As the popularity of aromatherapy grows, many pet owners find themselves wondering… are essential oils safe for dogs?
If you search the internet, you’ll find stories of how essential oils for dogs cured a dog’s medical issue or resolved a behavior problem. So – in my opinion – the topic definitely warrants a deeper look.
As I read about aromatherapy for dogs, the first thing I learned is that the scent of any oil is much stronger for dogs than it is for humans, because dogs have:
- 50 times more scent receptors than humans
- 300 million scent receptors in their nose
- An additional scent organ above the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal organ that helps them process smells
I also learned that some oils that are safe for humans may be toxic to dogs. So you need someone with expertise to teach you the essential oils that are safe for dogs and show you how much of an essential oil you can safely give the dog, as well as the best way to use it (diffused, topical, etc).
Before we explore if essential oils are safe for dogs, let’s talk about what exactly aromatherapy is -because it may not be what you think!
What Exactly IS Aromatherapy?
I have always thought that aromatherapy was the process of inhaling the aromas of essential oils. I think most people make that assumption because of the word “aroma.”
But, it turns out that is incorrect, – aromatherapy involves more than just aromas. It’s about the properties of essential oils and what happens when they enter your body in any form.
Aromatherapy is actually the name for a form of complementary and alternative medicine that uses essential oils to manage symptoms or boost your well-being. This can be done by inhaling essential oil scents (the modality we’re most familiar with), but can also be done by applying diluted essential oils to your skin, and in rare cases, taking essential oils internally (note: internal use should only happen under medical supervision).
Much like other alternative medicines such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and Chinese medicine, the history of aromatherapy goes back for centuries. It is seeing a rise in popularity in the U.S. as an alternative treatment for infections, stress, and other health issues – both for humans and for animals.
Now that we know what aromatherapy means, let’s talk about essential oils.
What Are Essential Oils?
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Essential oils are made from pressing or distilling concentrated extracts from various parts of plants such as flowers, bark, leaves, or fruit. Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they can be used for a variety of purposes ranging from aromatherapy to holistic healing.
Believe it or not, it can take several pounds of a plant to produce a single bottle of essential oil. For example, you would need approximately 150 pounds of lavender flowers to make just one pound of lavender oil.
That means if you buy a high quality .5 oz bottle of lavender oil by a trusted company like Aura Cacia, chances are it took about 5 pounds of lavender to produce the oil in that little bottle!
Essential Oils and Dogs
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet (not even close). My degree is in marketing. Sooooo, do not take any of the information in this article as medical advice. I’m just sharing my own personal experience and information I have read. If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
A number of studies have been done looking at the efficacy of aromatherapy on various medical issues such as pain management, anxiety, women’s health, and more.
Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) not a lot of research has been done on aromatherapy for dogs. There have been some interesting studies, however, that show the potential for aromatherapy to help our canine companions.
Here are a few I found particularly interesting:
1. Scholarly Review of Aromatherapy for Small Animals
I found an interesting scholarly review published in The American Journal of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine titled “The Use of Essential Oils in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine: Small Animal Practice.” The article references three interesting case studies:
I: Aromatherapy for Soreness and Discomfort
A 10-year-old retriever suffered from significant soreness and discomfort following periods of strenuous exercise. After treatment with essential oils, the symptoms resolved!
II. Aromatherapy for Pain and Inflammation
A 7-year-old male beagle was experiencing multiple issues including inflammatory bowel disease and cervical and lumbar pain.
Acupuncture treatment and Chinese herbal medicine formulas were used to bring his clinical signs under control, then essential oils were prescribed to help prevent future recurrence. When painful episodes occurred, rather than using conventional pain medications or steroids, the dog was given a dietary essential oil blend.
This treatment was effective; the dog was able to be tapered off Chinese herbal medicine and only required a single acupuncture treatment during the year. The dog continues to do well and any recurrence is treated with essential oils.
III. Aromatherapy for Anxiety and Dog Discord
The owner in a multi-dog household (5 animals) was observing canine anxiety created by discord between the dogs. The client was instructed to aromatically diffuse an EO calming blend in the dogs’ resting areas for a few hours each day. After using the EO blend for two days, the owner noted an improvement in calm interactions between the dogs. Essential oil use in this multi-dog case appeared to decrease negative interaction between the dogs and resolve anxiety.
2. Study of Aromatherapy for Canine Ear Infections
Another study looked at the use of essential oils to treat ear infections in dogs.
In this study, eleven dogs with otitis externa (a fancy word for ear infection) were examined. The control group (5 dogs) was treated with antibiotics, and the experimental group (6 dogs) was treated with essential oil applied topically to the ear canal twice daily for 2 weeks.
The authors recorded changes in clinical signs, bacterial count in discharges, total white blood cell count, and neutrophil/lymphocyte ratios in the two groups.
Amazingly, the bacterial cell counts in the experimental group were significantly lower at both one and two weeks after treatment than the control group.
“These results suggest that aromatherapy is an effective and practical
treatment for otitis externa in dogs.”
3. Study of Aromatherapy for Shelter Dog Behavioral Issues
This pilot study, titled “Behavioural Responses of Shelter Dogs to Olfactory Enrichment,” was published inVeterinary Science Research.
