Is aromatherapy for dogs a safe complementary treatment? Yes - if you know how to use essential oils safely with dogs! Aromatherapy is effective in helping treat a number of dog health problems, such as skin irritations, anxiety, flea/tick infestations, and much more. This page introduces essential oils and hydrosols; how to use essential oils safely on dogs, and which oils are unsafe to be used on dogs.
Using aromatherapy to tackle dog health problems is starting to gain recognition as a safe and effective alternative treatment.
Unfortunately, many people still have a lot of misconceptions about "aromatherapy" - some of them equate aromatherapy with scented candles or grooming products with synthetic oils.
Aromatherapy is more than just making your dog smell good! 100% pure essential oils and hydrosols have medicinal properties and, if used appropriately, can be effective in helping to treat and control an array of dog health problems - from skin irritations to motion sickness to certain behavioral problems such as anxiety. We can also blend different oils to create synergy.
Want to know more about using aromatherapy for dogs? Great! This page is written to give you - the responsible dog owner - more information on aromatherapy for dogs, so that you can decide for yourself whether to use it as an additional alternative treatment for various dog problems.
We will look at the following:
Aromatherapy for dogs refers to the therapeutic use of 100% pure essential oils and hydrosols for holistic treatments of physical and behavioral problems in dogs.
Aromatherapy is not limited to the use of grooming products that contain essential oils.
It means more than that - it refers to the use of a pure essential oil, or several oils combined, for a certain healing purpose - either to help to treat a particular health problem, or to enhance the overall health and wellbeing of the dog.
You may have noticed that I have bolded the words "pure" a couple of times. It is intentional because I can't emphasize enough the importance of using 100% pure essential oils when treating your dog.
Do not try to save money and buy cheap "essential oils" that contain synthetic substances. They will not have the therapeutic effects and, even worse, the synthetic substances and chemicals may do harm to your dog.
An essential oil is a volatile substance contained in the glandular hairs, sac, or veins of different parts of a plant, such as the leaves, flowers, bark, roots, seeds or fruit. They are the "essence" of that particular plant form and are responsible for giving that plant its unique scent.
There are several ways to extract essential oils: steam distillation, solvent extraction, carbon dioxide extraction, or manual expression.
Contrary to what most people think, essential oils are non-oily. They are highly concentrated and should almost always be diluted before use.
Each oil has its own individual properties, such as scent, color, chemical properties, and healing effects.
On a physical level, many essential oils are antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying. On an emotional level,some essential oils can be sedative or stimulating.
A hydrosol is a water-based substance which is a by-product obtained during the steam distillation process of an essential oil.
A hydrosol contains water-soluble parts of a plant as well as very small amount of some essential oil components. Since hydrosols are not highly concentrated like essential oils, they can be used undiluted as is, or essential oils can be added to a hydosol for synergistic effects.
For extremely sensitve dogs, small dogs, and cats, hydrosols are good alternatives to the more potent essential oils. (Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils so it is better to use hydrosols on cats.)
Essential oils are highly concentrated and therefore extremely potent. When using essential oils on our dogs, we should be careful not to overuse them.
Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil (such as olive oil, sweet almond oil, etc.) before use.
If we choose essential oils that are safe for dogs, and use them in diluted form, they are generally safe to use on dogs and have a positive therapeutic effect.
Having said that, bear in mind that all dogs are different and may react very differently to even the same oil! So if you are using essential oils on your dog for the first time, take extra precaution.
Also, just because essential oils are "natural", doesn't mean that they are all safe to use. Some essential oils, diluted or not, are unsafe for dogs and use of such oils should be avoided altogether.
Here are some essential oils that should NOT be used on dogs:
Because of uterine stimulation or possible toxicity, avoid using these oils on dogs, especially on pregnant dogs.
*The oil of Juniper berry is perfectly safe, but the Juniper wood oil is toxic to the kidneys.
Some aromatherapy formulae found on websites suggest using the oils birch and wintergreen for joint pains caused by arthritis. However, dermal use of these two oils has been proven to be toxic as they contain high levels of methyl salicylate. Ingestion can cause severe poisoning and death.
These oils can cause dermal irritation and possible toxicity to both people and pets.
Due to the pungent properties of these oils, they are considered to be hazardous and may cause severe dermal irritation.
Although this oil is effective in repelling flea, it is also highly toxic to the kidneys and the nervous system. It is also a known abortifacient. Avoid using this oil on pets and yourself!
This oil is a terrible photosensitizer.
Both the herb and the oil wormwood are toxic to pets and should be avoided at all costs, even though some people suggest using wormwood for treating worm infestation. There has been reports of wormwood essential oil causing renal failure in humans. It is also a known fact that wormwood causes seizures, and possesses very high oral and dermal toxicity.
Aromatherapy for dogs can be applied topically (i.e. on the skin), by diffusion and inhalation.
Topical application is the most commonly used technique, and the oils are applied directly to the area(s) needed. The oils penetrate the skin and are quickly absorbed by tiny capillaries which carry them to the bloodstream.
Essential oils can be topically applied via massage, or via spritzers, sprays, and of course the oils can also be added to shampoos, conditioners, salves, ointments, etc.
Remember, the oils have to be diluted before use. Carrier oils, such as olive oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, can be used.
Petting is another, less "intense" way of applying oils topically to a dog. What you can do is, put diluted essential oils on your hands, rub them together until a light film of the desired concentration is on the hands. Then pet your dog using both hands. This is good for addressing canine emotional issues, such as anxiety, stress, depression, etc. The oils as well as the petting can calm the dog right down.
Diffusion and inhalation is another way to practice aromatherapy for dogs. A diffuser is used to evaporate the oils which are inhaled by the dog. Leave the diffuser on for about 20 to 30 minutes in order for the dog to inhale and absorb the oils. You should be able to see result if you repeat this procedure twice daily for five to seven days.
Some people wonder if essential oils can be given to dogs orally. Oral application of essential oils to dogs should only be done under the supervision of a holistic veterinarian who has properly training in aromatherapy.
As the oils are highly concentrated and potent, extreme care has to be taken to avoid overdose. And of course, some essential oils are simply not suitable for ingestion at all.
For home remedies, therefore, limit yourself to the first two techniques (topical application and inhalation).
If you plan to use essential oils on or around an old dog, exercise extra caution. See my blog post on Essential Oils for Old Dogs for more information.