Aromatherapy for Dogs
Aromatherapy can be defined as the use of aromatic plant materials such as essential oils (EOs) and hydrosols to support physical and emotional wellness. An essential oil is a concentrated liquid containing chemical compounds of the plant from which it was extracted. A hydrosol is a by-product liquid from steam distillation of a botanical such lavender or rosemary. Hydrosols, also called "floral waters", are less concentrated than their EO counterparts. Humans have used essential oils and hydrosols for centuries as medicinals, cleaning products and in religious ceremonies.
Today many people are well aware of the health benefits of essential oils. Did you know that these potent gifts from nature can also help your beloved Fido with many common problems?
As pet owners who love our dogs, we want to ensure their health and well-being with the most natural products we can find. More and more pet owners are seeking holistic vets and alternative treatments, including the use of essential oils and hydrosols. These powerful essences can help with a myriad of common issues including: allergies, anxiety, fleas and ticks, infected ears, insect bites, cuts and scrapes, itchy skin, hot spots, mange, ringworm, cracked paw pads, joint and muscle aches, and fear. It is important to note that the use of essential oils is not meant to take the place of veterinary treatment. Always consult your veterinarian before using essential oils on your dog.
What is the best way to apply essential oils or hydrosols to your dog? It depends on the situation. If you have an emotional type issue such as fear, aggression, or anxiety, it would be best to allow your dog to smell the blend from your hand first. As long as he or she does not turn or run away you could massage the essential oils or hydrosols into the neck, chest, and top of your dog’s head. Do not introduce your dog to essential oils during the actual stressful event such as a thunderstorm. You don’t want him or her to associate essential oils with the stressful event. If you carve time out of your day to sit on the floor with your nervous or fearful dog and have mini massage sessions with the essential oil blend, you can condition your dog to associate the essential oils with a state of calm reassurance.
Physical problems such as itchy skin, infected ears and hot spots require applying the blend to the area that needs it. Never apply undiluted essential oils in your dog’s skin or mucous membranes as it could cause irritation or worse, a toxic reaction.
For my dog's itchy ears I use a Lavender hydrosol. Some dogs may fear the sound of the mister so I introduce a hydrosol by misting some on my hand, kneeling to the dog’s level and put my hand out for him or her to smell. Dogs typically have three reactions: smelling, licking (totally safe) or turning/running away. If your dog runs away, don’t chase or force the hydrosol on them. Try again later or choose a different hydrosol. If your dog licks your hand or sniffs it and is very interested, proceed to mist some cotton balls with the Lavender hydrosol and wipe out the ears. Typically, your dog will understand this is healing and will allow you to mist the hydrosol right in his or her ear. Do not wipe the ear out. Mist once in each ear once a day until ears have cleared up.
This brings me to my next subject: Safety. Many well-meaning pet parents turn to the internet for advice or quick searches when their pooch is in peril. Everyone and their brother is selling some type of “natural” product. How do you know what is safe to use on your pet? The simple answer is, you don’t. If you are going to use essential oils safely on your pet, you owe it to yourself and your dog to become educated on their use by someone who is certified in this field or by a veterinarian educated in their proper application. Essential oils contain powerful chemical constituents that can interfere with medications, pregnancy, liver and kidney functions. Used improperly, they can cause severe, irreversible damage to your dog, including death.
Dog Owners Essential Oil Starter Kit
To get started, below is a list of essential and carrier oils (along with the botanical names) considered safe to use on dogs. Essential oils can be purchased in 5ml to 15ml quantities from reputable suppliers listed at the end of this article. Carrier oils (used to dilute EOs prior to application) can be purchased in most grocery or natural food stores. Keep in mind that carrier oils have a shorter shelf life than essential oils and should be replaced after about a year.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) - for anxiety, skin conditions and as a flea repellant
- Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) - for moodiness, defensiveness and upper respiratory issues. Adding 3 drops to your shower, bringing the dog into bathroom (not in the shower) to inhale the steam is very helpful for dogs with respiratory problems/infections.
- German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) - for soothing skin, a powerful anti-inflammatory
- Atlas, Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) - Excellent flea repellent, can be sprayed in bedding
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) - used as a tick repellent and for fungal ear infections
- Sweet Marjoram (Origanum marjoram) - useful for calming and bacterial skin infections
- Vetiver (Vetivera zizanoides) - strengthens immune system and used for calming
- Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) - used as an anti-depressent, anti-inflammation and immune support
- Carrier oil (look for unrefined organic or cold pressed on the label) such as coconut or sweet almond oil.
To make a basic EO blend, dilute 1 to 3 drops of essential oils into 1 teaspoon of carrier oil. Store in a small sterilized glass container in a dark, dry area. Hydrosols can be purchased locally from Animal Aromatics.
Important Dos & Don'ts
- Allow your dog to choose. Offer an EO blend by putting some on your hand and let them sniff. Offer a hydrosol by misting your hand and let them sniff. Pure essential oils should be offered in the bottle with the lid on due to dog's powerful sense of smell.
- Research the qualifications of the people and companies selling aromatherapy products.
- Educate yourself on the safe use of essential oils for you and your pet. Resources are located at end of this article.
- Do not use essential oils to treat serious illness or injury. Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately!
- Special care should be taken with dogs that are elderly, have compromised immune systems or allergies.
- Do not apply EOs or hydrosols to your dog’s face, snout or mucous membranes, including eyes, nose and mouth. Do not apply these products to open wounds.
- Do not use more oil/hydrosol than is recommended by your aromatherapy practitioner.
- Do not use EOs or hydrosols as a punishment such as spraying in face.
Where to Find More Information
When used properly, essential oils and hydrosols are wonderful tools to support your dog’s health. To consult with Laurie of Animal Aromatics in person, find her her at the Unleashed Spring Fling on April 23 from 11am to 3pm at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. Below is a list of resources to help you and your dog begin your aromatic journey. Websites and suppliers are linked to their respective websites.
- Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals by Kristin Leigh Bell
- Essential Oils For Animals by Nayana Morag
- The Aromatic Dog by Nayana Morag