In this study, 23 shelter dogs were exposed to olfactory stimulation through diffusion of a blend of nine essential oils for eight weeks. To measure behavior, the dogs’ postures in groups were evaluated both before and after exposure. Results indicated that olfactory enrichment with this blend of essential oils resulted in less time spent by dogs in high posture.
All of these studies indicate that using essential oils for different mental and physical issues in dogs shows great promise.
But the fact remains that not all essential oils are safe for dogs, and even oils that showed promise in studies must be administered in specific ways to be safe. Given that fact, let’s talk a bit about the safety of essential oils for dogs.
Are Essential Oils Safe For Dogs?
Although the medicinal and emotional benefits of essential oils for humans are well-known, when it comes to dogs there is limited information.
Some essential oils are known to be toxic to dogs no matter what, others can be toxic if not diluted or administered properly. Consequently, it’s critical to work with someone well-versed in using essential oils for dogs to be sure you are using them safely.
If you have a holistic veterinarian to guide you, perfect – that’s the route to go.
If you don’t, there are online options available. I found one veterinarian, Dr. Janet Roark, who specializes in aromatherapy with a website full of different ways you can learn how to use aromatherapy for your pets. Dr. Roark has a website, https://essentialoilvet.com/, where she offers courses, consults, a Facebook group, free downloads, and more.
In addition to offering consultations, Dr. Roark has a map of people all over the world who have completed her certification courses. Note, however, that many of those people are not vets, so if it were me I might lean towards consulting with Dr. Roark to have access to her veterinary knowledge as well as her aromatherapy expertise.
Which Essential Oils Are Safe for Dogs?
This is a bit of a loaded question. Some essential oils are safe for dogs IF – IF they are administered in the correct manner. This is where working with an aromatherapy expert comes in.
Some oils are safe to diffuse, but not OK to use topically or on your dog’s food. Others can be used topically if mixed into a carrier oil (which dilutes the essential oil). I read some stories about putting certain essential oil blends in a dog’s food, but only under the supervision of an aromatherapy expert.
I also found stories of topical and internal use being toxic, so I want to emphasize you don’t want to do that unless you’re working with someone who is certified in aromatherapy for dogs.
To give you an idea of essential oils used for dogs, I found a list of the top 20 essential oils for dogs that are recommended by canine aromatherapist Kristen Leigh Bell.
Bell has written a highly regarded book, Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals, which discusses different essential oils and different methods of using them.
Bell discusses using essential oils for many things, such as itchy skin, behavioral issues, and even using essential oils for dog odor!
Critical Information To Know When Using Essential Oils For Dogs
Bell makes an important point at the beginning of her book:
”If an animal is fearful of loud noises, fireworks, storms, or crowds,
avoid introducing essential oils at these times.”
This was a big “Ah-ha” moment for me. In all the years I have tried essential oils for different situations, nothing I read ever told me not to give it in the stress-inducing situation until I had used it in positive situations first.
By giving it to them when they were stressed, I was actually creating a negative association with the scent.
Bell tells a story about giving her fearful dog massages with soothing oils. Over time, the dog began to relax during the massages and enjoyed them. In addition to the physiological calming effects of the oils, the dog began to mentally associate the scent of the oils with happiness and relaxation.
At that point, she could begin using the oils during a fear-inducing time, such as thunderstorms.
I’m sure the same mistake could happen if a dog is in pain and you go about introducing essential oils in the wrong way.
I would highly recommend her book if you want to try essential oils for your dogs. Bell discusses different essential oils and their uses, and recommends oil blends for different conditions.
She explains how to make oil blends and spritzes, and gives instructions about how to apply them for maximum benefit.
Success Stories Using Essential Oils For Dogs
One of the best parts about researching this article was reading all of the success stories about people using aromatherapy for their animals.
I read stories about dogs with horrible skin conditions that were healed with essential oil, including this dog who went from horrible bald spots and angry-looking skin to healthy skin with their fur all grown in.
Another story talked about a dog that would get diarrhea and stomach upset. The owner’s vet had them rub a diluted essential oil mix on the dog’s belly and the symptoms would disappear after a few applications.
I read multiple stories about supporting animals experiencing kidney issues (note I said supporting, not curing – but buying time with a pet is a priceless gift). In one instance, a cat had such low kidney counts that the owner was administering IV fluids every other night. The vet gave them an essential oil mix and had them apply one drop a night to the cat’s hips, and at the next vet appointment the cat’s kidney values were higher than they had been in years – almost a normal level.
Are Essential Oils Safe For Dogs? Yes- with the proper guidance.
I hope this article motivates you to dive into the world of aromatherapy for your dog. It can be a bit daunting to know that you need a professional’s guidance – remind yourself that you are investing in a happier, healthier lifetime for your pet.
There are so many ways aromatherapy will pay off over and over again in your dog’s lifetime. By learning how to use aromatherapy, you can add it to your natural remedy “toolbox” for things such as
- home remedies for dogs scared of thunder
- natural immune boosters for dogs
- home remedies for dogs scared of fireworks
- natural remedies for dog allergies
- and sooooo much more!
As a first step, check out Kristen Leigh Bell’s book and Dr. Roarke’s website:
If you have used aromatherapy – or try it after reading this article – please share your story in the comments below so we can all hear how it helped your dog!
Until next time-
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