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Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?

By Colleen Williams
March 12, 2018 • 3 min. read
healthy paws essential oils

Whether you’re battling a cold or looking for relaxation, diffusing essential oils is popular with many people nowadays. One thing we may not be aware of, however, is if those oils are actually approved for use around dogs and cats. Whatever we sniff in, so do our scent-sensitive pets. So how do you know if the oil you’ve chosen is pet-safe or toxic?

Aromatherapy for Pets

Just as aromatherapy is beneficial for humans, there are vets and advocates that recommend using it for pets. The research is pretty compelling, and this practice has experienced a real boom in recent years. In the article, Pet Aromatherapy And Essential Oils: What You Need To Know, Dr. Richard Palmquist says, “Oils have been shown to have many possible desirable effects such as reducing anxiety and inflammation, fighting oxidative processes, battling toxins and fighting infections by inhibiting bacteria, fungi and viruses.” Essential oils contain biologically active, powerful compounds that can be absorbed by inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. They work rapidly on both human and animal bodies. Our biology however, is not the same – some essential oils and scents can be irritating or even toxic to cats and dogs.

What is Safe

There is conflicting information about which oils are safe and which ones do harm, so it’s important to talk to your vet before attempting to “heal” a condition with aromatherapeutic treatments, or even releasing oils into the air for insomnia, anxiety, etc. for your personal benefit. If your pet ingests an essential oil, you should contact pet poison control or your vet immediately (poison control calls and related veterinary treatments are covered by your Healthy Paws policy). Kelly Holland Azzaro, a Registered Aromatherapist, Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner and Animal Aromatherapy Practitioner, says in her paper Animal Aromatherapy and Essential Oil Safety: “Remember: less is best with essential oil use, do not be tempted to think that if it’s good, then more is better. This is especially true with sensitive animals: they are entrusting us to use essential oils safely and wisely. Always use the rule ‘when in doubt …don’t.’”

What is Toxic

There are multiple guidelines of safety to follow when attempting to administer aromatherapy to your own pet. If you do not consult a vet or animal aromatherapist, remember the following:

  • Do not rely on an internet meme or infographic to know what is safe for your pet. Every animal responds differently, and essential oils are very potent.
  • Some essential oils can cause liver and kidney toxicity in sensitive species. This especially holds true for cats, as they have very sensitive metabolic systems and internal organs. The liver and kidneys do not break down certain substances due to a lack of enzymes. The top oils to avoid for cats include cinnamon, oregano, clove, wintergreen, thyme and birch, among others.
  • Both cats and dogs are sensitive to melaleuca (tea tree) oil, and it can be to the point of toxicity.
  • Animals have a very sensitive sense of smell, so use oils that are diluted and always provide an escape route with fresh air.
  • Do not apply to eyes, muzzle, nose or inside nostrils, ears or mouth, and genital areas When diluting the oil, whether it is in a diffuser or you are attempting to use topically, most aromatherapists recommend 1 drop of essential oil diluted in 50 drops of a pure dilutional oil such as grape seed oil.
  • If a pet does not like an oil – or worse, is allergic – do not use it.
  • It is extremely easy to use too much of an oil. One common mistake is when a pet parent discovers essential oils and then diffuses too much in their home, unintentionally overdosing their pet.
  • If the oil is safe for your pet, do not use for no more than two weeks at a time. Be sure to provide a rest period in between treatments.

Essential oils and aromatherapy are useful parts of holistic veterinary medicine, and their popularity is growing as it does with human medicine. Since animals and people are different, it is important to know how to properly diffuse or topically apply these oils so we avoid harming our furry friends.  Know the signs of toxicity:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Excessive Drooling/Salivation
  • Mouth Sores
  • Seizures and Tremors
  • Elevated Liver Enzymes
  • Temporary Paralysis

The most important rule, though, is to always speak to a veterinarian before using any essential oils on your pet.

When it comes to protecting your pet’s health, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance covers the whole kitty and ka-poodle, including most alternative treatments like acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and chiropractic care. Find out more about our dog and cat insurance by getting a free quote. Bonus: each quote means a donation to our foundation, which provides medical care to homeless pets.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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