Raise your hand if you currently use essential oils, or have used them in the past. I bet your hand is raised.

Often we don’t give much thought to using essential oil products at home. Perhaps you love the smell of cinnamon permeating through the kitchen. Maybe you love a few drops of eucalyptus in the shower when you’re feeling under the weather. Or maybe you keep a sachet of lavender under your pillow to help you fall asleep at night.

These are great for us, but what about our dogs and cats? Are essential oils safe for pets?

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there regarding essential oils. Search the term and you’ll find loads of recipes for sprays or roll ons for animals, but then find all kinds of articles about how they’re dangerous.

So, today we’re breaking down the question “are essential oils safe for pets” and covering why there is so much debate.

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are simply aromatic oils (fatty liquids) naturally produced by plants. They’re extracted and concentrated using various techniques. Sometimes they’re packaged and sold as single oils (ie. eucalyptus or lavender oil), and sometimes companies create their own blends of several different oils and market them for certain conditions. Essential oils for humans can be used for aromatherapy, applied to the skin, or in some cases, ingested.

But again, this is all for humans, so what’s the case with our animals?

Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?

One of the reasons essential oils are so popular is because of their smell.

But that’s also one of the reasons we need to be extra careful when it comes to our pets.

Think about it this way: the human nose has about 5 million olfactory receptors. These are the microscopic proteins that allow us to detect odors. Cats have between 45 million to 80 million receptors, so they have a far better sense of smell than humans. But dogs, their snouts are even more impressive, with between 149 million and 300 million receptors. In fact, their sense of smell is wayyyyy more sensitive than even the most advanced man-made instrument.

Ok, so they have a powerful smell, but that’s not the only reason to be very careful with essential oils. The molecules in essential oils tend to be highly reactive with the compounds in our pets’ bodies as well (our bodies too).

This is mainly because of their potency. Essential oils are highly, highly concentrated. The amount of a plant needed to make one bottle of essential oil is massive. For example, it takes 16 lbs of peppermint leaves to make one ounce of peppermint essential oil. So while a few peppermint leaves are safe for your dog to eat, peppermint oil is far more potent than the leaves themselves.

Veterinarian Dr. Palmquist, well versed in the use of essential oils for animals, notes: “One problem we see in our clinic involves people overusing oils. A person discovers essential oils and begins to diffuse the oils into their homes leading to an unintentional overdose for their pets. Some essential oils can cause liver and kidney toxicity in sensitive species.”

And while this is true of almost all oils, some are far more toxic than others…

Oils to Avoid

Our animals’ higher sensitivity and their smaller size makes it absolutely crucial that we be aware of potential danger. As mentioned, misused oils can be toxic so it’s vital to do your research to find out which ones are okay and how to use them.

These are some of the common essential oils used in the average home that SHOULD NOT be used around/on pets. And yes, that means even in a diffuser or on yourself.

  • Anise
  • Birch
  • Bitter Almond
  • Wormswood
  • Hyssop
  • Camphor
  • Cassia
  • Clove Leaf and Bud
  • Crested Lavender
  • Horseradish
  • Mugwort
  • Juniper
  • Oregano
  • Pennyroyal
  • Thyme
  • Rue
  • Santalina
  • Savory
  • Tansy
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Wintergreen
  • Yarrow
  • Ylang ylang

**Also, note that many oils that are fine for dogs and horses are not good for cats (such as citrus and pine), rabbits or birds. 

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How to Safely Use Essential Oils for Pets

Once you’ve made sure that the specific oil you want to use is in fact safe, there are still additional safety precautions to take. Many holistic veterinarians recommend essential oils for a variety of reasons/purposes, but always with these notes on safety:

  1. Don’t buy cheap oils. Make sure you get a high quality oil, one that comes from a reputable company. Cheap oils often contain additives, contaminants, or ingredients which are not pet-friendly.
  2. Dilute, dilute, dilute. Never use an oil at full strength, or even close to full strength. Common recommendations are 0.5% to 1% dilution. This means only 3 to 6 drops to an ounce of a carrier oil.
  3. Avoid allowing your pet to ingest the oil. Unless directed to do so by your holistic vet or herbalist, don’t add them to your pet’s food or water or let them lick the oils. For therapeutic use in food, stick to dried herbs, extracts, and other natural supplements.
  4. Use sparingly. Don’t overuse oils. Infrequent use/only as needed is the best approach.
  5. Let your pet decide. Letting your animal smell an oil while the top is still securely on is one way to determine interest. If your dog wags her tail, licks her lips, or tries to lick the bottle, she may be interested in the oil. If she moves away or offers little response, this may not be the right oil to use.

Are Essential Oils Safe For Pets? Final Thoughts

Are essential oils safe for pets? They can be, when used properly.

When it comes to using essential oils on or around animals, it’s important to exercise extreme caution. Their senses are more heightened and their systems can sometimes process them differently than humans. Before turning on that diffuser or blending up that recipe, do your research, and read widely.

Our advice is to speak with your trusted veterinarian is you’re new to essential oils. You want to be sure you’re using them correctly.

And though it might sounds silly, it’s important: always ask your pet for their opinion.