You can’t go too far these days without running into essential oils. They’re everywhere – online, in the news, and lining the shelves of almost every retail store. So why all the excitement, and how do you use essential oils safely and effectively on and around your dog?
What are essential oils?
For centuries, essential oils have been used for their healing and restorative properties, not to mention their wonderful scents. Essential oils are the natural, volatile aromatic compounds found in various parts of plants. If you have ever smelled a flower or fresh herbs from your garden, you have experienced essential oils.
Pure, high quality essential oils are the extracted and concentrated form of these volatile aromatic compounds. They are often 50 to 70 times more potent than herbs and are extracted from the plant by either steam distillation or cold-press processing. Although essential oils aren’t truly “oils”, they are “lipophilic” or fat-loving in nature and can easily penetrate into skin and cells. They boast antiseptic, anti-histaminic, and anti-tumoral properties, and can be used to stimulate immunity and balance the hormonal systems in humans and their dogs.
Why use them?
When we use essential oils on ourselves and our dogs, we harness their healing powers for our benefit. They are safe, natural and effective alternative solutions for common ailments and can complement, enhance, and even replace conventional therapies – without the side effects. Plus, unlike synthetic or manmade compounds, plants are adaptable, which helps prevent bacterial resistance.
Whether you’re seeking relief for your dog’s skin issues, anxiety or emotional problems, inflammation or pain – or need a way to ward off pesky bugs – essential oils can help!
How to use essential oils on and around your dog
To safely diffuse essential oils around your dog, first choose a high quality oil. Each individual is different, so let your dog be your guide! Monitor his response, especially in the first 20 minutes. If you notice any abnormal behaviours, choose a different oil.
Use a water-based diffuser and start with a drop or two of your chosen essential oil. Always allow your dog the opportunity to leave the area.
When it comes to topical use of essential oils on dogs, appropriate dilution is key to avoiding adverse reactions. Because of the highly concentrated nature of essential oils, use a ‘less is more’ approach. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the dog, the greater the dilution. Age, health status, and essential oil choice are other factors to consider.
Test the dilution of an essential oil by rubbing a small amount on your inner forearm before applying it topically to your dog’s skin.
Dilute by mixing your chosen essential oil with a carrier oil. Fractionated coconut oil is a good option for dogs – it’s lightweight, odourless, non-staining, and won’t leave your dog looking like Elvis! Dilution ratios vary widely, but usually 1 drop of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil is a safe bet. For “hotter” oils like cassia, cinnamon, clove, oregano, rosemary and thyme, start with 1 drop of essential oil to 4 tablespoons of carrier oil. If you’re using a mild essential oil, up to 4 drops per teaspoon of carrier oil for a large dog is typically fine.
Once diluted, apply a drop or two of the mixture where desired, being careful to avoid the eyes, ear canals, nose and other sensitive areas.
Internal or oral use of essential oils is still quite controversial. Although taking oils internally is very effective in some instances, it requires appropriate dilution and dosing, so it’s always best to consult a professional first. Keep in mind that some oils aren’t meant for oral ingestion at all, while others simply aren’t of high enough quality to be safe.
Top 5 essential oils for dogs
Hundreds of essential oils can offer health benefits to our canine companions. The following five are among the most useful:
As one of the highest anti-inflammatory oils, copaiba’s uses for dogs are limitless. Copaiba contains the highest level of a cannabinoid called Beta-Caryophyllene (BCP) of any essential oil, giving it similar benefits to Cannabidiol (CBD) oil at a fraction of the cost. Its therapeutic benefits extend to all systems of the body, making it a great choice for pain as well as musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, dental and urinary issues – to name a few. It can be given simultaneously with NSAIDS or, in some cases, used to replace them.
Copaiba can be used aromatically, topically or orally. It is very easily accepted by dogs, having minimal scent or flavour, and can be mixed with food. Copaiba also potentiates the effects of other oils, making it great for use in blends.
