I recently read an article online about a woman’s dog that had a very bad reaction to tea tree oil. She was simply diffusing it in her home and was not even applying it topically to her dog. So I felt the need to address this subject.
Situations like this can potentially give aromatherapy and essential oils a bad reputation. Which is why I want to go over the basics for the oils that are safe to use plus why and how you should be using them.
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Benefits of Aromatherapy for Pets
Aromatherapy is just as beneficial for our pets as it is for us humans and has numerous uses which include –
- Stress and anxiety relief
- Deter insects – repel fleas, ticks, and mites
- First Aid – heal cuts, scrapes, and wounds
- Curb depression and boost mood naturally
- General hygiene
A couple of things to take into consideration before you dive into using aromatherapy for or around your pets is that they have a much more powerful and heightened sense of smell than we do and their bodies are obviously designed a bit differently. If your pet does not like a certain scent then don’t use it. You should never force it even if what you are using is safe and has properties that would be beneficial.
Only use pure therapeutic grade oils that are certified organic so as to avoid exposing your pets and yourself to contaminants and adulterants that are found in poor quality oils and you should also avoid the use of artificial or synthetic fragrances such as those found in commercial plug-ins, room sprays, potpourri, and candles as these also contain toxic ingredients such as phthalates.
Key oils to avoid include –
- sweet birch
- citrus (lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime)
- pine (all types)
- tea tree oil
For oils that are safe (see lists below) start by diluting heavily and use in moderation. Remember –
- Every animal is different, so carefully observe how each respond to the oils.
- Use common sense and good judgment as you try different methods.
- One way is to try applying the oils to yourself first to help your pet get used to the scents and having them in their space.
- Take special care to not get essential oils in your animal’s eyes.
Essential Oils for Cats
Alright, I have good news and bad news. Bad news first – pure essential oils should actually never be used for cats as they contain substances that are toxic to them.
According to a recent article published on the website for the Pet Poison Helpline, Kia Benson, DVM writes –
“Essential oils can pose a toxic risk to household pets, especially to cats. They are rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin and are then metabolized in the liver. Cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver and as such have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating certain toxins like essential oils. Cats are also very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which can be found in some essential oils. The higher the concentration of the essential oil (i.e. 100%), the greater the risk to the cat.“
What are these substances exactly? Phenols or phenolic compounds, in a nutshell, are defined as a protective substance found in plants that help protect them from oxidative and environmental stress. There is more to it but it gets pretty technical. If you are interested in really diving into the science of these compounds you can read more about them here.
Passive diffusers that use evaporation as the means of dispersal such as jewelry, body care products, reed diffusers, humidifiers, motorized diffusers that use low heat, a fan, and pads should be okay to use as long as you avoid the oils mentioned above and watch closely for signs of distress.
Some signs and symptoms of essential oil toxicity include –
- lack of coordination
- coughing and/or wheezing
- drooling and other common signs of poisoning
You may not notice any problems right away, it can take a little while for it to build up in their system before you start to notice anything serious. If you do notice any symptoms immediately move your cat out into fresh air and if symptoms persist take them to an emergency animal clinic right away. Never use nebulizing diffusers since they emit actual droplets of the undiluted oils into the air.
The good news is that having flowers in a vase or in your garden will not harm them and again using passive diffusion as stated above is normally okay too. I have had 5 cats throughout my life and none of them were badly affected by essential oils in my personal care products. So if you have a cat or are thinking of getting one you will just have to compromise on how you use aromatherapy.
The best way for you and your feline, to enjoy the numerous benefits of aromatherapy is through the use of hydrosols aka floral waters. These are a safe and gentle alternative to essential oils. Pure hydrosols are what is leftover after the oils have been distilled and they contain only minuscule trace amounts of the terpenes or terpenoids. They usually do not contain any preservatives and so should be kept away from exposure to direct sunlight and in some cases stored in the refrigerator especially if you live in a very hot climate.
When purchasing hydrosols always check the ingredients to ensure that they are in fact real hydrosols and not plain water with essential oils added. Some companies try to pass this off as floral waters or hydrosols and as I stated above these could potentially be very toxic.
You can use them the same way you would use a linen spray for example. A couple of sprays of – lavender, rose, or chamomile hydrosol on your cat’s bedding or carrier can help relax and calm them down. You can also use it directly on their fur just be careful to avoid spraying it in their eyes or ear canal.
Here is a list of the best hydrosols to use on your cat with their indications:
For a more comprehensive list of hydrosols and other natural ways to take care of your feline friends I highly recommend the book Whole Health for Happy Cats by Sandy Arora. You can use pure aloe juice or the mild floral waters such as chamomile or rose to gently clean and wipe the eyes. Lavender and tea tree water can be used as an ear wash around the outside of the ears to help deter mites.
Essential Oils for Dogs
Since canines are not quite as sensitive as cats you can safely use quite a few essential oils on them. These oils are meant to be used short-term and must be diluted. Hydrosols are safe to use anytime and long-term should you choose to do so. Passive diffusion is also okay, but I would be wary of using nebulizers just as with cats. Pure essential oils should be used in a ratio of 1 drop per every 50 drops of carrier oil. Good carrier oils include – jojoba, grapeseed, and olive oil.
The following oils are the best to use in first aid or to treat specific conditions and are safe for short-term use:
And of course, always keep an eye out for symptoms of essential oil toxicity like those listed above. For more information on how to holistically treat your dog, you may want to check out the Veterinarians Guide to Natural Remedies for Dogs by Martin Zucker.
Use the diluted oils on your dog’s paws or on wounds (just be careful). Rub diluted fennel, spearmint, and cardamom on the belly to help relieve indigestion or gas. The floral waters can be sprayed on their bedding and directly into their fur and they can also be used as a gentle eye and ear wash.
Here is a great recipe for an all-purpose aromatherapy spray that can safely be used for both cats and dogs. You can use this to help deter fleas and other insects, create a mood-boosting and relaxing environment, clean and refresh your pet’s fur, bedding, etc.
I hope you have found all of this information helpful. Which scent is your pet’s favorite? Leave us a comment below!
Valora is a native Californian currently living in the Southeast. She is an artist, designer, blogger and nature lover. Her hobbies include herbalism, cooking, baking, creating DIY aromatherapy recipes, sipping wine and listening to music. She also loves to go hiking and camping.