on canines. NEVER assume that any essential oil will be safe for your dog, either directly applied, or in an aromatherapy application (and remember, an essential oil that is perfectly safe for you could be harmful to your dog). In any case, we strongly recommend you do as much research as possible before proceeding.
There is some debate as to how one goes about choosing which oils (out of the lot that are agreed to be safe) to use for dogs. Since a dog’s sense of smell is roughly 100,000 times more sensitive than that of a human’s, it is often recommended that the dog itself choose which oil will be used; your dog may show excitement over, or otherwise indicate a clear preference for a certain oil. After all, it is quite well documented that dogs, given the freedom to roam, will self medicate by eating certain plants, dirt, clay, and the feces of some animals.
All this being said, it is generally agreed that the following essential oils are safe for dogs:
However, when using essential oils on your dog, common sense and caution, as mentioned before, are generally good rules to go by. Do not proceed if your dog indicates in any way that he/she doesn’t care for a particular oil, or is averse to any aspect of the process. If in doubt, consult a veterinarian.
When using oils on your dog, here are a few things to remember:
- Dogs cannot tell you what is or is not working. As such, you must closely watch their reactions. Excessive scratching, sniffing, nervousness or whining are all signs to watch for.
- Oils should always be used in dilution. A common acceptable dilution is 25% of the adult human formula.
- Administering essential oils to dogs internally is not recommended.
- For puppies, use hydrosols instead of essential oils.
- Essential oils should be very gradually introduced to your dog.
- In the realm of essential oils, a very little bit often goes a long way. What’s good for larger dogs may be too much for smaller breeds.
- Sick, frail, older, or pregnant dogs have special considerations, just as in humans. Do not administer the same dose to them as you would to a healthy animal of the same size. If a dog’s constitution gives you reason to doubt his/her ability to tolerate an oil, opt for caution, and do not use oils.
- Do not use oils near a dog’s eyes, mouth, nose, or genital area.
Essential Oils and Cats
Cats are a different matter. Though there is plenty of debate on the subject, some sources report that cats are, at best, extremely sensitive to essential oils. This appears to be at least partly due to the fact that, according to recent research, cats possess an enzyme that is remarkably ineffective in neutralizing certain toxins, including compounds found in some essential oils, such as phenols and thujone. (For an excellent article on the question of whether essential oils are safe for cats, click here.) Given what we have encountered in our own research, we cannot in good conscience recommend the use of essential oils on, in, or for cats of any breed or age. From what we found, virtually no long-term research has been done on the use of essential oils on or around cats, and thus, any use of essential oil on your cat should essentially be viewed as a journey into more or less uncharted territory.
Here is a list of some essential oils that are generally agreed to be toxic to cats:
If you do decide to use an essential oil on your pet, there are a few things to keep in mind. For one, great care should be used. Essential oils should be heavily diluted — remember, most pets have far less body mass than their owners, and will be much more sensitive to even a heavy dilution. In many cases, a hydrosol may be a better choice than an essential oil, as hydrosols are less concentrated. Additionally, since your pet cannot verbally communicate to you that they may be experiencing a toxic reaction to an essential oil (or anything else, for that matter), it is the owner’s responsibility to pay close attention to the behaviors of their animal(s) when introducing an essential oil. Signs of possible toxicity include:
- Change in sleeping or eating habits
- Behavioral changes (lack of energy, lethargy, disinterest in activities they previously were eager to engage in)
- Digestive issues, including diarrhea, vomiting, constipation
- Confusion, motor impairment
Essential Oils and Birds and Fish
It is generally agreed that essential oils are toxic to birds, and should not be used on them, or even diffused into the air in their immediate environment. However, the aforementioned Dr. Shelton has reportedly successfully treated birds with essential oils; clearly, this is an area in which more controlled scientific research is needed. Until that happens, we do not recommend using essential oils on your bird.
Essential oils also should not be used on fish, or even placed into the tank. Since oil is not water soluble, it will stick to the fish, and may cause serious health problems or death. Hydrosols, too, should not be used on fish, as they can affect the pH level of the tank’s water, possibly causing illness or death.
Essential Oils and Horses
Essential oils are sometimes used for horses, and in the United Kingdom, they’re used by licensed essential oil practitioners, who use kinesiology to prescribe oils (by contrast, in the US, there is no licensing procedure/protocol for those working with essential oils). Much in the same manner as for dogs, it is recommended that, whatever oils are pre-selected, the horse be the ultimate voice in terms of what oil shall be used on it. Never force any oil upon your horse; if you present several different bottles, the horse will often make clear which one it prefers. Essential oils commonly used for horses include:
Some horse issues that may be addressed by essential oils are cuts and swellings, arthritis, abscesses, fly control, breathing, thrush, and behavioral problems.
It should be noted that the area of legitimate scientific research on the use of essential oils on horses is virtually barren. Thus, it is highly recommended that any horse owners thinking of using essential oils on their animal do as much personal research as possible, and proceed with all due caution. If possible, consult personally with someone who has experience (and, in the case of those in the U.K., professional experience) in the field.