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How to Use Essential Oils Safely Around Pets

With so much conflicting advice regarding the use of essential oils around pets, we sought out the expert opinion of Pat Princi-Jones, Aromatherapy Expert for Australian business Oil Garden and author of A Scented Life.

"Aromatic plants have been used for thousands of years in medicine, incense, cosmetics, perfumes and ritual worship. Aromatherapy has been interpreted in various ways over the last decade, but at its essence it reflects a fascination with the wonder and value of utilising the goodness of plants to help us look and feel our best.” A Scented Life

What are essential oils?

“Essential oils are pure, concentrated liquids, extracted from certain parts of aromatic plants such as flowers, herbs, citrus peels and woods. They are utilised for their unique healing properties and irresistible aroma.”

“The most amazing thing about essential oils is their complexity. A single oil is made up of more than 100 natural compounds created and blended by the parent plant to protect itself. They are mostly used in diffusers to scent the environment or added to massage base oil to treat minor ailments. Regular use improves both emotional and physical wellbeing.”

What is the problem with using essential oils around animals?

“My observations over decades confirm that essential oil can strengthen the canine-human bond" said Pat Princi-Jones.
"But when using oils on or around pets, it is important to be aware of which oils carry potential risks, especially when used incorrectly.”
“The problems concerning pure essential oil use and dogs are varied. Essential oils are highly concentrated and must be used with care and as directed.

It cannot be assumed that essential oils can be used on pets the same way they are used on adults. 

You must consider both the strength of the blend, and the size of your pet! After all, essential oils are ‘organic chemical laboratories.’ 

While certain chemical groups such as esters - found in Lavender and Roman Chamomile, are safe and gentle, others, such as phenols and ketones - found in Thyme and Sage can be stimulating and irritating and even toxic if ingested.”

Chemical groups/oils to avoid using around dogs:

 Avoid phenol-rich oils such as Oregano, Savory and Thyme (CT thymol).

 Avoid oils that contain ketones such as Thuja, Yarrow, Pennyroyal, Rue, Hyssop, Wormwood and Mugwort.

 Avoid terpene 4-ol, found in Tea Tree.

 Other oils to be avoided include, but are not limited toBasil, Rosemary, Cinnamon, Wintergreen, Clove Bud, Pine, Sweet Birch, Ylang Ylang, Star Anise, Juniper (Juniperus sabina) and Sage.

“All the above oils are stimulating and can be irritating, and although they make effective disinfectants, they can also be toxic if absorbed through the skin or accidentally ingested. Even excessive inhalation via your diffuser can have dire consequences.

Some advice regarding diffusion

“If you are diffusing oils for the first time and want to ensure your furry friends are also considered, begin by diffusing a few drops in an open space where the family congregates, and your pet likes to relax. 

Do not diffuse for more than 3-hour intervals and do not exceed drop count. And avoid concentrated and excessive use of the oils listed above.

What are recommended oils for dogs and how to best use them?

  • Recommended essential oils for topical use for dogs:

  Lavender is first aid in a bottle. A drop is all you need to soothe, nurture and settle your pooch. It is a great way of introducing dogs to the oils and is recommended during behavioural training and on trips to manage anxiety levels. Place a few drops on their collar, blanket or favourite toy.

✔️  Frankincense is grounding, a natural healer and a safer option for pet care. You only need a few drops and the transformation in a hyperactive, anxious dog is notable. A natural antiseptic, frankincense can also aid in the healing of injuries, itching, allergies and infections when applied in a swab.

✔️ Cedarwood is deeply grounding and can be used as a substitute for frankincense. It will relax your dog and can also be used as a swab to treat skin conditions. It helps settle dogs before sleep time and its antiseptic properties can assist to repel ticks and fleas with regular washing.

✔️ Australian Sandalwood is an investment oil but well worth it. It has antiseptic and soothing properties to calm, protect and nurture your pet. Use as a swab for fungal infections. It also reduces inflammation and a few drops sprayed onto bedding will help relieve dog flu symptoms. For a flea repellent, combine 2 drops of Australian sandalwood and 2 drops of bergamot with 100 ml water in a spray bottle, mix well and spray bedding.

