Essential oil expert, Pat Princi-Jones lets us in on the advice for safe essential oil use around pets.
I have no doubt that pure essential oils can work wonders on our pets when used with care and as directed.
My observations over decades confirm that essential oil actually can strengthen the canine-human bond. During ‘era of COVID’, more and more people are fostering and adopting pets because of the comfort and companionship they provide.
Essential oil use has also seen a surge during this time, a way to uplift the mood while cooped up indoors. But a rise in the use of potent antimicrobial essential oils has also led to a spike in toxicity reports regarding pets.
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Dogs have millions of olfactory receptors and an acute sense of smell. Unlike humans, who are able to metabolise most essential oil particles relatively easily, dogs cannot. Cats on the other hand, lack the enzymes to break down certain substances, which can lead to toxic build up.
Note, this is not all oils. Many essential oils are the most wonderful addition to a healthy lifestyle with pets. Certain chemical groups found in essential oils, such as esters, are safe and gentle, while others, such as phenols and ketones, can be stimulating and irritating – if used carelessly and incorrectly around pets.
We must remember that when we talk about essential oils, we are actually talking about organic chemistry. We know from using them, that essential oils are highly concentrated liquids made up of lots of chemical compounds prepared by the parent plant to protect itself.
If you don’t know where to start, but love essential oils, Oil Garden takes the guesswork out of finding the right ones with their Pooch Pamper Pack (Lavender and Geranium) and the Ready For A Cat Nap Pack (Lavender and Roman Camomile including spritz bottle). The oils in the packs have been oils carefully selected for their safety and benefits for cats and dogs.
If you want to pick your own, we have put together a go-to guide for safe essential oil use with pets! And if you’re looking for a diffuser, try the In Essence 360 Diffuser.
Safe essential oils to use with dogs:
- Lavender is first aid in a bottle. A drop is all you need to relax and settle your pooch. Simply warm a few drops in your hands and then apply by gently stroking your dog for a few seconds.
- Geranium is a sweeter-smelling option that heals wounds and has an overall calming action. It is used as a tick repellent. Combine 2-4 drops to 1 tbsp. of white vinegar before pouring it into a 1-litre spray bottle. Shake well before each use. Spray it around your dog’s bedding and area. Do not spray directly towards your pet.
- Roman chamomile is soothing and comforting and reduces inflammation.
- Frankincense is grounding and settles a hyperactive, anxious dog.
- Cedarwood is deeply grounding and can be used as a substitute for frankincense. It will relax your dog and can also be used for skin conditions. Add a few drops to bath water and mix well.
- Australian sandalwood helps calm, protect and nurture your pet. It reduces inflammation.
- Bergamot is very relaxing for hyperactive dogs before a trip, a hike or puppy school. Try a few drops rubbed into hands and gently cupped over the muzzle of a stressed dog for a few seconds can have a calming effect.
- Myrrhis antifungal and treats inflamed skin conditions.
- Sweet marjoram is a great substitute for tea tree if there if any concern about its being an irritant.
There are a few chemical groups to avoid using on or around dogs. It is important to note, the wrong essential oils are not easily tolerated by dogs if used in high concentrations, accidentally ingested or used neat on large areas of their fur. Avoid using any oils on or near puppies ten weeks old or younger. For designer breeds and miniature dogs, seek breeder advice before you commence use.
These oils are to be avoided topically, ingested or in high concentrations for prolonged periods of time. Toxic symptoms include lack of coordination, tremors, vomiting, ataxia and dermal irritation. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, seek veterinary advice immediately.
- Phenol-rich oils such as oregano, savory and thyme (CT thymol) are too strong and can cause irritation and toxicity symptoms if ingested accidentally)
- Oils containing keytones such as thuja, yarrow, pennyroyal, rue, dyssop, wormwood and mugwort. These oils are not available for home use.
- Tea Tree as it contains terpene 4-ol. There is a great deal of controversy about using tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) on pets. Even though, it is used in most dog shampoos and commercially prepared grooming products – and readily available from health food stores to supermarket shelves – it can cause adverse reactions in dogs. The offending chemical compound in tea tree is terpene 4-ol, (this is a phenol) which dogs simply cannot tolerate if used incorrectly and in excess. My research indicates that most recorded toxicity cases are a result of accidental ingestion, attempting to treat a skin condition with concentrated and neat application, and diffusing excessive amounts for prolonged periods in a confined, unventilated space. But best to avoid use on dogs anyway.
- Other oils which are stimulating and irritating if absorbed through the skin, ingested or excessively inhaled include basil, rosemary, cinnamon, wintergreen, clove bud, pine, sweet birch, ylang ylang, star anise, juniper (Juniperus Sabina) and sage.
If you are new to aromatherapy, it’s important to make sure you are doing the safest thing by your cat. Essential oils are so potent, and their chemistry so strong, that they can do more harm than good if used incorrectly on pets, and cats in particular.
Cats lack the enzymes needed to break down certain substances, then effectively excrete them. Instead they store them in their bodies, putting them at risk for toxic build-up over time – and even death. This is why essential oils are not recommended for topical use on cats.
Oils Cat Lovers Should Avoid around cats
- Orange, Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon, Tangerine, Lime and Mandarin all contain high levels of limonene.
- Cinnamon, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Basil, Citronella, Wintergreen, Clove, Savoury, Tea Tree, Pennyroyal, Hyssop, Yarrow, Pine, Spruce, Fir, Cypress, Juniper Berry, Rosemary, Lemon Myrtle, Ylang Ylang and Nutmeg should be avoided.
Familiarise yourself with these general rules for using oils around cats:
- Do not apply oils neat onto your cat’s body
- Do not administer oils orally to cats
- Do not dispense neat oils into the litter box or a cat’s bedding
- Avoid getting oils in ears, face, nose and eyes
- Avoid leaving oils in dishes at ground level to ensure your cat does not ingest them
- Do not use oils on or near kittens under 10 weeks old
- If your cat is sick, do not use essential oils. Seek veterinary advice.
- Even aspiration (Diffusion) can contribute to toxic build-up in cats and lead to respiratory irritations when used incorrectly and in high doses and for prolonged periods.
Remember that using sound judgement is important for a healthy, happy cat. There isn’t a great deal of published trials on the toxicity of essential oil use and cats. Most of the evidence is anecdotal, so understanding of the key properties of these oils is still important.
The benefits you, and your pets will reap are endless if you use as directed.
Pat Princi-Jones is an Oil Garden Aromatherapy Expert and Author of, A Scented Life.