Aromatherapy for Dogs:
Is it safe? Can it help?
by Gary Le Mon

The therapeutic properties of aromatherapy are well documented for humans. But did you know that aromatherapy for dogs can also benefit our canine friends?

How does aromatherapy work?

Aromatherapy uses plant essential oils and hydrosols to heal or prevent illness and to enhance overall health and wellbeing. The essential oils are either absorbed through the skin or inhaled. When the active plant compounds enter the bloodstream they act as a medicine or as a psychological trigger depending on the oil and the person or pet being treated.

What is the difference between an essential oil and a hydrosol?

Essential oils and hydrosols are the volatile chemical compounds contained in plant matter (flowers, roots, bark and leaves). They are usually extracted from the plant by steam distillation. The volatile aroma compounds are then separated into oil-soluble and water-soluble compounds. The oil-soluble components form the essential oil. The water-soluble compounds together with the distilled water constitute the hydrosol. Essential oils are highly concentrated and must be diluted with a carrier oil before massaging or spraying onto skin or fur. Hydrosols are much gentler and are suitable for use with smaller animals.

How can aromatherapy for dogs help?

Animal aromatherapists use essential oils and hydrosols to treat many common physical complaints. These include skin problems, arthritis, fleas and ticks, and pet odor. Some oils are used for their antiseptic and antibacterial properties, while others can be used to aid the healing of an injury or to boost the immune system.

Aromatherapy for dogs is also used in emotional issues. Certain essential oils can calm an anxious pet, while others can energize a lethargic animal. Some oils are used to relieve psychological problems such as abandonment, fear and loneliness, or behavioral problems such as aggression, phobias and separation anxiety. Emotional trauma causes stress, and stress is the source of many (if not most) serious illness. Aromatherapy for dogs can be an important tool in treating and maintaining both the emotional and physical health.

Can animals choose their own essential oils?

We know that animals in the wild practice zoopharmacognosy or self-medication. They have access to hundreds of different plant species, allowing them to intuitively maintain good health. Domestic pets don't have access to the medicinal plant compounds found in the wild. But if you've ever seen a dog eating wild grass or blackberries you'll know that domestic animals recognize plant medicines. They have retained some innate knowledge of the correct remedy required to heal themselves and restore wellbeing.

Aromatherapy for dogs can be used in tandem with an animal’s instinctive knowledge. A dog will often choose the plant medicine he needs.

What does an animal aromatherapist do?

When treating an animal, an aromatherapist will offer a selection of oils that he or she thinks will most benefit the animal. Only diluted oil is offered for inhalation and the bottle is held no closer than a couple of feet from the dog’s nose. The aromatherapist will look for subtle signs that the dog is interested. Eye twitching or turning the head towards the oil would indicate that the dog is responding to the oil. When the animal has had enough he will turn away.

The dog may show strong interest by going right up to the bottle. Or he may show no interest or complete indifference. This would indicate that the animal may not need that remedy for now, but also wouldn't rule out offering it again in the future. A dog may totally reject an oil by turning away or even leaving the room.

Animal aromatherapy checklist

It is not recommended that you attempt to treat your pet with aromatherapy without the advice of a professional. Still, if you do wish to use essential oils with your dog then here is some cautionary advice.

  • Essential oils are strong herbal medicines. Don’t assume that an essential oil that is safe for humans will be harmless for your dog. If you are unsure, veer on the cautious side and don't use the oil.
  • Don’t use essential oils on pregnant animals or puppies without first consulting an expert.
  • Use only 100% pure therapeutic-grade oils. Never apply undiluted essential oil directly to your pet’s skin or fur.
  • Let your dog smell the oil first. If it is rejected outright, don't use it. If the oil is accepted, use a mild solution to begin with to monitor the effect. Even a small amount of oil inhaled can have a therapeutic effect. Take into account the size of your dog; a little dog will need far less.

Are essential oils safe for cats?

therapy for cats is to proceed with caution and professional guidance. Cats have a different way of metabolizing chemical compounds than dogs or humans. Many oils that are safe to use on dogs are toxic to cats and can cause liver or kidney damage. While certain essential oils are entirely harmless, the best advice concerning aroma Essential oils have powerful healing properties if used correctly. But as with all medicines, they should be treated with caution and respect. If in doubt, seek qualified expert advice from an animal aromatherapist or holistic vet.

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