Essential oils or EO’s are plant extracts employed by many holistic veterinarians. They are made by cold pressing or steaming parts of the plant like the bark, leaves, flowers, or fruit to capture the oil.
Why use essential oils in your dogs?
Studies show that essential oils can do a lot of good like help with infections, anxiety, and even have an effect on brainwaves which can alter behavior.
If you want to start using essential oils in your dog, you should first consult with your vet so you know which of them are safest for your pet as there are some essential oils safe for dogs and some that are not.
Essential oils should be used with caution in dogs as they metabolize them differently than humans. If the oils are placed on the skin of dogs they can be absorbed through the skin into the dog’s system where they are metabolized by the liver.
However, there are a few that have been recognized as safe for use in dogs when administered properly, in fact, we use some in our refresh dog bed sprays.
5 uses for essential oils on dogs
Some essential oils like lavender are used to decrease stress and anxiety in dogs
Some essential oils are able to destabilize the cellular structure of bacterial pathogens which leads to the breakdown of the cell’s membrane integrity (source).
This includes bacteria like E. Coli, Staph, and Strep, this is a great paper that discusses in-depth specific essential oils that can help with bacterial infections.
This is especially of concern in both human and animal medicine as many bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. While a lot more research is needed this study done by researchers showed some efficacy in using essential oils in treating methicillin-resistant staph infections. (source)
There has been some research on the effectiveness of essential oils and fungal infections like ringworm, candida, and Malassezia or yeast in dogs.
This study delves into essential oils used to treat otitis externa in both dogs and cats, they found that oregano and clary sage had the most beneficial effect.
There are currently many flea and tick products on the market that have essential oils as the active ingredient and have been proven to be effective. Oils like turmeric oil, However, the use of these products does not come without some risks.
Atopic dermatitis or atopy is basically an allergic reaction in dogs when their immune system overreacts to an allergen that has been able to penetrate the skin barrier. This study found that along with fatty acids, some essential oils proved effective against atopic dermatitis in dogs.
Safe essential oils for dogs
Lavender essential oil is one of the most commonly used oils in dogs and is known for its calming effect. One research study even showed that lavender oil diffused on a car ride could decrease excitement in dogs traveling.
Chamomile has anti-inflammatory effects and is deemed safe for dogs.
Frankincense is safe for dogs as it is regularly used on dogs
Essential oils that are not safe for dogs
The pet poison hotline hears many horror stories about the detrimental effects of essential oil on pets. These are the top three essential oils that they have noted affect pets the most.
Tea Tree Oil
It’s surprising that tea tree oil is one of the oils placed in the do not use category for most as it is readily available in many solutions sold for dogs.
However, as little as seven drops of undiluted, 100% tea tree oil can cause severe reactions in dogs, so while it is okay to use it is highly toxic and unless used under vet supervision should be avoided.
Melaleuca oil or tea tree oil was shown to have a tremendous effect against sarcoptic scabies when applied topically. A study done in Australia showed there were no mites alive after three hours of exposure to tea tree oil.
Although tea tree oil is used in many flea and tick treatments sold for dogs it can have some extremely detrimental effects and is of the most common oil that owners have the most issues with. This could be due to the prevalence of tea tree oil in over-the-counter applications for dogs.
Pet owners should be aware that research published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association found hundreds of incidents of tea tree oil toxicity over a period of 10 years. While The Environmental Protection Agency considers these products to be minimum-risk pesticides they are exempt from most regulations. (Source)
Pet owners should always seek professional veterinary advice applying tea tree oil to their pets even if it is sold in an over-the-counter solution. (Source)
Pennyroyal oil causes hepatic necrosis or liver failure in dogs. Dogs usually present with vomiting and diarrhea which may be bloody.
Oil of Wintergreen
Oil of Wintergreen contains methyl salicylates or aspirin which as many knows can be toxic for dogs. Usually, owners will see vomiting, diarrhea, and the dog may even develop ulcers
While these oils can help increase circulation in people, dogs exposed to the oil may get upset stomachs, have vomiting, and have nervous system effects like ataxia.
In addition here is a list of essential oils that are considered generally not safe for dogs from Texas A&M School of veterinary medicine
If your dog shows any signs of poisoning, you can call the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
6 things to keep in mind when using essential oils on your dog?
1. Use the appropriate dosage
Dosage is extremely important when using essential oils in your dogs as too much can cause severe damage, even if the EO is considered safe, and too little can have no effect. You can get the appropriate dosage from your veterinarian.
2. Route of use
It is essential that you use essential oils appropriately and via the correct route. There are some EOs that should not be used internally in dogs
3. Always dilute
Always use diluted essential oils in a carrier oil as using them undiluted (or ‘neat’) can cause burns and irritations both internally and externally
4. Start with lower doses
Always start your dog with the lowest effective dose possible and increase it as needed per your vet
5. Watch your dog
Don’t ever apply essential oils or leave them diffusing around your pet unsupervised and always keep the bottles out of their reach
If you are applying an essential oil topically always choose a location that your dog can not reach like the neck
What to look for in a good essential oil for dogs?
All essential oils are not the same and there are some that are of higher quality than others. Quality is extremely important when looking for an essential oil to give your dog internally or use externally. Essential oils are not FDA-regulated and may contain fillers like alcohol, even if they say they are 100% pure. How can you ensure you are purchasing quality essential oils?
Only purchase oils in dark bottles usually amber or cobalt blue as essential oils are degraded by light. Light, particularly UV (like from the sun) can cause changes to the chemical makeup of essential oils by causing the formation of oxygen-free radicals in the oils.
There are times when essential oils simply smell off, especially if they are old. Many times, they lack a stronger scent and can be extremely sticky
What precautions should I take when using essential oils in my dog?
Because of the possible side effects of using essential oils in dogs, you should work with your veterinarian for regular monitoring.
He or she will most likely want to do regular physical examinations, urinalysis, and blood work since one of the primary issues with using essential oils in dogs is their possible effect on the liver.
Your vet will want to get a baseline level before you start your dog on essential oils and periodically recheck them to ensure they remain at normal levels
If you decide to use essential oils in your dog you should have their liver enzymes checked periodically by your veterinarian
What are the signs of essential oil toxicity in dogs?
Symptoms of essential oil poisoning are usually due to how the oil is metabolized in the liver and can cause symptoms such as:
- Lethargy (extreme tiredness)
- Signs of gi upset like drooling, diarrhea, and vomiting
- uneven and unsteady gait (not walking properly)
- low body temperature
- Skin irritations and burns
Dogs that should not use essential oils
Dogs with liver disease
All veterinarians are not comfortable using essential oils and many that do are holistic vets. If you are looking for a holistic veterinarian to discuss using essential oils in your dog? You can find one here but you may need a referral from your regular veterinarian.
- Do not diffuse essential oils around birds
- There are some EOs that are safe for dogs but not for cats
- Safe Essential Oil Use in Pets
- The research around using essential oils in dog