✔️ Geranium a sweeter-smelling option which heals wounds and has an overall calming effect when diffused.

✔️ Roman chamomile and German chamomile help with poor circulation and aid wound healing. Use either oil in a massage blend to reduce inflammation and relieve the discomfort of arthritis and painful joints.

✔️ Bergamot is very relaxing for hyperactive dogs. When they are overexcited, try placing a drop on your dog’s collar, favourite toy or blanket before a trip, a hike or puppy school. Combine 1 drop to a teaspoon of cider vinegar before adding to 5 litres of water. Mix well. It will keep the coat nice and shiny and help manage fleas without the use of harsh chemicals.

  • Recommended topical application methods for dogs:

1) Massage
: (not recommended for cats) There are so many new breeds of small or miniature dogs on the market now that it’s wise to obtain breeder advice before you proceed. Dilute 1-2 drops of your chosen essential oil in 20ml of a base oil such as sweet almond, but never exceed 2-4 drops, even with larger dogs. Remember do not apply to any area that your canine or feline can reach with its tongue.

2) Quick Rub/Palm Method: For easy and comfortable application, warm a few drops of recommended oil between your own hands and then apply by stroking the animal’s fur. For instance, you could rub 1 drop of frankincense OR 1 drop of lavender to calm and relax while patting at the same time.

3) Dog Bathing: Add 2 drops of chosen oil to 5 litres of water to wash your dog. Use lavender for overanxious dogs. Use frankincense to heal wounds and cedarwood for fleas.

4) Water-Based Spray: Combine 2-4 drops in a 1 litre bottle and shake well before spraying bedding area, car seat or use as a general air freshener. Lavender is excellent to spray on the underside of bedding to help settle pets when travelling long distances. Do not spray directly onto the pet and always use a new, dedicated bottle. Think of it as your very own dog perfume!

5) Swab: Add 1 drop of chosen oil to a glass dish of 20 ml water. Use a cotton ball to apply solution to the area of pain or discomfort. Choose from lavender, Australian sandalwood and frankincense for their excellent antiseptic and wound-healing properties.

Doggy Brush: If you have a dedicated doggy brush, dispense 2 drops of lavender OR cedarwood onto a tissue and dust over the brush bristles and then brush coat to help manage fleas and ticks.

6) Oral Method: This application is NOT recommended for either dogs or cats. Consult a holistic veterinarian before using essential oils in this way.”

How about using essential oils around cats?

The use of essential oils on and around cats is a different story altogether. Cats are not able to absorb and eliminate essential oils in the same way that humans and other pets can if ingested. Their liver is not capable of metabolising scent molecules. This can over time lead to toxic build-up and eventually illness.

Therefore, do NOT apply essential oils topically without the advice of your vet.

Please Note: A cat is unable to metabolise the following compounds particularly if they are administered in high doses and for prolonged periods of time. It is the high concentration of toxic substances that cause adverse reactions:

❌ Avoid phenol-rich oils including Cinnamon, Oregano, Thyme, Basil, Tea Tree, Citronella, Wintergreen and Clove Bud.

 Avoid oils such as Pine, Cypress, Juniper Berry, Rosemary, Lemon Myrtle and Nutmeg as they contain high percentages of alpha-pinene compound.

❌ If ingested, Peppermint can cause harm to your cat so do not leave any lying in a dish of water. It causes liver damage if ingested in significant quantities.

 And most importantly, avoid all citrus oils like Orange, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime and even Mandarin because they contain high concentrations of limonene which cats cannot digest.

Oil Garden takes the guesswork out of finding the right essential oils for pets.

Their newly launched Pooch Pamper Pack and the Ready For A Cat Nap Pack include oils carefully selected for their safety and benefits for cats and dogs.

Disclaimer: the information and products mentioned on this website are not intended to replace professional medical advice. We always recommend consulting with your veterinarian with any concerns or conditions relating to your pet's health.

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