Pet owners love their pets. While dogs are still the #1 pet here in the U.S., cats are not that far behind, followed by fish, birds, guinea pigs and hamsters, and reptiles. We love our pets for their ability to show us unconditional love, their comforting presence, and the life lessons they teach us. We do indeed show our love for our pets in many different ways. We let them on our beds, lavish them with toys, treats, and other gifts, dress them up, take them on vacation, splash their photos all over our social media, and tell them in silly voices just how special they are to us. So, this year on February 20th, let’s celebrate National Love Your Pet Day a bit differently; let’s celebrate by keeping them safe.
While people have been using essential oils since 3000 BC, more recently these oils, diffusers, aromatherapy candles and products, and herbal remedies have become a booming business. Essential oils can be found in everything from insecticides to cleaning products, and a full range of personal care products, leading pet owners to assume that they are safe to use. Just because something is natural, however, does not make it safe. Given the plethora of products on the market derived from essential oils, it’s no wonder that pet poisonings associated with many of these products are on the rise.
Essential oils are derived from plants via distillation or cold pressing. These oils are what contribute to a plant’s fragrance and/or taste. Pet owners need to know that these oils are highly concentrated and potentially volatile, even when diluted with carrier oils. While they pose a toxic risk to all animals, cats, birds, and reptiles are the highest at risk. Cats, in particular, lack an essential liver enzyme which makes it even more difficult for them to metabolize and eliminate certain toxins. By nature, essential oils are rapidly absorbed both orally and topically and must be processed by the liver. Symptoms to watch for if you are concerned that your pet has been exposed to essential oils include: smelling the oil on their breath, skin or vomit; difficulty breathing; drooling; fatigue and/or weakness; difficulty walking; muscle tremors; pawing at their mouth or face; redness and/or burns on the lips, tongue, gums, or skin; vomiting.
If you are using essential oils for yourself or in your home, make sure they are stored out of reach and in secure containers. If your pet comes into contact with the oils directly, wash it off of them immediately and take the container with you to your vet’s office so they will know what your pet was exposed to. Generally speaking, veterinarians do not recommend using essential oils for pets, particularly via direct application or by diffusing them in the air where they can be inhaled and irritate their sensitive noses and lungs. While holistic veterinary practitioners may recommend the use of some essential oils for certain conditions, they will be providing the appropriate dose and means of application for their patients that they deem safe and effective for those animals in their specific households. Nonetheless, topical use of these products can cause irritation, thus adding to, rather than alleviating, a pet’s discomfort. And while “natural flea and tick remedies” using essential oils continue to gain in popularity, such pesticides are not regulated by the EPA and therefore misuse and toxicity are a high risk, as is an actual lack of protection from those parasites for your pets.
So, while you may be able to help your pet avoid direct contact with the essential oils you are using for yourself, it can become more difficult if you are using passive diffusers in your home. Reeds, heat diffusers, etc. can cause immediate respiratory irritation. In addition, active essential oil diffusers put microdroplets of oil into the air and these drops can collect on skin and fur and be ingested when our pets groom themselves or us. And while a few drops of lavender on your dog’s bed may calm him, it can also just as easily stress him out. Plus, if you have cats in your home too, then that lavender on the dog’s bed is potentially toxic.
These are the most commonly recognized toxic essential oils for cats and dogs: wintergreen, sweet birch, citrus, pine, ylang ylang, peppermint, cinnamon, clove, penny royal, tea tree, and thyme. You can add anise, yarrow, and juniper to the list of toxic essential oils for dogs and cats should not have lavender, eucalyptus, thyme, or oregano. So, are any essential oils safe for our pets?
Holistic veterinarians suggest the following oils as having potential benefits for your dogs. Generally speaking, essential oils pose more risk than reward for cats, so if you have cats in your home (or reptiles, birds, pocket pets, etc.), you will likely want to err on the side of caution and not use any essential oils in your home or on your dog because of that.
Dog safe essential oils and how they might help your dog:
- lavender for allergies, burns, ulcers, insomnia, anxiety, car sickness
- copaiba for supporting cardiovascular system, immune system, digestive system, respiratory system, nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and urinary tract
- frankincense for promoting cellular health and immunity, as well as nervous system and digestive tract health
- petit grain helps to calm the nervous and digestive systems, and provide support for dogs with stress and anxiety
We love our pets, and many of us love our essential oils too. While we want to share what we have with our furred, feathered, and scaled companion animals, in the case of essential oils, we must exercise caution. Talk to your vet before you use any essential oil based products in your home, whether they be for cleaning, pampering, or as an alternative therapy.
Finally, if you think your pet has been exposed to a toxin, here is the number for the Pet Poison Helpline: 800-213-6680.