Essential oils are naturally occurring, volatile aromatic compounds that come from the seeds, bark, stems, flowers and roots of plants. If you’ve used them before, I’m sure you’re already familiar with how incredibly potent, fragrant and beneficial they can be to your health, but have you ever tried essential oils for pets?
According to the American Kennel Club, “Preliminary research suggests that these potent oils may have some health benefits for dogs and humans, and many holistic veterinarians incorporate essential oils into their practices.” Many pet owners today are turning to essential oils for a variety of health concerns in their pets, including flea and tick prevention, skin issues, and behavior problems like anxiety. (1)
While using essential oils for pets is known to have its benefits, it’s vital to know which oils are safe to use, how to use them, and to remember that, like people, each animal is different and may react uniquely to a particular essential oil. Similar to the use of oils with children, it’s absolutely crucial to remember that a little goes a long, long way with pets.
Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?
If you’re wondering about the safety of essential oils for pets, the answer is that some essential oils are considered OK for use with pets. There are a good amount of essential oils that have been deemed safe and, even better helpful, to pet health. However, there are also many essential oils toxic to dogs and cats (and animals in general), which I will talk about later in this article. But first, are you ready to learn all about the best essential oils for pets, specifically dogs and cats?
Essential Oils for Pets: 5 Best Oils + Uses for Dogs
What essential oils are OK for dogs? The following oils are not only OK for dogs, but they’re also known to have some really impressive potential benefits!
Below is a short list of essential oils that experts say are safe to use on dogs:
1. Lavender Oil
Lavender oil is a popular choice among humans so maybe you already have this incredible essential oil on hand for your furry friend. If you’re looking for essential oils for dog odor, lavender is a great scent that pet owners tend to love too. Plus, studies demonstrate lavender’s amazing helpful effects on cases of PTSD as well as its anti-anxiety ability, so it will likely calm both you and your pet. (2, 3)
For pets like dogs, lavender essential oil’s calming effects can be very helpful for anxiety (often induced by visits to the vet or car rides), car sickness or sleep troubles. A 2006 clinical trial looked at the effects of lavender essential oil on 32 dogs with a history of travel-induced excitement in their owners’ cars. What did they find? The dogs exposed to the scent of lavender oil spent a significant amount more time resting and sitting and a lot less time moving around and vocalizing. Overall, the researchers conclude, “Traditional treatments for travel-induced excitement in dogs may be time-consuming, expensive, or associated with adverse effects. Aromatherapy in the form of diffused lavender odor may offer a practical alternative treatment for travel-induced excitement in this species.” (4)
Lavender oil is a great topical remedy for canine skin concerns like allergies and burns. It’s also a common choice of essential oils for dog wounds and essential oils for dogs itching. (5)
2. Peppermint Oil
You may already be familiar with this popular, refreshing essential oil. Will peppermint oil hurt dogs? Peppermint is one of the top recommended essential oils to get rid of fleas in dogs. You’ll actually find peppermint as one of the more commonly used essential oils for dog flea repellent for sale in pet shops and online today.
According to Dr. Janet Roark, a veterinarian and the owner of Hill Country Mobile Veterinary Service in Austin, Texas, “Peppermint essential oil can be used to cool sore muscles, energize tired animals, and soothe upset stomachs. It refreshes the air when diffused and can freshen breath with taken internally. This oil can open the airways and promote a healthy respiratory tract, as well as soothe aching joints.”
As an energizing oil, it can be a great mood booster for animals too. Roark, who is also known as the “Essential Oil Vet,” instructs that peppermint oil is best used topically with dogs. (6)
The American Kennel Club has a great essential oil dog shampoo recipe that includes several recommendations for essential oils for dog fleas prevention, including peppermint. Check out it Flea-Repellent Dog Shampoo with Essential Oils, which includes simple ingredients you may likely have on hand already. Using a shampoo like this regularly is the perfect way to use essential oils to kill fleas on dogs.
3. Chamomile Oil
Roman chamomile oil is a well-known anti-inflammatory that is a great choice for both humans and dogs alike if the problem is a skin irritation, burns, wounds, ulcers or eczema. (7, 8) This is a very gentle essential oil that can also help calm a stressed-out dog. (9)
If you’re looking for essential oils recipes for dogs using chamomile oil, check out this super easy Calming Spray Recipe that also includes lavender oil.
4. Frankincense Oil
Can you use frankincense oil for dogs? For most dogs, the answer is “yes!” In fact, Dr. Richard Palmquist, chief of integrative health services at Centinela Animal Hospital in Inglewood, Calif., says that using frankincense oil in some cases of cancer and tumors can be very helpful. (10) The use of frankincense oil in pet cancer isn’t that surprising when you consider that research has shown the powerful potential for frankincense oil to help fight some forms of human cancer, including bladder cancer. (11)
Frankincense oil is known to have potent antimicrobial abilities, making it a great choice for germ fighting and immune boosting too. (12) Research using animal models (mice) also shows that this ancient oil has powerful anti-depressive effects. (13)
5. Cedarwood Oil
According to Dogs Naturally Magazine, cedarwood oil (Cedrus Atlantica or Cedrus deodara) is a terrific natural pest repellent. Cedarwood essential oil when used in dogs also can act as an antiseptic for the lungs, expectorant for coughs (like kennel cough), circulation stimulator (making it helpful for bodily pains and arthritis), hair growth booster and dandruff reducer, diuretic, and a general calming agent that can help with behavior concerns like shyness or nervous aggression. (14)
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants.
The oils capture the plant’s scent and flavor, also called its “essence.”
Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence.
