Essential Oils for Pets

How to Use Them Safely



cynoclub/Shutterstock.com

Essential oils are derived from plant-based sources, leading people to equate natural with safe; but that’s not always the case. Knowing how and when to use oils is vital, according to Gary Richter, DVM, an integrative veterinarian and medical director of Holistic Veterinary Care, in Oakland, California. A veterinarian trained in the use of essential oils understands the properties of each oil, along with its proper dilution and application, a subject not generally taught in traditional veterinary schools; holistic medicine requires additional training.

With proper use under professional guidance, essential oils can be part of a larger treatment plan, says Richter. Cats are generally more sensitive to oils because they don’t metabolize medicine as efficiently as dogs, he notes. “As one professor used to tell our veterinary class, ‘Cats are not small dogs, so they can’t be treated as if they are’—always good to remember.”

Soothing Effects

Just as chamomile tea relaxes humans, anxious dogs find its scent calming. Some vets spray the exam room with lavender between appointments to calm anxious clients.

Sally Morgan, a physical therapist and advanced certified practitioner of the gentle animal bodywork therapy known as Tellington TTouch, sees clients in her Northampton, Massachusetts, office. “I put a drop of a peace and calming blend or lavender on the carpet or a pillow,” she says. “It relaxes the animal and dissipates the smells of previous clients. I don’t use diffusers. The odor can be too strong for their sensitive noses. There’s also a danger it could spill and be licked up.”

One thing I'd say is, learn all you can before using oils around pets.
~Gary Richter, integrative veterinarian and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition

Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed Kim Paciotti, owner of Training Canines, LLC, based in Statesville, North Carolina, finds the scent of green apples relieves anxiety and soothes upset tummies for dogs and puppies that suffer from motion sickness. “Cotton balls placed inside a small container clipped to the outside of their crates deliver the smell,” she says. “They don’t have direct contact, but still reap the benefits, allowing the dogs to self-medicate by sniffing when they feel the need.”

Kimberley Wallace, founder of kW Sustainable Brands, in San Diego, burns organic, sweet basil-scented candles for their antiviral, antibacterial properties. Her pugs love the smell. “Our rescue pug has mast cell tumors which compromise her immune system. I do my due diligence to buy all-natural products whenever I can.”

Proceed With Caution

Susan Schmitz/Shutterstock.comPure essential oils are far too strong to use undiluted, Richter says. Age, physical condition and species are so varied that guessing which oil and how to use it can be dangerous to the pet. “Skin irritation like a hot spot or rash is a relatively minor problem that could benefit from the right essential oil. An open wound requires a veterinary visit,” he says. “Some oils aren’t recommended unless under veterinary guidance. Reactions can range from mere annoyance to toxicity.”

Wintergreen, melaleuca, pennyroyal, tea tree and pine oils cause the most reported problems for dogs, according to PetPoisonHelpline.com. Peppermint, cloves, cinnamon and oregano oil also can be quite strong and require educated use, says Richter. An uneven gait, vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and weakness can be symptoms of toxicity, requiring immediate veterinary care to prevent damage to the central nervous system or organ failure.

Helpful Resources
Oil Safety Tips
24/7 Animal Poison Control Center: 855-764-7661

In its fragrance and taste, plants have defense mechanisms to ward off destructive insects or to attract bees and butterflies. Those same properties can help people and animals. The plant’s natural compounds can ward off fungi, bacteria, parasites or inflammation. However, just reading a label isn’t enough to know which oils will work best for these problems.

The Animal Desk Reference II: Essential Oils for Animals, Second Edition, by Melissa Shelton, is a reader-friendly guide,” says Richter. “I touch on the subject in my book The Ultimate Pet Health Guide: Breakthrough Nutrition and Integrative Care for Dogs and Cats, but for deeper study, I recommend Shelton’s book.”

“One thing I’d say is, learn all you can before using oils around pets,” Richter says. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all formula for dilution for safe use. There are too many variables with oils and animals.”

Be more than a well-meaning pet lover—also be well-educated.


Sandra Murphy is a freelance writer in St. Louis, MO. Connect at StLouisFreelanceWriter@mindspring.com.


