Are Essential Oils Safe for Dogs?

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Essential oils from lavender to peppermint becoming increasingly popular and used extensively in aromatherapy and as natural, alternative options to traditional medicine. And there's good reason why—these potent oils are said to do everything from balance hormones to ease anxiety to treat skin issues.

But while there are some ways to use essential oils safely with your pooch—namely, under the guidance of a veterinarian who is well-versed in using them—in some cases, these oils could do more harm than good. Care should always be taken when considering alternative medicines for your pet.

The Risks of Essential Oils for Dogs

Made from highly-concentrated plant substances, essential oils have been shown to have an array of health and wellness benefits for humans, so why not share those benefits with your pet? While some holistic veterinarians are increasingly incorporating essential oils into their treatments, the use of these oils to treat ailments in animals is relatively new—and pet owners should be aware that there isn’t yet a significant amount of research to determine whether or not these potent oils are actually effective in treating your dog.

When used inappropriately, there’s the possibility that essential oils can lead to changes in behavior, central nervous system effects, respiratory problems, and other serious health issues.

However, that doesn't mean you can't continue to use essential oils in your home; there are some essential oils that generally considered safe to use around your pets, such as lavender oil. Known to be soothing to the central nervous system and calming when inhaled, a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association actually showed that the use of diffused lavender oil as aromatherapy helped reduced dogs’ movement and vocalization during travel—which can be particularly stressful for some of our canine friends.

However, pet owners should be aware that while a few drops of lavender oil may help soothe their dog, depending on your pooch—and because of all dogs’ powerful noses—there's also a chance that the extremely potent odor could be disorienting to your pet and defeat the purpose by causing additional stress.

How to Safely Use Essential Oils Around Your Dog

For pet owners who have decided to use essential oils around their dogs, be sure that they are always properly diluted. You'll also want to keep your pet’s size in mind when diluting oils—smaller dogs will always be more vulnerable to potential harmful side effects.

For oils that can’t be diluted, use them in extremely small doses—one drop goes a long way—and for a short period of time to monitor your pet for any adverse reactions. Unless directed by a veterinarian, it's also a good idea to avoid applying oils to your pet's fur, as they may accidentally come into contact with sensitive areas such as their eyes. In some cases, oils applied directly to their skin can also be irritating, particularly for pups who already suffer from sensitive skin or other dermatological issues. Most importantly, always avoid letting your dog ingest the oils.

Potential Dangers of Essential Oils

First and foremost, some essential oils can be toxic to dogs, whether consumed orally or when coming into contact with their skin. Anyone who diffuses oils in their home should be sure to educate themselves on which oils could prove toxic to their pet. These dangerous oils include: tea tree (melaleuca), wintergreen, ylang ylang, pine, pennyroyal, cinnamon, sweet birch, and citrus oils such as lemon, orange, or tangerine.

The primary concern with essential oils is that they are rapidly absorbed into the system when taken orally or applied to the skin. The oils are then metabolized by the liver, so they can seriously harm dogs with health conditions like liver disease, as well as both puppies and older dogs.

Unlike when using essential oils on humans, dogs are likely to want to lick any oils off of their skin, which can result in tummy troubles. That’s why it’s especially important that pet owners are educated and guided by their veterinarian on which oils are safe to use in pet-friendly homes. Above all, be very cautious that they’re always stored in a place that can’t be accessed by a curious and mischievous pooch. If these potent oils are accidentally ingested by your four-legged friend, contact both your veterinarian and poison control immediately.

Many pet owners have undoubtedly heard of the possibility of using essential oils in place of other commercial flea and tick preventives. For example, peppermint has been used as an insect repellent for thousands of years, and some studies have found that peppermint oil—particularly when combined with other ingredients, such as linalool—can be effective in repelling pests like fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. However, while peppermint oil may be effective at repelling fleas, it’s certainly not strong enough to kill them. Because there’s still a lack of research on whether or not peppermint oil actually works—or if it could be harmful—pet owners are advised to consult their veterinarian about using any alternative natural flea and tick control methods with their dog.