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10 Things You Must Know before Using Essential Oils on Your Dog

Humans have been using essentials oils for thousands of years to treat a myriad of health issues. But can essential oils penetrate fur or be safe for pets to ingest or inhale? Read on to find out more.

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Essential support

Essential oils aren’t just pleasantly aromatic oils that freshen rooms. They can help calm anxiety, relieve flu symptoms and help the body return to homeostasis. Humans aren’t the only species to reap the benefits of essential oils. Animals can too. Specifically our K-9 friends. In fact, some veterinarians use essential oils in their practice. “As a veterinarian, I like to integrate essentials oils into my practice in conjunction with traditional medicine and they often complement each other,” says Janet Roark, a DVM in Austin, Texas. According to Dr. Roark, the FDA is strict about wording when it comes to essential oils. “While medications can ‘treat’ or ‘cure’ a disease or condition, essentials oils ‘support’ the body or system and ‘promote’ a healthy response,” says Dr. Roark.

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Essential oils aren’t good for all furry friends

Essential oils may be used for many different species of animals but some oils should never be used on cats, in particular. “The liver in cats is less efficient at detoxifying various compounds. This is why cats are more easily sickened by certain medications and products,” says Carol Osborne, DVM, integrative veterinarian, of the Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center and Pet Clinic. “For example, some essential oils contain polyphenols, which makes them potentially toxic to cats. Oils in this group include oregano, thyme, cinnamon bark, clove, and wintergreen. These oils are usually not used in cats,” warns Dr. Osborne. Always consult your veterinarian before using essential oils on any animal. Here are 17 other interesting facts you didn’t know about cats.

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The method

Essential oils can be used alongside nutritional supplements, diet, exercise, massage, and acupuncture to improve your dog’s health (here are some signs your pup is sick). There are several ways to administer essential oils. The specific health or behavioral issue will dictate the best method. Dr. Osborne says that essential oils may be applied topically, diffused with distilled water in a room, mixed with food, or added to drinking water. “Specific oils have specific requirements which enhance their effectiveness. Many oils work best and act synergistically when used in combination with other essential oils,” notes Osborne. If your dog already has patches of red, raw skin, he will likely be very sensitive to oils. “In these cases, in addition to causing skin irritations and hives, these oils are also absorbed into the bloodstream which may not be beneficial to your pet,” says Osborne. Psst! Is there a dog lover in your life? They’ll love these gifts.

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Get the good stuff

Essential oils that are inferior in quality and not of therapeutic grade are often sold under deceptive labels of “organic” or “100% pure” that’s why it’s prudent to read this reference guide to essential oils and get your vet’s recommendation before buying them. To ensure they are therapeutic in nature, it’s important that you get an essential oil that is tested by batch and preferably by a third party laboratory so there are no conflicting interests,” says Dr. Roark. “If your label says ‘for aromatic use only’, its best to not use that one around your pets at all.”

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Essential oils for anxiety

Does your dog get anxious when a thunderstorm rolls in? Or does she sense when it’s time to go to the vet and won’t budge when you open the travel crate? Dr. Osborne uses various combinations of the essential oils of German and Roman Chamomile along with a little oil of Blue Cypress applied topically to help relieve anxiety and stress. “A dosage of three to six drops, specifically formulated for dogs and cats (twice daily) usually works like a charm to take off the edge,” says Dr. Osborne. Dr. Roark adds that lavender essential oil is also a good option. While essential oils aren’t necessarily a cure-all for anxiety but can support other behavior coping methods.

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Joint support

Joint support is something to be mindful of while your dog is young. There are many benefits to choosing a big, loveable hooch, but unfortunately, joint issues are more prevalent among larger breeds. A dog that is overweight also puts more strain on its joints. Diet and exercise are key, but essential oils can support hip and joint function. “Copaiba is very helpful in these cases, as well as a massage blend that has cypress, marjoram, and other oils that support joints, muscles, and healthy circulation,” says Dr.Roark. “Frankincense supports a healthy inflammatory response and used in conjunction with these oils is phenomenal.”

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Arthritis relief

If your aging dog isn’t as quick on the draw or seems to move in a stiff or painful way, she could have arthritis. Talk to your vet about supplements, diet, and essential oils as options to help relieve stiffness and pain. Dr. Osborne suggests essential oil of copaiba; applying it topically and/or directly on the affected joint and/or between the toes daily can be helpful. Osborne also says copaiba be mixed in with food or given directly by mouth. “Copaiba can be mixed in various dilutions with fractionated coconut oil and a certain number of drops, depending on the animals body weight can be given twice a day.” Helichrysum is an essential oil noted for promoting pain relief and support overall healing. It also boosts blood flow and circulation, to deliver vital nutrients and oxygen to help repair damaged cells and tissues. “Combining Copaiba with the essential oil of Helichrysum for example is even more beneficial for arthritis than Copaiba alone. The combination helps to soothe arthritis tired, achy joints and tired muscles while enhancing the body’s natural healing process,” says Dr. Osborne.

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Flea repellent

While there are plenty of fleas and tick repellents on the market today, not all dogs can tolerate the toxic pesticides found in many commercially produced varieties when they suffer from chronic conditions like heart, liver and kidney disease and cancer. (Or maybe you simply want a less chemical version for your own benefit.) Dr. Roark says that single essential oils such as catnip, cedar wood, and lemongrass are good options. Other combinations of essential oils when mixed with precise amounts of distilled water are also quite effective. “The essential oils of eucalyptus, citronella, lemon tea tree, and white cypress are quite helpful to repel bugs, fleas, and mosquitoes for dogs and cats,” says Dr. Osborne. “A few squirts are misted onto the animal and the solution is ‘petted’ onto the rest of the animal with your hands. These essential oils are generally used two to three times a week.” Here are more home remedies for fleas.

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Use caution with these oils

Essential oils should always be used under your vet’s supervision. Dogs can suffer acute allergic reactions and become seriously ill. “In general, I recommend folks do not use melaleuca (tea tree oil), wintergreen, or birch topically or internally with their dogs,” says Dr. Roark. “In addition, whenever using essential oils topically with pets, always dilute the oil. One percent dilution is a good place to start (one drop of essential oil per 100 drops of carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil) and using only a drop of this dilution until you know how your animal will react,” recommends Dr. Roark.

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Don’t play a veterinarian

Essential oils are volatile compounds that can be potentially dangerous to pets (and humans) at certain concentrations. “Essential oils should not be used indiscriminately on your pet. They are used most effectively and most safely under the direction of your veterinarian,” warns Dr. Osborne.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, Family Handyman and Taste of Home, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.