Aromatherapy is effective in treating a number of dog health problems, such as skin irritations, ear infections, hyperactivity, flea/tick infestations, and much more. I will briefly explain and introduce essential oils and hydrosols; how to use essential oils safely on dogs, and which oils are unsafe to be used on dogs.
Using aromatherapy to tackle dog health problems is starting to gain recognition as a safe and effective alternative treatment. However, many people still have a lot of misconceptions about "aromatherapy" - some of them equate aromatherapy with scented candles or grooming products with synthetic oils.
Aromatherapy is more than just making your dog smell good! 100% pure essential oils and hydrosols have medicinal properties and, if used appropriately, can be effective in treating an array of dog health problems - from skin irritations to motion sickness to certain behavioral problems such as hyperactivity. We can also blend different oils to create synergy.
Want to know more about using aromatherapy for dogs? Great! This will give you - the responsible dog owner - more information on aromatherapy for dogs, so that you can decide for yourself whether to use it as an additional alternative treatment for various dog problems.
What is Aromatherapy for Dogs?
Aromatherapy is not limited to the use of grooming products that contain essential oils. It means more than that - it refers to the use of a pure, therapeutic essential oil, or several oils combined, for a certain healing purpose - either to treat a particular health problem, or to enhance the overall health and wellbeing of the dog.
You may have noticed that I have bolded the words "pure" and "therapeutic " a couple of times. It is intentional because I can't emphasize enough the importance of using 100% pure essential oils when treating your dog. Do not try to save money and buy cheap "essential oils" that contain synthetic substances. They will not have the therapeutic effects and, even worse, the synthetic substances and chemicals may do harm to your dog.
What are Essential Oils and Hydrosols?
An essential oil is a volatile substance contained in the glandular hairs, sac, or veins of different parts of a plant, such as the leaves, flowers, bark, roots, seeds or fruit. They are the "essence" of that particular plant form and are responsible for giving that plant its unique scent.
There are several ways to extract essential oils: steam distillation, solvent extraction, carbon dioxide extraction, or manual expression.
Contrary to what most people think, essential oils are non-oily. They are highly concentrated and should almost always be diluted before use. Each oil has its own individual properties, such as scent, color, chemical properties, and healing effects.
On a physical level, many essential oils are antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying. On an emotional level, some essential oils can be sedative or stimulating.
A hydrosol is a water-based substance which is a by-product obtained during the steam distillation process of an essential oil. A hydrosol contains water-soluble parts of a plant as well as very small amount of some essential oil components. Since hydrosols are not highly concentrated like essential oils, they can be used undiluted as is, or essential oils can be added to a hydrosol for synergistic effects.
For extremely sensitive dogs, small dogs, and cats, hydrosols are good alternatives to the more potent essential oils. (Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils so it is better to use hydrosols on cats.)
Are Essential Oils Safe for Dogs?
Essential oils are highly concentrated and therefore extremely potent. When using essential oils on our dogs, therefore, we should be careful not to overuse them. Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil (such as olive oil, sweet almond oil, etc.) before use.
If we choose essential oils that are safe for dogs, and use them in diluted form, they are perfectly safe to use on dogs and are effective therapeutically for a great number of ailments.
However, some essential oils, diluted or not, are unsafe for dogs and use of such oils should be avoided altogether.
Here are some essential oils that should NOT be used on dogs:
Anise / Camphor / Hyssop / Juniper* / White Thyme / Yarrow
Because of uterine stimulation or possible toxicity, avoid using these oils on dogs, especially on pregnant dogs.
*The oil of Juniper berry is perfectly safe, but the Juniper wood oil is toxic to the kidneys.
Birch / Wintergreen
Some aromatherapy formulae found on websites suggest using the oils birch and wintergreen for joint pains caused by arthritis. However, dermal use of these two oils has been proven to be toxic as they contain high levels of methyl salicylate. Ingestion can cause severe poisoning and death.
Cassia / Clove leaf and bud
These oils can cause dermal irritation and possible toxicity to both people and pets.
Horseradish / Mustard / Tansy
Due to the pungent properties of these oils, they are considered to be hazardous and may cause severe dermal irritation.
Although this oil is effective in repelling flea, it is also highly toxic to the kidneys and the nervous system. It is also a known abortifacient. Avoid using this oil on pets and yourself!
This oil is a terrible photosensitizer.
Both the herb and the oil wormwood are toxic to pets and should be avoided at all costs, even though some people suggest using wormwood for treating worm infestation. There has been reports of wormwood essential oil causing renal failure in humans. It is also a known fact that wormwood causes seizures, and possesses very high oral and dermal toxicity.
How can I use Essential Oils on my Dogs?
Aromatherapy for dogs can be applied topically (through massage), by diffusion and inhalation, or orally. Topical application is the most commonly used technique, and has the greatest benefit because the oils are applied directly to the area(s) needed. The oils penetrate the skin and are quickly absorbed by tiny capillaries which carry them to the bloodstream.
Essential oils can be topically applied via massage, or via spritzers, sprays, and of course the oils can also be added to shampoos, conditioners, salves, ointments, etc.
Remember, the oils have to be diluted before use. Carrier vegetable oils, such as olive oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, can be used.
