Responsible Use of Pure Essential Oils for Cats & Dogs
There’s nothing quite like the love for a family member, and a cat or dog is no different. No matter what pet you have, there’s certainly no warmer welcome home than your furry friend greeting you at the door after a long day.
While having a pet is one of the most comforting ways to spend your evenings after a busy day in the office, aromatherapy is also a hugely popular way to unwind. As the popularity of aromatherapy continues to gain momentum worldwide, many people are diffusing essential oils in their home to enhance their living space.
With that in mind, newcomers to the practice are wondering where it leaves their pets, searching for guidelines to ensure that their selected oils are not cause for concern, with many assuming that essential oils, and cats or dogs is a recipe for disaster.
In fact, pure essential oils sourced directly from nature can work wonders on our pets when used with care and as directed. From using essential oils for dog anxiety or even as dog perfume, Australian’s all over the country can relax knowing that they don’t have to sacrifice any of the things they love.
Here, Pat Princi-Jones our aromatherapy advocate, expert and educator tells you everything you need to know about essentials oils for your cats and dogs.
Where to Begin:
Dogs and cats have millions of olfactory receptors and hence are very susceptible to odour particles. When using essential oils for the very first time, make sure you observe your pet’s response as you would with any new product that you bring into the home. Whilst you’re still learning about the essential oils, we recommend introducing them gradually into your wellness routine – you might consider wearing the oils on a tissue tucked into your lapel or pocket to acclimatise your cats and dogs to essential oils. This will help you gauge their response as you hold and play with them throughout the day. Above all, make sure that you purchase 100% pure essential oils from a trusted supplier such as In Essence. Beware of cheap synthetic copies and fragrance oils, which are often the cause of toxicity. Many believe that essential oils for cats or dogs to be harmful, when in fact, the ‘oils’ that they’re using aren’t pure or natural, packed with synthetics and harmful parabens.
Practical General Rules:
- Always use as directed
- Allow time for your pet to acclimatise to oils
- Avoid application to ears and eyes
- Ensure there is adequate ventilation and the diffuser is out of reach of your pet
- Avoid leaving oils in water dishes at ground level to ensure your pet does not ingest oils
- Avoid using the same blend for extended periods of time
- Always use as directed and do not increase the dosage
- Oral administration is not recommended
- Different rules apply for cats and dogs when it comes to topical use
- Make sure you have used the oils yourself before using on your pets
- If your pet is ill, do not prolong aromatherapy treatment but seek the advice of a holistic veterinarian
Diffusing Essential Oils in the Home:
Diffusing pure essential oils to scent and purify the home with beautiful aromas whilst gaining their medicinal benefits is without a doubt, the most popular method of use, and has been enjoyed for decades by families, including their pets. Remember, diffusing essential oils is not to be confused with using essential oils topically on ourselves and our pets. Different rules apply.
If you diffuse essential oils on a regular basis, by all means continue to do so. Although pets cannot tell us what they think or how they feel about the lifestyle choices we make, they will let us know if they don’t like our choices or if it affects them adversely, especially dogs! Note that they quite literally move away or leave the room if the smell is not to their liking.
However, if you do notice that your pet disappears when you diffuse a particular oil blend, then start by lowering the dose. If that doesn’t help, then cease use for a period of time or call your aromatherapy supplier to get some expert advice. In most cases, our pets love pure essential oils as much as we do and respond accordingly to their properties. In fact, using essential oils for dog anxiety is becoming a popular remedy for pet owners, with lavender, roman chamomile and geranium working to calm and soothe. I am privileged to keep company with Hugo, the most gorgeous mini-poodle on earth, and he has grown up thriving on essential oils.
If, however you are diffusing oils for the first time and want to ensure your furry friends are also considered, begin by diffusing a few drops in an open space where the family congregates, and your pet likes to relax. Do not diffuse for more than 3-hour intervals and do not exceed drop count.
How to Apply Essential Oils Topically:
Once your pet has responded favourably to a particular oil or blend and assuming you have a healthy pet, you can then graduate from diffusing oils to using them topically. Make sure that you’ve used them yourself so that you know their potency first-hand! Remember that an essential oil is 100-fold stronger than its plant source.
Recommended topical application methods for pets:
Massage: (not recommended for cats) Your animal’s size determines the amount of oil to use. There are also so many new breeds of small or miniature dogs on the market now that it’s wise to obtain breeder advice before you proceed. Whenever you apply essential oils to large areas of the body, you must first dilute them in a cold-pressed base oil, lotion or water. Dilute 1-2 drops of your chosen essential oil in 20ml of a base oil such as sweet almond, but never exceed 2-4 drops, even with larger dogs. Remember do not apply to any area that your canine or feline can reach with its tongue.
Quick Rub/Palm Method: For easy and comfortable application, rub 1-2 drops of recommended oil between your own hands and then apply by stroking the animal’s fur. For instance, you could rub 1 drop of frankincense OR 1 drop of lavender to calm and relax while patting at the same time.
Shampoo: (not recommended for cats) Combine 2 drops of chosen oil to 50ml of a natural non-fragranced shampoo base for a shiny coat and to manage fleas. Choose from lavender, cedarwood OR frankincense. Avoid eye area.
Dog Bathing: Add 2 drops of chosen oil to 5 litres of water to wash your dog. Use lavender for overanxious dogs. Use frankincense to heal wounds and cedarwood for fleas.
Water-Based Spray: Combine 2-4 drops in a 1 litre bottle and shake well before spraying bedding area, car seat or use as a general air freshener. Lavender is excellent to spray on the underside of bedding to help settle pets when travelling long distances. Do not spray directly onto the pet and always use a new, dedicated bottle. Think of it as your very own dog perfume!