This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

News Briefs

The S P A C E Sanctuary Opens in Chappaqua

The S P A C E Sanctuary Opens in Chappaqua

“It was created as a place to gather, rest, breathe and heal.”
Bernadette Bloom Discusses Esoteric Healing on The Transformation Show

Bernadette Bloom Discusses Esoteric Healing on The Transformation Show

5 to 6 p.m. on March 7
Ward Off Spring Allergens with Nettle Leaf Tea

Ward Off Spring Allergens with Nettle Leaf Tea

Something as simple as drinking nettle leaf tea prior to and during early spring can be a helpful preventive practice.
Petition Demands Environmental Impact Study of Cricket Valley Project

Petition Demands Environmental Impact Study of Cricket Valley Project

Davenport is urging people to sign the petition asking New York leaders for an updated environmental impact study of the Cricket Valley Energy project.
Fresh Organic Becoming ‘Go-To’ Salon for Hair and Scalp Issues

Fresh Organic Becoming ‘Go-To’ Salon for Hair and Scalp Issues

Feeding the Future in Yonkers

Feeding the Future in Yonkers

Feed Your Future is part of a larger mission to empower communities to reclaim and revitalize environmentally and economically under-served neighborhoods.
Riverkeeper Film Screening and Panel Discussion

Riverkeeper Film Screening and Panel Discussion

5:30 to 9 p.m., March 5, at the Newburgh Brewing Company
NewLife Expo Returns to New York City in March

NewLife Expo Returns to New York City in March

March 22 through 24
Rhinebeck Pilates Plans April Conference at Jacob’s Pillow

Rhinebeck Pilates Plans April Conference at Jacob’s Pillow

April 26 to 28
Hilltop Hanover Farm Holds Maple Fest Weekends

Hilltop Hanover Farm Holds Maple Fest Weekends

March 23 to 24 and March 30 to 31
CBD Info Talks in Bedford Hills

CBD Info Talks in Bedford Hills

Free informational session on CBD products every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m.
Juice Detoxes Work Better and Faster

Juice Detoxes Work Better and Faster

“The body doesn’t have to break down the solids, and the results are faster and better.”
Karen Drucker: Live at the United Palace

Karen Drucker: Live at the United Palace

7 p.m. on April 8
Free Spirit Holistic Expo Coming to Area

Free Spirit Holistic Expo Coming to Area

June 2, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Center for Green Building Opens in Mamaroneck

Center for Green Building Opens in Mamaroneck

Grand opening, including complimentary food and drinks, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 23.
Chef Alex Raij Serves Up Glynwood Farm Dinner

Chef Alex Raij Serves Up Glynwood Farm Dinner

6:30 to 10 p.m. on March 9
Equilibrium Studio Opens in Pawling

Equilibrium Studio Opens in Pawling

Equilibrium offers yoga, Pilates and Barre, as well as stretching and strengthening classes designed to help people rehabilitate from injuries and improve their athletic performance.
Dance the Weekend Away in Saratoga

Dance the Weekend Away in Saratoga

February 15 through 17
Natural Remedies Can Boost Immunity in Winter

Natural Remedies Can Boost Immunity in Winter

There is scientific evidence that acupuncture has a positive effect on the immune system.
Facial Massage Has Holistic Benefits

Facial Massage Has Holistic Benefits

“A well-performed facial massage is a glorious treat that will reduce puffiness, improve skin tone and enrich complexion."
‘Grandfather of Integrative Dermatology’ to Teach His Methods

‘Grandfather of Integrative Dermatology’ to Teach His Methods

“I encourage anyone living with unsolved chronic skin conditions to make an appointment and see how we can help you.”
Opioid Crisis Focus in Somers

Opioid Crisis Focus in Somers

1 to 3 p.m. February 7
Valerie Nivar Offers Natural Solutions for ‘Invisible Illnesses’

Valerie Nivar Offers Natural Solutions for ‘Invisible Illnesses’

“I am passionate about empowering my clients to achieve motivation and confidence and to live their best life.”
Sugaring Program at Sugar Hill Farm

Sugaring Program at Sugar Hill Farm

February 23
Holistic Chamber of Commerce Adds Poughkeepsie Chapter

Holistic Chamber of Commerce Adds Poughkeepsie Chapter

The new chapter will promote and support holistic and sustainable professionals and business owners in the Hudson Valley.
Synchronicity Brings Healing through Psychic Readings

Synchronicity Brings Healing through Psychic Readings

“These readings help offer guidance and insight into life situations.”
Microdermabrasion Now Offered by Daniela Hortencio

Microdermabrasion Now Offered by Daniela Hortencio

“It’s basically an exfoliation and skin rejuvenation procedure that leaves skin looking softer and brighter.”
Alternatives to Violence Project Seeking Workshop Facilitators

Alternatives to Violence Project Seeking Workshop Facilitators

The next Basic workshop in Westchester will take place March 8 to 10.

Add your comment: