Our precious pets are loved and valued members of our families. We feel joy when they greet us at the door after a long day at work. They remind us what unconditional love is. When it comes to aromatherapy and pets, we become understandably concerned when we hear of or read terrible stories of loss due to misuse or overuse of essential oils on and around animals.  In this blog, we will unpack the topic a little, and alleviate any fears or concerns you might have. 

It must also be stated that there is very little scientific research on the use and effects of essential oils on animals which is why I personally would always err on the side of caution. Less is best is a powerful way to think about their use.

I personally have had pet cats for the past 3 decades and my mum has had cats and dogs and still using her essential oils for many years too. All of our animals have lived long healthy amazing lives. So let’s take a look at some facts.

Animals have far more olfactory receptors than humans, as their sense of smell is their primary method of communication. Dogs have around 300 million odour receptors where humans have 30 times fewer, which means for dogs breathing in essential oils can have a much greater and quicker impact on them.  

They can certainly be more susceptible to the effects of essential oils. This is not to say that we can’t diffuse our beautiful oils around them, it just means we need to be more considerate of our furry friends. Topical application and ingestion for pets is a lot more complex, and not something advised for the at-home user.  We need to be mindful of our ageing pets, our pregnant pets, our sick pets, baby pets and smaller pets – as they, like humans, require even further considerations. 

Where to start? 

Diffusing your favourite essential oils around your pets can be perfectly fine. But, observe their response when you do use them. Do they recoil? Do they move away? Or do they lie near the diffuser? They will let you know if they are enjoying the smell or not, and whether it is too strong for them. Always make sure that they can leave a room if they need to, it is recommended that doors are open when pets are around. You may also like to take note of which oils they do seem to like.  

Start with gentle oils like Lavender, Rose, Sweet Orange, and Frankincense. Avoid oils that some people refer to as “hot” oils like Oregano, Clove Bud, Thyme, Cinnamon and Wintergreen. These smells are strong, overpowering and not considered safe for pets regardless of the brand.

It might be common sense but make sure you secure your essential oils in a cabinet with a latch so our pets can’t accidentally knock over and ingest. If you leave them on the bench or table, make sure that the caps to your essential oils are screwed on tightly avoiding any accidental spillage.  Also, keep your oil burners and diffusers out of reach as they can be easily knocked over, and the water and oils could be easily drunk, which could cause potential issues. 

It is recommended that you avoid using any essential oils directly onto your pet’s skin and fur, regardless of the brand. They can be too strong for their systems. We also know that cats lack the liver enzyme that aids in metabolization, so neat application of oils topically can be harmful to them. We do know that there are many commercially available natural pet care products made using essential oils. These products are made under strict conditions and guidelines, with all safety concerns taken into account. If you want to use essential oils topically with your pets, it is best to use these commercially available products or seek the services of an aromatherapist trained in animal aromatherapy. 

Oral ingestion of essential oils is not advised for pets. Whilst it can be useful for humans under certain circumstances, with pets even further considerations need to be accounted for, therefore this one is best left to a professional.  

So, what oils can I use?  

A drop of Lavender, Frankincense or Rose in your palm as you pat them can be a wonderfully calming experience for both you and your pet. But, as always, observe their behaviour. 

A drop or two of Lavender and Tea Tree into a water bottle can be sprayed around their bedding to help with fleas and mites. Do not spray whilst your pet is in their bedding. 

A drop of Cedarwood or Sandalwood onto your pet’s brush may help with fleas and mites. 

The list of oils to avoid for pets are: 

Cinnamon, Clove, Birch, Thyme, Oregano, CassiaCamphor, Tansy, NutmegEucalyptus, and Wintergreen should be avoided. This includes any blends that contain these essential oils. Note that some texts state that Citrus oils and Pine oils should also be avoided, particularly for cats 

Oils that are generally considered safe are: 

Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Helichrysum, Cedarwood, MyrhhSandalwood, Ginger, Geranium and Rose are considered safe, but take the lead from your pet. Let them guide you as to what smells they do and don’t like.  

These lists are not complete and comprehensive lists but give a general indication of what you can use and what you should avoid. 

Still, worried? 

If you have any fears, doubts or concerns about essential oils and your pet, speak with a qualified practitioner who has animal aromatherapy training and or your veterinarian. Remember what works for your friend and their pet may not work for you and yours as, just like you, your pet is unique with its own health concerns and scent preferences.  

In the event of an adverse reaction, discontinue using your oils and see a veterinarian immediately.