Essential oils – Are they Safe for Pets?
What is an essential oil? An essential oil is the concentrated form of a plant chemical that has the “essence” – the scent of that plant. This chemical can also have helpful healing or calming properties in addition to holding scent. The chemical extracted from the plant is so strong that must be mixed with another oil to be useful. Blends of essential oils are made to provide a mixture and balance of the benefits of different plant essential oils.
The actual chemical from the plant is called a phenol or phenolic compound. This refers to the chemical structure – it is similar to oil and mixes well with oil. It is important to understand this when considering using essential oils in animals. Cats, for example, do not metabolize phenol compounds well due to the structure of the cat’s liver. One must be extremely careful with use of essential oils around cats or you may cause them to have severe liver disease. Some products such as Limonene should not be used around cats at all. The carrier oil, or inert oil can also be a problem. When I looked at a recent reference for the various carrier oils, macadamia oil was on the list. Macadamia nuts are extremely toxic to pets, so a dog or cat licking your hand after applying that oil could become ill. If you applied a product like this to your pet’s skin it could also be a problem.
Many of the essential oils are used in a plug in type diffuser. Some are massaged onto the body, and I have also read where people are taking drops orally. Please understand that the absorption of these products the most intense orally, moderate by skin, then least by inhalation. Where veterinarians see problems is where pets may be licking people who have applied the oil to themselves – oral ingestion. Pets walking through a product that has spilled, or is left out is also a common way for pets to get into trouble. A diffuser that is near a pet sleeping area that is on all day would also have a more intense exposure that if in another room. Be sure to tell your veterinarian if you are using any of these product in your home with details of where they are.
Natural does not always mean safe. There are now natural flea repellents with Cinnamon oil, citronella Oil or Pennyroyal oil in collars and spot on drops. These products can be irritating and very harmful. In household sprays they can be safe if the area is dry after use. There are far safer flea products that are also more effective to use. Call a veterinarian’s office and discuss with them what is best for your pet.
The essential oil industry is not regulated like other pesticides and drug products. There is a great variability in the concentration and source of essential oil products. There are 2 leading companies that do have 3rd party quality control check on their products so they would be the best to use. There are also veterinary essential oils that have been diluted and formulated for veterinary use. If you are interested in using essential oils for your pet’s benefit talk to your veterinarian about this. If your veterinarian is not aware of these products – it is a new field- ask who practices integrative medicine in your area and speak to them. There have been many pets poisoned by well intentioned owners using essential oils on pets. A call to the veterinary clinic before would have saved a lot of heartache.
As a behaviorist, I found the studies in using Lavender and Chamomile for stress reduction most interesting. When diffused these products did reduce barking and pacing in rescue dogs in shelters. I have not seen any feline studies to date. I know of some rescue transfer people using them in the car and the dogs having a relatively easy time with travel. I have not seen these products work well in the collars that are sold, but the home diffusers are showing promise. Also, a study showed Rosemary and Peppermint to make the dogs bark more! It is theorized that Rosemary and Peppermint are invigorating – boost up the mind – so this may have made the dogs more aware of their surrounding and barking more. I have seen Rosemary in some of the pet products so I would avoid them for stress relief.
There is a place for essential oils in veterinary medicine and pet care. The proper product, at the correct concentration and form is the key to safety for pets. Please partner with your veterinarian when considering these products to pick what would best suit your best friend.
- written by Dr. Sally Foote