There are a lot of medications in the world. And not everyone feels comfortable reaching for synthetic compounds all the time. This is why people seek out alternatives such as CBD oil, acupuncture, and essential oils. However, there are questions with every natural remedy. If you’ve considered essential oils for your dog, you may wonder: are essential oils safe for dogs?
Essential Oils 101
Essential oils come from volatile compounds found within specific plants. They’re distilled into a concentrated liquid to maximize the efficacy of the plant’s supposed benefits. They differ from true oils, which are long-chain fatty acids. (Olive oil ISN’T the same thing as olive essential oil)
Recently, essential oils hit the scene in the fields of aromatherapy and alternative medicine. You find them added to any number of things:
- Cleaning products
- Drink flavorings
- Herbal remedies
- Home air fresheners
- Home fragrances
- Liquid potpourris
- Personal care products
The problem comes in when “natural” automatically gets translated as “safe.” Essential oils ARE natural – no one questions that. However – just as with coconut oil – essential oils are NOT necessarily safe.
The Dark Side of Essential Oils
Remember the definition of an essential oil? It’s derived from a volatile compound. These natural oils are POTENT substances. Not only do they pose hazards to your dog, but they also pose dangers to YOU when misused. Even a few drops carry A LOT of risk.
Essential oils irritate the skin. You should NEVER place undiluted oil on your skin or your dog’s skin. While many homeopathic internet sites tout the wonders of essential oil “safety” for dogs – claiming they’ll solve your dog’s skin conditions – the truth is the complete opposite. You can cause worsening of the disease or even BURNS.
Dog-safe products, such as grooming wipes that contain essential oils, use them properly. When you look at the ingredient list, you’ll notice a concentration of one digit. That’s a safe amount. Trying to figure out that dilution on your own is extremely difficult. You’re better off leaving it to the hands of an expert (which means your veterinarian).
“I honestly wouldn’t put a pure concentration oil on my pet.”~Charlotte Flint, DVM, DABT, Pet Poison Hotline
A dog’s sense of smell is between 10,000-100,000 times better than ours. Have you ever jerked your head back after opening a bottle of essential oil? Imagine what that must be like for your dog! While you find the smell wafting from your diffuser pleasant, it’s overwhelming your dog’s scent receptors.
Many internet sites rave about the use of lavender essential oil to calm your dog. Lavender IS technically safe for dogs. However, even just a drop or two in their space can cause more harm than good. That overwhelming aroma might cause the OPPOSITE effect. If you want to bring your dog some peace, rather than blinding their nose, consider reaching for a calming treat. (Especially considering the lack of real evidence supporting lavender essential oils)
Diffusers cause a different problem for dog safety. The oils disperse into the air, landing on your dog’s coat. They then lick up the oil. Or, worse, they might bump the table the diffuser rests on, dumping the contents onto themselves. Your dog can end up with burns.
If you use a diffuser, keep your dog out of the area. When you finish, air out the room as best you can. Store your diffuser in a closed cabinet where your dog won’t reach the essential oils.
You might enjoy adding a touch of essential oil to your daily water or morning tea. It might be part of your health regime. Unfortunately, the same is NOT safe for your dog. Essential oils cause GI upset (at the best of times). If your dog swallows any oil, you need to contact Animal Poison Control immediately, snag the bottle, and then get to your vet ASAP.
Once essential oils get into your dog’s system, they absorb FAST. Even through the skin, they go into circulation. (This is why they are NOT safe!) They then get processed through the liver. Puppies, dogs with liver disease, and seniors are all at HIGH risk for severe problems.
Ingestion of essential oils comes with a second concern: aspiration pneumonia. Essential oils have a high viscosity (thickness). If your dog vomits, they may aspirate (breathe in) some of the vomit. This transfers the oil to their lungs. You DON’T want these essential oils getting in their lungs – it makes it hard for them to breathe.
Toxic Essential Oils
Every essential oil promises a different benefit – to humans. We want the best for our dogs, so we assume they’ll receive the same results. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. The following essential oils are TOXIC to dogs:
- Citrus (also known as d-limonene)
- Sweet birch
- Tea tree (also known as melaleuca)
- Ylang ylang
NEVER use these oils on or around your dog; they are NOT safe! If you have a product containing these oils, make sure you wait until they dry before allowing your dog in the area.
Signs of Toxicity
Accidents happen. Dogs bump into tables where reed diffusers sit. They stop to investigate bowls of liquids. They decide to chew up wall diffusers (true story – I worked a shift where it happened).
You need to remain vigilant if you keep essential oils in your house. If you see the incident happen, get to the vet right away.
What if you don’t see anything, though? Signs of possible essential oil toxicity include:
- Smelling the scent on your dog’s coat, breath, or vomit
- Difficulty breathing
- Stumbling or uncoordinated gait
- Excessive drooling
- Lethargy or weakness
- Pawing at the face
- Burns on the mouth, face, or skin
As soon as you see ANY of these signs, get to the vet. If you SEE the oil on your dog, wash it off immediately. You’ll lessen the contact, and you’ll prevent further absorption into their system.
Don’t give them ANYTHING without your vet’s consent. (Remember, you DON’T want them to vomit, if you can help it) Make sure you take the essential oil bottle with you – your vet needs to know which plant they’re dealing with.
Which Essential Oils are Safe?
There ARE essential oils you can safely use on your dog. Homeopathic veterinarians use them in specific situations. The difference is they have years of training in proper dilution, application, and monitoring. They’ve established a client-patient relationship, and they know your dog’s complete medical history. They know what medications your dog currently receives and what may or may not cause an interaction.
This is why the best answer on what essential oils are safe is this: You need to speak with your veterinarian.
They can explain what’s safe for your dog. They’ll prepare an essential oil in a suitable carrier that won’t harm your dog. They’ll also do crucial monitoring and follow-up to keep your dog SAFE.
You want the best for your dog, and so do they. While there may not be any medication in an essential oil, you should still only apply treatment under the strict supervision of a medical professional.
Essential oils CAN be safe for your dog. But they can also cause potential harm. You want to keep your dog safe – and yourself safe, too.
- Keep diffusers and bottles out of your dog’s reach
- Only use diffusers in well-ventilated rooms, and make sure your dog stays somewhere else
- NEVER apply essential oils directly to your dog’s skin
- Always consult your veterinarian FIRST
Essential oils may or may not provide the benefits they promise. The jury is still out on that one. But safety needs to come first. Chat with your vet. I promise – they’ll always be on your side.