If you love using essential oils, you probably know all about the benefits to your health and wellness they’re thought to provide. Essential oils mostly offer their benefits through aromatherapy, meaning that any good things you experience as a result of exposure to essential oils are linked to your sense of smell. So if you have a dog, it might have occurred to you that essential oils could really benefit your four-legged friend. After all, dogs have amazing senses of smell!
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. While dogs do have better noses than us, this obviously isn’t the only way in which our furriest family member differs from us physiologically, and these differences can mean that -- far from experiencing greater benefit from the use of essential oils -- essential oils can be really toxic to pets.
Why Are Essential Oils Dangerous For Your Dog?
When we think of essential oils, we often think of them as a natural alternative to harsher health supplements. Unfortunately, natural isn’t the same as safe. Human bodies are great at processing all sorts of particles and compounds, so while there are many safety guidelines to adhere to when using essential oils, your risk is relatively low, and it’s difficult to imbibe enough essential oils to cause them to be toxic to us.
This isn’t necessarily true for dogs, as dogs metabolize things differently. Usually, essential oils are absorbed through our skin, and the compounds in essential oils are metabolized by the liver. Dogs have different enzymes in their livers, meaning that they don’t exactly process essential oils in the same way. Young dogs and puppies, as well as dogs with liver problems, are especially vulnerable to poisoning via essential oils, which can lead to serious liver damage.
Risks Of Having Essential Oils Around Your Dog
While it’s possible that diffusing certain essential oils can be done safely around your dog, you should absolutely check with your veterinarian before exposing your dog to essential oils, especially if they have additives. The internet can be a great resource for information, as can word-of-mouth from trusted friends, but when it comes to the health of your pet, it’s important that you verify with a professional.
Toxicity is most likely to occur if essential oils are ingested directly, applied to your pet's skin, or if a dog is around an essential oil diffuser without proper ventilation. Anything that might expose your dog to a significant volume of essential oils could be dangerous. And it’s worth considering that, given how ill-equipped your pets’ systems are for metabolizing essential oils, their threshold is much lower than pet owners' are.
It’s also worth mentioning that essential oils are increasingly touted as a possible preventative measure for fleas. If you’re inclined to use natural remedies for your own health where you can, it makes sense that you might want to look to essential oils as a solution for traditional flea and tick medication.
However, some studies have shown that products that contain plant-derived essential oils, when used for flea prevention, can have negative side effects. In dogs, the most commonly experienced adverse reactions were vomiting and lethargy -- both of which can be pretty serious and lead to larger health complications for your dog.
There’s also a risk with essential oil-based products that your dog may experience skin irritation, especially with topical application. So while we totally understand why essential oils may seem like a great way to naturally rid your dog of fleas, we highly recommend an involved conversation with your vet before using them.
How Do You Know If Your Dog Has Had Too Much Exposure To Essential Oils?
First of all, if you suspect that your dog has ingested essential oils, you should contact your vet or call the pet poison helpline immediately. The faster you get your dog professional help, the more likely it is your dog will make a full recovery -- so even if you’re not entirely sure but have a reason to believe your dog may have ingested essential oils, it might be best to give your vet or poison control a ring.
However, you should not attempt to induce vomiting in your dog, nor should you give it something like activated charcoal. Although these methods are often employed when a dog or person ingests a poisonous substance, both of these things may make things worse in the case of essential oil ingestion. If your vet tells you to come in, you should try to bring the packaging of the product you believe your dog to have ingested for the vet’s reference.
But if you’re just noticing symptoms, rather than being sure your dog has ingested an essential oil, any of the following symptoms could indicate that your dog has absorbed enough essential oils for them to become toxic.
- Fragrance or scent on any part of your dog, especially breath
- Struggling to breathe
- Difficulty walking or a lack of coordination
- Unusual drooling
- Muscle tremors
- Pawing at the mouth or face
- Redness or burns
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, you should contact your vet immediately. Toxicity from consumption of essential oils can be fatal if not treated properly.
What Essential Oils Are Bad For Your Dog?
As any essential oil devotee knows, all essential oils are not created equal. Each one has its own unique scent and benefits, and so selecting the right one is important when it comes to designing your aromatherapy experience. When it comes to having essential oils around our pets, however, it’s even more important.
While all essential oils can pose a risk to your dog depending on dosage and how the essential oil is used, some are more toxic than others. The following essential oils should be avoided if you want to keep your dog safe and healthy.
- Sweet birch
- Tea tree oil
- Ylang ylang
Are Any Essential Oils Safe For Use Around My Dog?
We know the list of essential oils to avoid seems long! It’s important to note that it’s not comprehensive or necessarily complete. We’d like to be able to offer you an easy, comprehensive list of essential oils we can guarantee are safe for use on or around your furry friend, but unfortunately, we can’t do that.
There isn’t a lot of research around using essential oils for your dog, and so we can’t definitively say anything is safe. If you’d like to use essential oils around your dog, we recommend speaking to your vet. While the internet is great for your first round of research, a trusted vet is the only place you should go when trying to figure out what essential oils might be good for your dog.
How Do I Keep My Dog Safe?
If you wish to use essential oils for your own well-being but want to be sure that your dog doesn’t end up being harmfully exposed, there are a few precautions you should take.
- If you use an essential oil diffuser or even frequently burn a scented candle infused with essential oils in a room with your dog, make sure it has proper ventilation. Don’t shut your dog in anywhere with an essential oil diffuser, as it makes it more likely that your dog will get an unhealthy dose.
- Do not apply essential oils topically to your dog, even if you properly dilute them with a carrier oil (like coconut oil) like you would when applying them to your own skin. Not only do dogs have sensitive skin, but they also often lick themselves. Applying essential oils topically makes it much more likely that your dog could ingest a harmful amount of essential oils.
- If you’re using an essential oil diffuser safely, think about your dosage! If you share your home with a furry friend, it’s worth keeping in mind that dogs have sensitive noses. So while your usual amount of lavender oil may help you relax, it could be aggressively strong to your dog and cause it distress or discomfort.
- Make sure your essential oils are stored somewhere safe, where your dog can’t reach them. Since ingestion is the most likely thing to cause your dog serious health concerns as a result of essential oil, you’ll want to make sure your dog can’t knock over a container and lick the essential oils directly.
Although we don’t recommend using essential oils on your dog, there are ways to continue to use essential oils safely in your daily life. You first and foremost need to be aware of the essential oils that can be dangerous to your dog. But it’s equally important to be aware of the amount of essential oils your dog is encountering so that you can be sure their exposure is at a safe level. It’s also important that your dog never ingest essential oils.
But with a little research and care, your dog’s sensitivity to essential oils doesn’t have to mean you need to get rid of them.