Swab: Add 1 drop of chosen oil to a glass dish of 20 ml water. Use a cotton ball to apply solution to the area of pain or discomfort. Choose from lavender, Australian sandalwood and frankincense for their excellent antiseptic and wound-healing properties.
Doggy Brush: If you have a dedicated doggy brush, dispense 2 drops of lavender OR cedarwood onto a tissue and dust over the brush bristles and then brush coat to help manage fleas and ticks.
Oral Method: This application is not recommended for either dogs or cats. Consult a holistic veterinarian before using essential oils in this way.
Essential Oils & Your Dog
Recommended essential oils for topical use for dogs
Lavender is first aid in a bottle. A drop is all you need to soothe, nurture and settle your pooch. It is a great way of introducing dogs to the oils and is recommended during behavioural training and on plane trips to manage anxiety levels. Place a few drops on their collar, blanket or favourite toy. Use as a swab for burns.
Frankincense is grounding, a natural healer and a safer option for pet care. You only need a few drops and the transformation in a hyperactive, anxious dog is notable. A natural antiseptic, frankincense can also aid in the healing of injuries, itching, allergies, and infections when applied in a swab. With massage, it can also ease the pain and discomfort of arthritis.
Cedarwood is deeply grounding and can be used as a substitute for frankincense. It will relax your dog and can also be used as a swab to treat skin conditions. It helps settle dogs before sleep time and its antiseptic properties can assist to repel ticks and fleas with regular washing.
Australian Sandalwood is an investment oil but well worth it. It has antiseptic and soothing properties to calm, protect and nurture your pet. Use as a swab or massage for fungal infections. It also reduces inflammation and a few drops sprayed onto bedding will help relieve dog flu symptoms. For a flea repellent, combine 2 drops of Australian sandalwood and 2 drops of bergamot and spray bedding and blanket.
Geranium a sweeter-smelling option which heals wounds and has an overall calming effect when diffused.
Roman chamomile and German chamomile help with poor circulation and aid wound healing. Use either oil in a massage blend to reduce inflammation and relieve the discomfort of arthritis and painful joints.
Bergamot is very relaxing for hyperactive dogs. When they are overexcited, try placing a drop on your dog’s collar, favourite toy or blanket before a trip, a hike or puppy school. Lemongrass can be used with care for a fully grown, healthy dog. Combine 1 drop to a teaspoon of cider vinegar before adding to 5 litres of water. Mix well. It will keep the coat nice and shiny and help manage fleas without the use of harsh chemicals.
The golden rules for dogs:
• Always heavily dilute and keep essential oils away from their face, nose and eyes
• Do not use essential oils on and around puppies under 10 weeks old
• Avoid phenol-rich oil such as oregano, basil, cinnamon, thyme, wintergreen, clove bud and sage especially around puppies and miniature dogs
Essential Oils & Your Cat:
The use of essential oils on and around cats is a different story altogether. Cats are not able to absorb and eliminate essential oils in the same way that humans and other pets can if ingested. Their liver is not capable of metabolising scent molecules.
Cats have complex scent glands and although they respond to smells in cute ways by grimacing and twitching their nose, rather than eliminating essential oil compounds they store them in their body. This can over time lead to toxic build-up and eventually illness. Therefore, keep topical application to a minimum and only with healthy cats.
Recommended essential oils for topical use for cats
Lavender will calm and settle your cat. Use 1 drop in spray bottle or use palm method. Place a few drops on collar, blanket or favourite toy. Use as a swab for minor injuries. Make sure to source a top quality Lavandula angustifolia and not an inferior camphor-rich lavandin for use on cats.
Frankincense aids the healing of injuries, itching, allergies and infections. Use 1 drop as a swab or try it on your cat’s collar or apply the palm method.
Roman chamomile helps balance and calms. It also aids wound healing by reducing inflammation and relieving pain. Use in spray or palm method.
Note: A cat is unable to metabolise the following compounds particularly if they are administered in high doses and for prolonged periods of time. It is the high concentration of toxic substances that cause adverse reactions.
• Avoid phenol-rich oils including cinnamon, oregano, thyme, basil, tea tree, citronella, wintergreen and clove bud.
• Avoid oils such as pine, cypress, juniper berry, rosemary, lemon myrtle and nutmeg as they contain high percentages of alpha-pinene compound.
• If ingested, peppermint can cause harm to your cat so do not leave any lying in a dish of water. It causes liver damage if ingested in significant quantities.
• And most importantly, avoid all citrus oils like orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime and even mandarin because they contain high concentrations of limonene which cats cannot digest.
The golden rules when using essential oils with cats
• If diffusing, always allow cats access to leave the area if need be
• Allow time for your cat to become familiar with the oil you use topically.
• Always heavily dilute and keep oils away from their face, nose and eyes
• Do not use essential oils on and around kittens under 10 weeks old
Remember, using sound judgment is essential for a healthy happy pet. The information available on the use of essential oils and pets can sometimes differ, therefore responsible use is paramount. Also, feed them quality food and ensure they get plenty of exercise. Together with essential oils, these measures will ensure you have made every effort to look after your pets’ wellbeing. Enjoy.
Pat Princi-Jones April 2018
Aromatherapy advocate, expert and educator @ Heritage Brands Pty Ltd
Associate member of IAAMA, International Aromatherapy & Aromatic Medicine Association, 2016; Bachelor of Arts and Dip. Education (English/History major) UNSW, Sydney, Australia; Aromatherapy 1, Australian College of Natural Medicine; Cert 1V in Training and Assessment, TAE40110, HBA Learning Centre, Victoria; 2014
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