Written by: Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist & herbalist, founder of Earth Heart® Inc.
Dogs have 40 times more scent receptors than humans, allowing them to identify smells up to 100,000 times better than us. With their remarkable olfactory memory, and because their world revolves around scent, aromatherapy is ideal for use with dogs.
When aromatherapy is used responsibly, it can be a simple natural solution to help dogs have healthier happier lives. Proper use of essential oils can safely and effectively help create a calm environment, soothe itchy or irritated skin, quiet digestive upsets, repel insects and heal infections. They can support the human-animal bond, facilitate behavior modification and improve health.
Since I starting blending in 1992, increased interest in the healing powers of essential oils has brought an abundance of misleading information about using them. My goal is to help you have a safe and successful experience by sharing guidelines endorsed by professional aromatherapy organizations.
Aromatherapy is essential oil therapy:
Aromatherapy is the skilled and controlled use of essential oils to restore or maintain health and well-being. Essential oils are volatile, aromatic liquids in the rind, flower, leaf, stem, root, wood, bark or resin of aromatic plants, which are obtained by distillation, cold-expression, and CO2 or solvent extraction. Fragrance oils are synthetic, not therapeutic, and have been known to cause problems such as headaches, agitation or allergic reactions.
Scent is memoristic:
Scent is the only one of our five senses that causes an emotional response before an intellectual one; the olfactory bulb links to the limbic system – the seat of emotion, memory and learning. Because of its “memoristic” nature, trying an aromatherapy remedy at a nonthreatening time helps your dog associate the scent with a person of comfort and safety. A bad memory can cause agitation even if the essential oil is chemically sedating.
Beware of misleading claims:
Since there is no regulatory agency that grades essential oils, “therapeutic-grade” or “medical-grade” is merely a marketing ploy. Claims of an essential oil “cure-all” are false; your dog’s age, temperament, health, rescue status, symptoms and scent preferences all contribute to which essential oils are appropriate to use.
External use only:
There are two methods of using essential oils safely and effectively: topical application and inhalation. Internal use is not advised unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained in clinical animal aromatherapy.
Keep it simple:
Too many ingredients can make it difficult to pinpoint what is working or what is causing a negative reaction. The best remedy can be lavender in coconut oil as a calmative or skin soother. Sometimes the therapeutic benefit of a blend (synergy) is needed, but more than 6 essential oils can weaken the blend’s effectiveness.
Less is more – always dilute:
Pure essential oils are highly concentrated, and whether inhaled or topically applied, they must be diluted before using. 1% or less of an essential oil single or blend is effective for dogs. A highly diluted product allows you to control the amount and frequency needed for the desired result. Undiluted or high percentages of essential oils can overwhelm your dog’s sense of smell, cause systemic sensitization, and irritate the skin or lungs.
Vegetable and nuts oils, gels, lotions and butters are good carriers for essential oils. Once applied, try to keep the area lick-free for 10-30 minutes to optimize absorption. If the animal experiences nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, depression, lethargy, weakness, drooling, mouth sores, seizures or tremors, discontinue use and seek immediate veterinary attention. For itching or rashes, wipe the area with a cool wet cloth, rinse and repeat as needed.
Diffusing essential oils:
Using a diffuser is diluting in air. Be sure to diffuse in well-ventilated areas for short periods of time: 15 minutes 1-2 times daily can be sufficient. With good ventilation, 1-2 hours in larger open areas is okay. Place diffusers away from bird cages and fish tanks, and make sure that cats can easily leave the area.
Essential oils and water:
Essential oils are not water-soluble, and float on top of water if not emulsified. A water-based spray with an emulsifier has a uniform mixture. An antifungal ingredient can extend the shelf life to 24 months (as opposed to a few weeks without).
Cats and other household pets:
Cats can react negatively to some essential oils. Hydrosols, another byproduct of distillation, are safer to use topically with cats. Do not use essential oils with birds, fish, reptiles or small mammal and rodent habitats.
Don’t apply essential oil products in or near eyes, ears, nostrils, anal and genital areas. If essential oils do contact these areas, wash with sterile saline solution or milk (essential oils are fat-soluble).
Keep essential oils and aromatherapy products out of reach of pets and children.
Store essential oils and products away from direct heat and sunlight. Undiluted essential oils should only be stored in glass bottles, and diluted aromatherapy products can be stored in glass or PET plastic.
Much of the tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) found in today’s market can irritate skin and mucous membranes.
I hope you enjoy using essential oils with your dog. When used correctly, they are a safe effective (and delightful!) natural remedy. Remember to use these safety guidelines and recognize when it’s time for professional help from your veterinarian.