The “king” of essential oils, Frankincense is the oil to use “when in doubt”. It soothes skin conditions, promotes cellular repair, stimulates the immune system, and has both anti-tumoral and anti-seizure effects.
It is safe, well tolerated and has a synergistic effect with other oils. Considered a “life force” oil, Frankincense can aid with life transitions from birth to death. It can be used aromatically, topically or internally.
This is truly a first aid oil that no dog parent should be without. Think of lavender oil as an aid for “all things red” – whether emotional or physical. Its calming properties decrease anxious feelings and provide relaxation and rest. For the skin, the natural antiseptic and antihistamine properties help with irritations, bug bites and fungal infections. Respiratory issues also show significant benefit from diffusing lavender oil.
Most commonly used aromatically or topically, it is often used synergistically with Frankincense. If you have a doggy who is suffering from “old dog brain”, this combination can work wonders.
Ginger essential oil is most commonly used blended with other oils for nausea, including motion or car sickness. It also has anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and motility-regulating effects on the gastrointestinal tract, making it great for your pup’s digestion. Its benefits do not end there, however, as its anti-inflammatory effects extend to other body systems, including the lungs, and the musculoskeletal system. Considered a “warm” oil, ginger helps soothe muscles, so is great for doggy athletes. As ginger also boasts natural anti-coagulant properties, some caution should be observed for dogs with any abnormal bleeding.
Combine ginger with oils of peppermint, caraway, coriander, anise, tarragon and fennel to improve your dog’s digestive system. Whether his stool is too soft, too firm, or too smelly, or he’s experiencing an upset tummy due to diet changes or car rides, digestive blends can help! Dilute and apply topically to your dog’s stomach, or diffuse in the car to help decrease motion sickness.
Often used in insect repellent blends, cedarwood is a great option for dogs that love the outdoors. Combine with other tick, flea and mosquito repelling oils such as catnip, citronella, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, rose and various citrus oils for extra bug-busting action!
These can be diffused, diluted and applied topically, or added to shampoos and sprays to be applied to your dog’s hair, collar or bandana. Simply place a drop or two of the diluted blend into your hands, then rub them into your dog’s coat – paying special attention to his legs and neck – before venturing out of doors. If you can smell the oils, they are still working!
Essential oils are not to be feared – they are to be understood and appreciated for all the benefits they can impart to you and your dog. They are a hidden treasure and art that many are coming back to, and for good reason.
How to shop for quality
Buying high quality essential oils will provide confidence that the products are good for everybody in the household, pets included.
- Beware of store-bought products that say “for aromatic use only”.
- Go to a reputable source.
- Read, read, read! It’s important to become an informed consumer.
- Look for a company that:
- Produces a consistently pure, potent and truly therapeutic grade essential oil.
- Utilizes sustainable, fair trade sourcing from indigenous or like countries.
- Displays transparency through costly, independent third-party testing.
- Performs multiple tests at various stages of production, to ensure standards that are beyond organic.
The use of low quality essential oils is the reason behind most of the controversy surrounding aromatherapy for pets. Many essential oils on the market are untested and contain synthetic or adulterated oils and fillers. Believe it or not, these products actually have very little or no essential oil in them. They’re not “pure” or “therapeutic” (as the label may claim), and can be potentially harmful, causing various adverse reactions and disruption to the endocrine and/or hormone systems.
For this reason, certain essential oils should be avoided for use in or on dogs. Birch and wintergreen (and blends containing them) are among the most commonly adulterated essential oils on the market, and have resulted in cases of toxicity. They also contain high levels of the compound methyl salicylate, which can be toxic and potentially lethal if overdosed in dogs. Likewise, tea tree oil has exceptional healing properties, but due to its’ gross misuse and the low quality of many products, it is generally not recommended for dogs. There are lots of safe and effective alternatives, so reach for those instead.
This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. If your pet has health concerns, seek the advice of your veterinarian.