Aromatherapy is commonly used by humans to promote physical and psychological well-being—but did you know that there are many benefits of aromatherapy for pets, too?
More and more pet owners are reaching for essential oils to keep their pets stress-free, instead of using harsh chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Essential oils are concentrated liquids that contain volatile aroma compounds from the leaves, seeds, stems, flowers or roots of plants. Two major uses for essential oils in pets include flea and tick control and anxiety relief.
Essential Oils Safety
Dogs and cats are remarkably well-equipped to sense things through smell. In fact, depending on the breed, your dog or cat’s sense of smell is anywhere from ten to a hundred times better than yours!
Canines and felines have an additional organ—the Jacobson’s organ—in their nasal cavities. It allows the animal to not only smell the air, but also to taste it. Dogs even have a special chamber in their nose that holds in scents even when the pup exhales. But because pets are such super smellers and physiologically different from humans, caution should be taken in the concentration and type of oils used.
Most notably, many essential oils can be toxic to cats. A cat’s liver lacks the ability to properly metabolize many compounds in essential oils, causing toxicity after external or internal application of oils.
“Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s harmless,” notes Dr. Laurie Coger, a veterinarian at Healthy Dog Workshop.
While there are also risks associated with using chemical-based products on your cat, it’s best to err on the side of caution and only use commercially formulated essential oil products (to ensure proper dilution) that are marked as safe for cats.
Dogs can also be highly sensitive to certain oils, but typically to a lesser degree. Again, be sure to use commercial formulas labeled for dog use that have been tested and proven safe for pups.
Be careful to never get essential oils in an animal’s eyes or inside the ear canal. When applying oils topically, it’s also important to use the right dosage. Essential oils should always be diluted, either by diffusing the oil, combining it with water, or mixing it with a carrier oil—such as coconut oil or olive oil—when applying topically. Three to five drops of an oil, diluted with four to five times the amount of carrier oil, is typically recommended.
Oils with high amounts of phenol, such as oregano and thyme, should never be used on animals, and especially not on cats. If your animal has a known health issue, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian before administering any essential oils.
Essential Oils for Relaxation
Stress relief is one of the top benefits of aromatherapy for pets. There are two ways to administer essential oils for mood-balancing. A machine called a diffuser disperses the chemical compounds into the air so that your dog can breathe in the calming oils. You can try diluted essential oils sprays, like Pet Remedy’s natural de-stressing calming spray, that can be applied topically, to the dog’s collar, or on the dog’s bedding. Some oil blends can even be taken internally, which is a great alternative to anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals.
Essential oils for mood include:
- Lavender Oil. Benefits of this oil include relaxation and stress relief.
- Valerian Root. A deeply relaxing oil that also aids in sleep.
- Vetiver Oil. An earthy oil known for its grounding, calming properties that is especially useful in dogs with a history of trauma.
- Ylang Ylang Essential Oils. A peaceful and calming oil.
Essential Oils for Flea and Tick Prevention for Dogs
“I recommend the use of essential oils for bug repellents,” says Dr. Coger. Flea and tick sprays formulated with essential oils effectively repel these dangerous bugs without exposing your animal and your family to harsh chemicals.
Essential oils for fleas and ticks include:
- Lemongrass Oil. A powerful insecticidal oil.
- Peppermint Oil. While peppermint oil won’t necessary kill fleas and ticks, it does serve as an effective repellent.
- Citronella Oil. The oil from the citronella plant is highly effective for repelling fleas, ticks, mosquitos and other bugs.
- Lavender Oil. Bugs hate the scent of this oil!
- Cedarwood Oil. A great insect repellent.
There are many other essential oils for fleas and ticks that work to repel these and other pests, including cinnamon and rose geranium.
When applying essential oils for this purpose, use a commercial spray and make sure it’s specifically labeled for the type of animal you’re using it on. Beginning at the tail and working toward the head, spray your pet’s coat thoroughly to insure penetration through to the skin. Attention should be paid to the legs and feet, as well as the area under the tail. Avoid contact with the eyes, nose and mouth, and let the dog’s fur air dry.
“Essential oils can be very potent and irritating,” warns Dr. Coger. That’s why she recommends that pet owners use commercial products instead of mixing their own oils.
Richard’s Organics flea & tick spray contains a mix of peppermint, clove, cedar, cinnamon and rosemary oils with no artificial colors or fragrances. It not only kills fleas and ticks, but also repels mosquitos for up to 4 weeks after application. Do not use this product on cats.