Diffusion and inhalation is another way to practice aromatherapy for dogs. A diffuser is used to evaporate the oils which are inhaled by the dog. Leave the diffuser on for about 30 to 40 minutes in order for the dog to inhale and absorb the oils. You should be able to see result if you repeat this procedure twice daily for five to seven days.
Oral application of essential oils to dogs should only be done under the supervision of a holistic veterinarian. As the oils are highly concentrated and potent, extreme care has to be taken to avoid overdose. And of course, some essential oils are not suitable for ingestion at all.
For home remedies, therefore, it is advisable to limit yourself to the first two techniques (topical application and inhalation).
Some Precautions When Using Essential Oils on Dogs
Always use 100% pure, therapeutic essential oils on dogs (and humans).
Use only essential oils that are safe for dogs.
Always DILUTE essential oils before using them on your dogs. A rough guideline is to add about 10-15 drops of essential oils to 1/2 oz. (15 ml) of carrier base oil.
Use less amount of diluted oils on small dogs than on big dogs.
Use less amount of diluted oils on puppies, senior dogs, and those whose health is compromised. When in doubt, start off with hydrosols.
Check with a holistic vet before using any essential oils on pregnant dogs. In particular, do not use stimulating oils (e.g. peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, tea tree, niaouli) on pregnant dogs.
Do not use oils on epileptic dogs or dogs who are seizure-prone. Some oils, such as rosemary, may trigger seizures (in humans too).
Do not use oils in or close to the eyes, directly on or close to the nose, or in the anal or genital areas.
What are the Dilution Ratios for Dogs?
The best way to think about dilution for dogs is to go by the weight of the dog. A small dog under 20 pounds you would treat as a human child or toddler. I would dilute from 30-90% of the human dose again depending on its size.
Essential oils for larger dogs can be used similarly to humans. A medium dog that is in the range of 25-50 pounds can tolerate less than a large dog that is 100 pounds!
So keep in mind, as we do with humans, that if a dog is sick or toxic then it is best to use less essential oil at first. This is because most oils will detoxify the body at a cellular level.
How do I Use Essential Oils as Home Remedies for Dogs?
Several Ways to Apply Essential Oil to Dogs:
Apply directly on location;
Place oil in your palm then pet head to toe;
Place oil on tips of ears, chest, and under pits; or
Smell it right out of the bottle or from your hands!
Safe Essential Oils for Dogs
Properties & Uses
Bergamot Antifungal, soothing.
Excellent for ear infections caused by yeast or bacterial overgrowth.
Caution: Can cause photosensitization. Avoid the sun after use.
Carrot Seed Anti-inflammatory, tonic, with moderate antibacterial effects.
Good for dry, flaky, sensitive skin which is prone to infection.
Can rejuvenate and stimulate tissue regeneration, thus effective for scar healing.
Cedarwood Antiseptic, tonifying, circulation-stimulating.
Good for skin and coat conditioning and dermatitis of all types.
Chamomile, German Anti-inflammatory, non-toxic, gentle and safe to use.
Good for skin irritations, allergic reactions, burns.
Chamomile, Roman Antispasmodic, analgesic, nerve-calming.
Good for soothing the central nervous system.
Effective for relief of muscle pains, cramps, teething pain.
A "must-have" oil for dogs!
Clary Sage Nerve-calming, gentle when used in small amounts and properly diluted.
Sedates the central nervous system.
Eucalyptus Radiata Antiviral, anti-inflammatory, an expectorant.
Good for relief of chest congestion.
Effective in repelling flea.
Geranium Gentle and safe, antifungal.
Good for skin irritations, fungal ear infections.
Effective in repelling ticks.
Ginger Non-toxic, non-irritating and safe to use in small amounts, properly diluted.
Good for motion sickness, aids digestion.
Effective for pain relief caused by arthritis, dysplasia, strains and sprains.
Helichrysum Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, regenerative effects; extremely therapeutic.
Excellent for skin conditions and irritations (e.g. eczema).
Effective for healing of scars and bruises.
Effective for pain relief.
Lavender Very safe and gentle, antibacterial, anti-itch, nerve-calming.
Good for many common animal ailments, e.g. skin irritations, first aid.
A "must-have" oil for your dog!
Marjoram, Sweet Strong antibacterial, calming, a muscle relaxant.
Good for bacterial skin infections, wound care, insect repelling.
Niaouli Antihistaminic, powerful antibacterial properties, yet less likely to cause irritation than Tea Tree.
Good for ear infections and skin problems caused by allergies.
A "must-have" for dogs!
Peppermint Antispamodic, stimulates circulation, insect-repelling.
Good for arthritis, dysplasia, sprains and strains.
Works well with ginger to treat motion sickness.
Another "must-have" for dogs!
Sweet Orange Calming, deodorizing, flea-repelling.
Caution: Can cause photosensitization. Avoid the sun after use.
Good for treating dog anxiety such as separation and noise anxiety.
Comforting arthritis massage blend for dogs
Dogs generally love to be massaged and a dog with arthritis will both enjoy and benefit from the following treatment. Your dog will soon lick off much off the oil, but by then enough will have penetrated the skin and got to the affected tissue and bone. The same blend will work wonders for arthritis and muscle pain of dog owners as well!
6 drops Ginger
4 drops Lavender
8 drops Rosemary
Additions: Oil Base
How to Use:
Massage the following blend into affected joints by working through the coat and into the skin. Dilute with plenty of base oil, 2 or 3 tablespoons: