Downeast Dog News

Essential Oils and Dogs

By Dr. Judith Herman | Feb 12, 2018

Q. I use essential oils all the time for me. Can I use them on my dog?

A. Very good question! Essential oils are very popular right now. Everywhere you turn someone is selling them, having workshops, webinars, and suggestions. They are very powerful and work wonders with people when used correctly. The question is how safe are they for dogs? Cats are another concern but not for this article.

Let’s start with what are essential oils. These oils comprise a minute part of plants. The purpose of these oils in the plant is for protection, communication, and reproduction. To make a few drops of essential oil, several pounds of plant must be distilled, expressed or extracted. For an example, to make 1 ounce of peppermint oil it takes 16 pounds of peppermint leaves. Another way to look at it, one drop of a plant’s essential oil is more than 75 times stronger than the herbal equivalent. You can see why essential oils are powerful medicines. When the plants are steam distilled, the essential oils are collected on top and a water soluble part called hydrosol is in the water below. The hydrosol contains a trace amount of essential oil.

Essential oils should never be used internally in a dog, accept under the guidance of a knowledgeable herbalist. Undiluted essential oils taken internally have been reported to cause gastric irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, mucosal burns, and liver failure. Some of the essential oils applied topically can also cause problems. Even adding it to drinking water is unsafe since the oils float on top of the water.

I have had several cases where the guardians applied Tea Tree oil undiluted on hot spots and skin irritations because it has very good antibacterial properties. In one case, the dog ingested a mixture of olive oil and Tea Tree oil. All these dogs became temporarily paralyzed. The paralysis lasted from two to twenty-four hours. In one case, the dog developed liver failure.

If you want to use Essential oils, use them topically and diluted. When I use essential oils, I dilute them one drop of essential oil to one tablespoon of carrier oil. Some herbalists use up to three to six drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil. Common carrier oils are olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil. Be sure you know where your essential oils are coming from. They should be pure, unadulterated, organic or unsprayed oils from a reputable producer.

Using essential oils on collars and bandanas as flea and tick repellents are relatively safe. If you do this be sure to know about the essential oils you are using and check your dog’s skin for irritation. If you see any symptoms from skin irritation to vomiting, diarrhea, or staggering, remove the bandana immediately. You may need to bathe your dog to get the oil off with Dawn dish soap. If the symptoms persist, take your dog to your veterinarian.

For emotional issues, I have used lavender oil or peppermint oil for calming and reducing stress. I use one drop of essential oil to one tablespoon of carrier oil. I may put it between the pads or on the inside of the ears.

Remember that essential oils are powerful medicines and to use them properly, you need to consult a knowledgeable herbalist or therapist.

Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine