Essential oils for pets
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
((Material from Allie Phillips author of The Oily Pet & Essential Oils Desk Reference for Animals))
What is an essential oil?
An essential oil is defined as: "a natural oil typically obtained by distillation [that has] the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it is extracted."
Oils are made from plants and are used therapeutically just like medicinal herbs. Think of essential oils like aromatic medicine (or a liquid herbal)! Though many people just think "they smell nice" (I used to be this person), essential oils are actually a complex blend of naturally derived and distilled constituents that synergistically work together for therapeutic benefit.
When considering using essential oils, it is important to realize that, everyday, we are surrounded by toxins.... in the air we breathe, the objects we touch, and the foods we ingest. It's been shown by research that many toxins are easily absorbed into the fatty layer of the skin: for example,
13% of BHT (an inorganic food preservative) and 49% DDT (a carcinogenic pesticide) dissolved easily into the dermis when applied topically.((https://www.researchgate.net/publication/20405974_Extent_of_cutaneous_metabolism_during_percutaneous_absorption_of_xenobiotics ))
Essential oils help to fight everyday toxins. Many oil constituents help the body cleanse itself of inorganic particles and help supplement the body's pre-existing systems and processes. Because oils are a powerful tool, it is important to be educated about how to use them appropriately.
How are oils made?
There are three main ways that essential oils are made:
1) Vertical steam distillation: is the best method for obtaining therapeutic oils. Oils are made with steam at a low temp, low pressure, for a long time in containers that do not react with oil constituents.
2) Expressed oil: oils pressed from rinds of fruits. (Often rich in terpenes and are too strong for many animals.)
3) Absolutes aka "essences": extraction from the solid waxy product from flower petals or plant material.
A note on oil creation
It's important that the plants being used to make oils are organic, were grown without pesticides, and the water used to grow and distill the plants is filtered and free of contaminants. It is also important that materials used in the creation of oils are not reactive (ex: corrosive metals like aluminum/copper) as they can interact with the active ingredients in essential oils.
A note on essential oil storage
Only use nonreactive containers (like glass) when storing oils and be sure to store them in a cool, dry, dark place in darkly colored glass so the constituents don't lose their potency. Oils can be effectively used for several years if stored correctly.
Fragrance grade VS therapeutic grade
Beware of: synthetic oils, added aromas, non-therapeutic carrier oils/dilution agents
Many of us would think that perfume is the same as essential oil, but it is not! Many companies seek to cut cost and will use harsh chemicals and high temperatures to extract from plants. (Not to mention adding cheap fillers!) This will ruin the delicate constituents and ingredients in oils that have the most therapeutic benefit. So, what's the difference between drug store perfume and high quality essential oils?
Here is a chart to grade oils and their quality.
1) Low quality oils: known as 'florals.' These are often created with high temperatures, for short periods of time, and/or with harsh extraction agents like alcohol. These can be found in many of your cheap lotions and perfumes sold at drug stores. (ex: cheap lavender lotion, rose fragrance)
2) Fragrance grade oils: beginning of the distillation and isolation phases. These oils are "on their way" to being made essential oils, but the extraction process is often cut short. Fragrant ingredients are quickly extracted and used to make other products (ex: perfume)
3) Food grade oils: these are flavoring agents for food. Since they are digestible, they are higher grade than fragrance, but still lack therapeutic quality (ex: peppermint oil for baking)
4) Therapeutic grade oils: these are known as essential oils. They are created at low heat, low pressure, and take a long time because all of the "good stuff" takes time to extract. These oils have all of the synergistic elements that the other oils do not. (ex: essential oils)
*Note: If you can't ingest it safely, IT IS NOT THERAPEUTIC grade.*
When using essential oils, oils can be used neat (which means 100% concentrated) or can be used diluted with what is called a "carrier oil." Carrier oils help to dilute the concentration and make strong oils more tolerable. Good carrier oils can include high quality olive oil, coconut oil, or other branded oils.
Animal safe VS people safe & common sense
When using essential oils with pets, we have to realize that animals have a MUCH STRONGER sense of smell than us. When using oils via diffusing or direct inhalation, we must consider oil concentration and dose based upon their sensitive sense of smell.
Animals also have a higher density of hair follicles which makes them absorb oils through the skin much more easily. When putting oils on a pet, you can use much smaller amounts with similar benefit because their hair follicles absorb much more than human skin. When using topically (especially in small pets), please consider using carrier oils to dilute essential oil concentration.
Metabolism rates also differ between species; cats have a much slower turnover rate in the liver when compared to humans, so oils take longer to leave their system. For this reason, you have to use oils that are diluted and in much smaller doses with less frequency.
Oils also help to remove toxins. If you pet has been subject to strong synthetic household cleaners, pollution, and chlorinated water... essential oils will go to war with these inorganic particles when applied. Some pets may have a seemingly "bad reaction" to essential oils due to the chemical reaction of pre-existing, sometimes dormant, toxins.
Here are a few key questions you need to ask yourself when choosing a brand of essential oils:
1) Does the bottle prohibit use with pets?
2) Does this company advocate use for pets?
3) Does company oversee process of planting/growing/harvesting/distillation to ensure quality?
4) Is it fragrance or therapeutic grade?
5) Does company have animal care experts? Are there educational courses offered?
A note to add to your research and use:
A) Don't believe everything on the internet
B) Don't rely on company specific resources
C) Do your own research
D) Be conservative, monitor responses
E) Let the pet choose their oil. Never force a pet to use essential oils
F) Don't use oils if you don't feel comfortable
*If an oil doesn't work for your pet or seems to cause a bad reaction, use another carrier oil to dilute or remove. Since oils are often waxy, they don't dissolve or wash away with water based substances.
SEEK CAUTION when using these oils with pets
Be careful with "hot oils" high in carbahcol, ketones, phenols, and eugenols as animals are very sensitive. They should always be diluted (at minimum) 1 drop essential oil to 6 drops carrier oil.
BE VERY CAREFUL with these oils and use a high rate of dilution:
clove, cinnamon bark, oregano, mountain savory, tarragon, tea tree, pine oils, citrus oil, cassia, thyme
How to know if your animal is having an adverse reaction
BAD REACTIONS include: sleepiness, acting drunk, stupor, squinty eyes, sneezing, coughing.
If your pet seems to be having a bad reaction, immediately turn off diffuser and/or remove animal from oil. Use carrier oil to dilute if using topically, not water. (Oils don't dissolve in water.)
How to introduce your pets to oils
(From least invasive to most invasive)
Cleaning: "fresh and clean" scents in many standard cleaning products are often highly toxic due to added dyes and fragrance. Try more natural and/or essential oil products instead. Thieves is a great natural product you can use around the house instead!
Wearing oils yourself: if you wear oils yourself, you act as a passive diffuser. This is a great way to acclimate your pets as they can smell the oils on you to get used to them.
Aromatherapy: diffuser device in the home. Make sure the pet can come and go, start with only a few drops of one oil at a time!
Direct inhalation: open a bottle of essential oil and set 4-6ft away from a pet and look for interest. Pets will approach and act interested in oils they want. Pets will move away if they don't like it.
Oils on a surface: like a blanket or toy (not on collars). Once you find an oil that works well for your pet, they often enjoy the scent on bedding (cats especially.)
Topically: a method where you apply essential oil to the skin. Do be mindful to avoid the paws, ears, eyes, and face as these places can often cause irritation orx bad reactions.
Pet under 25lbs: 1 drop essential oil mixed with 8-9 drops carrier oil along the spine
Pet over 25lbs: 1 drop along the spine
Ingestion: only to be used with oils marked safe for pet ingestion. These act as a supplement, so be sure to ask your veterinarian prior to starting use.
Specific pet favorite oils for certain functions
1) Keep air fresh: (best when diffusing) lemon, purification, thieves
2) Anxiety/calming: melissa, orange (with caution), valerian, acceptance, peace & calming, valor
3) Good relations: lavender, acceptance, harmony
4) Boost mood: frankincense, joy, release
5) Abuse/neglect: melissa, trauma life, T-away, release, sara, valor