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In healthy living circles, the use of essential oils is often a part of everyday life. It doesn’t seem to hurt to keep up with trends! Since essential oils are natural and have amazing benefits, they must be safe to diffuse freely and apply all over your body every day, right?
As you might guess my answer to this is a big no. I use essential oils with my family on a daily basis and can go on and on about their benefits and uses, but research shows that we must be aware of certain precautions.
Many of us share a home with small children or a pet or two (or both in our case!), so it’s important to consider everyone in the family when choosing to use essential oils. The safety of pet essential oils is not an easy topic, but it is something we need to address in our daily lives.
Are essential oils safe for pets?
According to the 2019-20 APPA Survey, 65% of U.S. households own at least one pet. So it’s no wonder that so many of us are thinking about pet health when it comes to diets, supplements, and even pet probiotics. Many people wonder if they can use essential oils around their pets, and that’s the question we’ll set out to answer here.
Essential oils are part of nature, present in every tree and plant we see. However, bottled essential oils are very concentrated and have more potent properties than what you find in nature.
We’ve had several domestic dogs over the years (and one now), so I wanted to find out the best information and safest practices when it comes to keeping pets at home. When I started digging into this question, I realized that it’s hard to find a simple answer. I’m pretty used to it now, so here are the best conclusions I’ve been able to draw from the research I’ve found.
Can I diffuse essential oils around my pet?
Essential oils can be diffused around pets, but some precautions are required, especially since it is usually done in enclosed spaces. Generally speaking, pets have a much more sensitive sense of smell than humans. What smells pleasant to you might make them unpleasant (or even dangerous).
Here are some common-sense precautions for using essential oils around pets:
- Substantially dilute essential oils when used near pets, even above the recommended dilution.
- Pet-proof the area around the diffuser. A dog or cat can easily knock over the diffuser and ingest oily water. Place the diffuser in a safe location out of the reach of pets, and make sure the power cord is also secured. (Of course, this is also a rule for children in the family to follow.)
- The first time an animal is exposed to a diffuser oil, only a few drops are needed. Observe any response to this smaller dose before increasing the dose.
- When introducing new oil, stay with the animal for at least the first 5-10 minutes. Note changes in drowsiness, squinting, and breathing patterns. If these occur, bring the animal to fresh air for at least 20 minutes, then stop using the oil.
- Just like humans, pets can respond differently to essential oils. The scent that one person lives on can completely overwhelm another. It is also important for pets to monitor behavior and try different concentrations and oils.
- Consider spreading in open or well-ventilated areas and opening doors to escape. This allows the animal to move on its own when uncomfortable.
- Take a break from spreading. This applies to everyone, including pets and people. Diffuse essential oils throughout the day and can be toxic every day. As with many things, moderation is key.
However, even with these precautions, some essential oils should not be used around pets.
Which oils can be used for dogs?
Dogs are probably the best candidates for aromatherapy. Dogs have a keen sense of smell and are extremely sensitive to the most subtle smells. Their noses are used to bring volatile compounds into the air, such as essential oils.
Research on aromatherapy for dogs is still in its early stages and ongoing. However, some studies have shown that scented compounds do affect the brain directly, and in the way the researchers hoped.
These studies use EEG to look at the effects on the brain. For example, ylang-ylang enhances alpha activity, providing relaxation. There’s even evidence that kennel dogs are more relaxed when lavender is diffused near them.
Dogs who are anxious about travel can also benefit from aromatherapy. A study by the Belfast Canine Behaviour Centre in Ireland showed that dogs exposed to lavender essential oil while travelling had significantly less anxious behaviour. They spend more time resting and move or vocalize less.
Essential oils can definitely help keep your dog happy and healthy, but should not replace regular care. It is still very important to seek veterinary care for an illness or concern. However, essential oils can be used to enhance the treatment.
Topical applications must always be highly diluted and should not be used near the eyes, ears, nose or genital area. Because dogs lick their fur, topical use must be well monitored under the advice of a trusted veterinarian or aromatherapist, as ingested oils can be toxic.
Which oils are safe for cats?
Cats need to be especially careful when using essential oils. They do not have the same liver enzymes as humans that break down and expel chemical compounds from the body. They also have very sensitive systems.
The Tisserand Institute recommends that essential oils spread on cats must be highly diluted, used in a well-ventilated area, and only used for a short period of time. It is important to observe painful symptoms. Short, infrequent spreads are best.
Topical application of essential oils is trickier. Seemingly harmless tea tree oil can be deadly to cats. Before using any oil topically, make sure it’s a cat-safe formula and is highly diluted.
Which oils are toxic?
Many pet owners are looking for more natural ways to treat their pets. However, some “natural” drugs have been shown to be just as dangerous as synthetic drugs. Researchers reviewed ASPCA and animal poison control records and found that 92 percent of animals had adverse reactions to natural flea treatments.
Any oil can be toxic if used incorrectly. Dilution and safe handling are very important. That being said, many sources agree that certain oils should not be used with animals.
Essential oils to avoid around pets include:
- tea tree oil
- Oils considered “hot” – including cinnamon, cloves, oregano and thyme
- Oils high in phenolics – common ones are fennel, cloves, basil, and oregano
In general, this is the same advice for using essential oils around young children.
What about other pets?
The same advice applies for most pets. Diluted water diffusion is usually the safest option and preferred. The smaller the animal, the lower the concentration should be.
- Do not use any oils with antibacterial properties around hindgut fermenting animals such as horses and rabbits. They are very dependent on gut bacteria, so any disruption of this balance can have serious consequences.
- Birds seem to be a special case, and I can’t find any convincing information recommending or banning the use of oils. There seems to be a lot of inconsistency in this area, so I just recommend consulting a knowledgeable professional before using pet bird oil.
- Do you have a chinchilla owner? Fun fact: chinchillas have the most hair follicles per square inch of any land animal! This will cause the oil to absorb more easily, so take extra precautions.
For more information on the general pet safety of essential oils, I highly recommend the Phytotherapy Blog as they have some of the most balanced essential oil education I’ve found.
pet essential oil recommendation
Here’s what my research boils down to:
- Be sure to consult your veterinarian as research on this topic is mixed
- Do not use around hindgut fermenters such as horses and rabbits
- Be extra careful (or better not) when using around small animals like cats and birds
- Always dilute heavily in carrier oil
- Be careful pets do not ingest these oils
- Do not add essential oils to water dishes or food
- Keep any topical application away from eyes, ears, nose, mouth, paws and genitals
- Stay away from hot oils or oils high in phenols
- Observe pets carefully when introducing essential oils
- If pets are too sensitive, move the essential oil diffuser to a separate part of the home
- Keep essential oils safely in a pet-proof place
- If there are any signs of distress, always have the Pet Poison Helpline or see a veterinarian at hand
Pet Safe Essential Oils
I don’t know how many pet-safe blends I would trust, but my favorite essential oil line does have blends specifically for dogs. To be on the safe side, I use this when spreading or stick to other pet safe oils around the house!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Rob Franklin, Veterinarian at Full Bucket Health. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you consult your family veterinarian.
Do you have concerns about pets and essential oils? Anything to add to the conversation? Please share in the comments!
- 2019-20 American Pet Products Association Survey, https://americanpetproducts.org/pubs_survey.asp
- Wells DL. Aromatherapy for the excitement of dog travel. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006;229(6):964-7.
- ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/trending-now-are-essential-oils-dangerous-pets