• Shelby Gottschalk
  • Dog Nutrition and Member Service Specialist

  • 3 mins read time
  • Toxic Essential Oils for dogs: What not to use

    At least once in your life you’ve been sick and a friend pulls out a little bottle from their purse and says, “Here, rub this under your nose!” You take the bottle into your hands and realize it’s an essential oil balm. Your friend swears by it - “it clears me up every time.”

    The essential oil craze has been around for generations, but it seems that recently it’s become even more of a topic of discussion. According to Grand View Research, “The global essential oils market demand was 226.9 kilotons in 2018. It is projected to expand at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 8.6% from 2019 to 2025. Robust growth of end-use industries such as food & beverage, personal care & cosmetics, and aromatherapy has translated into an upswing in the demand for the product.

    Those who use holistic medicine believe that essential oils can provide benefits to their pups, just as they believe it provides benefits for people! These dog owners have been known to try essential oils as a flea preventative, for allergies, and anxiety relief. While some owners have seen benefits for their dogs, there aren’t enough studies on the topic to provide a clear consensus. From the limited studies available to us, it has been shown that certain oils can provide benefits, depending on what you are seeking to accomplish, however the amount of studies done are limited.

    “Traditional treatments for travel-induced excitement in dogs may be time-consuming, expensive or associated with adverse effects. Aromatherapy in the form of diffused lavender odor may offer a practical alternative treatment …” (Wells, D.L. 2006. Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs, JAVMA 229(6): 964–67)

    This study that took place in 2006 states that lavender oil might be a good way to help pets deal with travel anxiety! While there might be benefits in using essential oils, many suggest not placing directly on the skin or fur of the pup and letting them smell the oil as a form of aromatherapy. In a study done by D. Villar for the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, he states:

    “Cases of melaleuca oil toxicosis have been reported by veterinarians to the National Animal Poison Control Center when the oil was applied dermally to dogs and cats. In most cases, the oil was used to treat dermatologic conditions at inappropriate high doses.” Oil toxicosis can look like lethargy, tremors and drooling.

    It’s better to be safe than sorry - generally,it’s not suggested to apply directly to the skin of your pup. An aromatherapy diffuser might be a good option when using non-toxic oils since it allows your dog to smell it, while also making your house smell wonderful! It’s important to note that the size of the room might also play a factor in the potency of the diffused oil! Some oils considered safe for dogs include:

    • Chamomile - eases upset stomach

    • Clary Sage - Anti-anxiety

    • Myrrh - Mental alertness and skin calming

    • Valerian - Mood booster, restful sleep

    • Marjoram - Calming, eases GI upset

    • Lavender Oil - repels ticks and soothes skin. (Add 5-10 drops to your dogs shampoo) You can even make your own DIY “anti-itch” spray using Lavender Oil and Apple Cider Vinegar.

    • Lemongrass Oil - repels fleas (Add 5 drops of oil with water and make a spray)

    You will need to find out which oils will work best for your dog’s needs, as each oil serves a different purpose. It’s important to know which ones are not only safe for your pup, but which ones can cause serious harm. Some that are favorites for human use can be the worst to have around dogs, even in a diffuser! Remember - just because they smell good, doesn’t mean they aren’t toxic.

    Essential oils are absorbed quickly into your pup’s system by means of inhalation or through their skin, and are then metabolized by the liver. If you have a dog with liver issues, it might be best to steer clear of oils all together. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, these essential oils should be avoided due to their toxicity for dogs:

    • Cinnamon

    • Citrus

    • Pennyroyal

    • Peppermint

    • Pine

    • Sweet Birch

    • Tea Tree (melaleuca)

    • Wintergreen

    • Ylang Ylang

    For those that use essential oils for themselves, this might be concerning. The ASPCA recommends avoiding them altogether, or keeping your diffuser in a separate room that your pets don’t have access to: “Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils, and effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Inhalation of the oils could lead to aspiration pneumonia. There are significant variations in toxicity among specific oils. Based on this, we would not recommend using essential oils in areas where your pets have access, unless pets are supervised or the use of the oil is approved by your veterinarian.

    If you are planning on continuing the use of essential oils, personal or otherwise, make sure the bottles are out of reach of your pets so as to prevent accidental ingestion. The veterinarians at VCA provide a general list of symptoms to keep an eye out for if you think your pup might have gotten into your oil supplies:

    • fragrance or scent on hair coat, skin, or breath or in vomit

    • difficulty breathing

    • difficulty walking or uncoordinated gait

    • drooling

    • lethargy or weakness

    • muscle tremors

    • pawing at the mouth or face

    • redness or burns on the lips, gums, tongue, or skin

    • vomiting

    If you notice your pup is experiencing any of these symptoms, call the Animal Poison Control Hotline immediately at (888) 426-4435. If you are unsure about the safety and use of essential oils in your house, seek the advice of a holistic veterinarian experienced in aromatherapy. You can contact the Veterinary Medical Aromatherapy Association for assistance on selecting a provider that works best for you and your pup!

    It’s always best to put your pup’s safety first, so make sure you do your research, get in contact with a professional who can advise on the best blends and use in regards to your pup’s health before diffusing anything in your home that could cause your pup to get sick. If you have been using essential oils for your family already, keep them in a separate room from your pets until you make sure they are non-toxic and be sure to keep any oil supplies/bottles out of reach of your pup.