Essential oils are obtained through distillation (via steam and/or water) or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing.
Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready for use.
The way the oils are made is important, as essential oils obtained through chemical processes are not considered true essential oils. Popular Types
There are more than 90 types of essential oils, each with its own unique smell and potential health benefits.
Here’s a list of 10 popular essential oils and the health claims associated with them:
- Peppermint: Used to boost energy and help with digestion.
- Lavender: Used for stress relief.
- Sandalwood: Used to calm nerves and help with focus.
- Bergamot: Used to reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema.
- Rose: Used to improve mood and reduce anxiety.
- Chamomile: Used for improving mood and relaxation.
- Ylang-Ylang: Used to treat headaches, nausea and skin conditions.
- Tea Tree: Used to fight infections and boost immunity.
- Jasmine: Used to help with depression, childbirth and libido.
- Lemon: Used to aid digestion, mood, headaches and more.
BOTTOM LINE:There are over 90 commonly used essential oils, each associated with certain health claims. Popular oils include peppermint, lavender and sandalwood.
Health Benefits of Essential Oils
Despite their widespread use, little is known about the effectiveness of essential oils in treating health conditions.
Here’s a look at the evidence for some of the common health problems that essential oils and aromatherapy have been used to treat.
Stress, Anxiety and Depression
It has been estimated that 43% of people who have stress and anxiety use some form of alternative therapy to help with their condition (8).
However, due to the scents of the compounds, it’s hard to conduct blinded studies and rule out biases. Because of this, many reviews on the stress- and anxiety-relieving effects of essential oils have been inconclusive (12, 13).
Interestingly, using essential oils during a massage may help relieve stress, although the effects may only last while the massage is taking place (14).
A recent review of over 201 studies found that only 10 were robust enough to analyze. It also concluded that aromatherapy was ineffective at treating anxiety (15).
Headaches and Migraines
It has also been suggested that applying a mixture of chamomile and sesame oil to the temples may effectively treat headaches and migraines. This is a traditional Persian headache remedy (20).
However, more high-quality studies are needed on this.
Sleep and Insomnia
One review examined 15 studies on essential oils and sleep. The majority of studies showed that smelling the oils (mostly lavender) had positive effects on sleeping habits (23).
One mouse study found that ingesting a combination of thyme and oregano essential oils helped induce the remission of colitis. Two rat studies on caraway and rosemary oils found similar results (26, 27, 28).
Antibiotic and Antimicrobial
The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has renewed interest in the search for other compounds that can fight bacterial infections.
Essential oils, such as peppermint and tea tree oil, have been investigated extensively in test tubes for their antimicrobial effects. In fact, they have shown some positive results (31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39).
However, while test-tube study results are interesting, they do not necessarily reflect what’s happening within your body. They don’t prove that a particular essential oil could effectively treat bacterial infections in humans.
BOTTOM LINE:Essential oils may have some interesting applications for health. However, more research is needed in humans.
Essential oils have many uses outside of aromatherapy.
Many people use them to scent their homes or freshen up things like laundry.
They are also used as a natural scent in homemade cosmetics and high-quality natural products.
It has also been suggested that essential oils could provide a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to man-made mosquito repellents, such as DEET.
However, results of their effectiveness have been mixed.
Studies have shown that some oils, such as citronella, may effectively repel certain types of mosquitoes for around 2 hours. Protection time may be extended up to 3 hours when it is used in combination with vanillin.
BOTTOM LINE:Aromatherapy isn’t the only use for essential oils. They can be used in and around the home, as a natural mosquito repellent or industrially to make cosmetics.
How to Choose The Right Essential Oils
Many companies claim that their oils are “pure” or “medical grade.” However, these terms aren’t universally defined and therefore hold little weight.
Given that it is an unregulated industry, the quality and composition of essential oils can vary greatly (49).
Keep the following tips in mind in order to choose only high-quality oils:
- Purity: Find an oil that contains only aromatic plant compounds, without additives or synthetic oils. Pure oils usually list the plant’s botanical name (such as Lavandula officinalis), rather than terms like “essential oil of lavender.”
- Quality: True essential oils are the ones that have been changed the least by the extraction process. Choose a chemical-free essential oil that has been extracted through distillation or mechanical cold pressing.
- Reputation: Purchase a brand with a reputation for producing high-quality products.
BOTTOM LINE:High-quality oils only use pure plant compounds extracted by distillation or cold pressing. Avoid oils that have been diluted with synthetic fragrances, chemicals or oils.
Safety and Side Effects
Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Plants and herbal products contain many bioactive compounds, which may be harmful to your health in some cases. Essential oils are no different.
However, when inhaled or combined with a base oil for use on your skin, most essential oils are considered safe.
Nevertheless, they may cause some side effects (50):
- Asthma attacks.
- Allergic reactions.
While the most common side effect is a rash, essential oils can cause more serious reactions, and they have been associated with one case of death (51).
The oils that have most commonly been associated with adverse reactions are lavender, peppermint, tea tree and ylang-ylang.
Oils that are high in phenols, such as cinnamon, can cause skin irritation and shouldn’t be used on the skin without first being combined with a base oil.
BOTTOM LINE:Essential oils are generally considered safe. However, they may cause serious side effects for some people, especially if applied directly to the skin or ingested.
Take Home Message
Essential oils are generally considered safe to inhale or apply to the skin, as long as they’ve been combined with a base oil. They should not be eaten.
However, the evidence for many of the health claims is lacking, and their effectiveness is often exaggerated.
For minor health problems, using essential oils as a complementary therapy is probably ok.
But if you have a serious health condition or are taking medication, you should discuss their use with your doctor.