Essential oil safety for pets
You know that the products you use around your home can impact on the health of your family. This includes our four-legged family members too. Pets aren’t humans (obviously) - they are smaller and their systems are different. Essential oils are powerful, super concentrated compounds of a plant that are many, many, many times stronger than any other plant medicine. So when it comes to using essential oils with, on, and around animals, the rules can change.
Here at EkoHub we spend a lot of time researching and we know that there so much information on the internet that contradicts itself, so it can be hard to know where to go for the best advice. We’re lucky that Liz has spent a lot of time in a former job researching this exact topic – essential oil safety for pets. So we’re here to help keep all your family (2 and 4-legged) safe around essential oils.
Many of these oils are beneficial for humans, but they’re harmful to pets. You don’t even have to use them directly on your pet - even diffusing them around animals can make them sick. On the surface an oil may seem like it has great properties, when you delve into the chemical make-up red flags come up fast. Even ‘safe’ oils like lemon or lavender are not recommended for use with or around cats.
Anything you apply to your animals skin will most likely be ingested as they lick themselves clean and we know that taking essential oils is not a safe practice (if you missed our last blog post find out more here).
And it’s not just cats and dogs at risk, essential oils are powerful and can cause problems for birds, lizards, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs and other pets as well. Some essential oils can cause liver and kidney toxicity, others can be fatal.
Now we will admit, there is limited research on the safety and efficacy of oils with animals. However, the leading vets and trained experts recommend extreme caution and we follow that advice (and hope you do too).
Less is more
Dogs and cats have a highly sensitive sense of smell so less is definitely more when it comes to using or diffusing around them.
One drop of essential oil diluted in at least 50 drops of a pure carrier oil such as coconut, hemp, or grape seed oil is usually sufficient if using topically.
Most people use too much oil in a diffuser or burner. You only need 2-4 drops of essential oil per 100ml of water. If you have pets around, we’d suggest using only 1-2 drops.
Obviously the smaller the dog or animal, the more you want to dilute the oils.
When using oils for dogs, don’t forget hydrosols are a good option and maybe a gentler way to get the theraputique benefits for your pet in a gentler form.
Not safe for animals
Oils that are not safe for use on or around pets (including dogs) include:
- Tea tree oil (melaleuca)
- Citronella (this oil can be used to repel cats and dogs from gardens, so we don’t suggest putting it on your animals)
- Sweet birch
- Pennyroyal (this can cause miscarriage in pregnant people and animals)
Sadly, you will find many of these oils in a lot of essential oil based flea treatments and other products. Even if it says it’s ‘organic’, please, please always check the ingredients list. If in doubt, research and ask an expert. Or avoid it.
If you have pets (or children) around, always ventilate your room when you are burning or diffusing oils.
The droplets dispersed by diffusers may be small, but they still pose a risk to pets. Depending on how close your animal is to the diffuser, they may get a build-up of microdroplets on their fur that can either be absorbed through their skin, or ingested when they groom themselves.
Use therapeutic grade oils from reputable companies and verify the quality of oils before using them. Many oils are contaminated and can put your pets at even greater risk of harm. Even better, check if it has third party testing. Many oils on the market may say they are ‘100% pure’, but often contain other substances that are toxic to animals. If you are not sure as to the quality of the oil you are purchasing, it is best to consult with an expert, such as a trained aromatherapist.
When it comes to cats and essential oils the rules change again. Cats are very unique (as every cat owner knows). They are actually missing a liver enzyme that means they don’t metabolise things the same as humans and other animals, so oils can be even more dangerous for them. They are particularly sensitive to essential oils that contain d-limonene and polyphenolic compounds.
Not only do cats have a very keen sense of smell, but they also have thin skin which means they absorb quicker the compounds in the oils. Because their livers work differently, they can’t metabolise these compounds so they can build up and become toxic.
Oils that we recommend you avoid for cats include (please note, this list is NOT extensive)
- Citrus oils (anything with d-limonene) – lemon, grapefruit, lime, dill, orange, mandarin, and tangerine.
Oils with polyphenolic compounds (basil, birch, cinnamon, clove, fennel, melaleuca (tea tree), nutmeg, oregano, peppermint, thyme, rosemary, spearmint, and wintergreen.)
- Lavender – fresh lavender is not toxic to cats, but the concentrated compounds in lavender oil are.
There’s also a debate about whether hydrosols (the water-based by-product of making essential oils) is safe or not for cats.
Since the verdict isn’t out, we suggest your cat steers clear of ALL essential oil products.
Symptoms to watch out for
Pay attention - if you find your animal leaves the room when you are using oils you are either using something that isn’t beneficial for them, or are using too much. If your pet doesn’t like an oil, don’t force them to be around it or have it on them.
If you are using oils on or around your pets and notice any of the following symptoms, please stop using the oils especially and seek medical (vet) help.
- Changes in behaviour in your cat or dog
- Difficulty breathing
- Watery nose or eyes
- Difficulty walking
- Tremors or trembling muscles
- Redness on their lips, tongue, skin or gums
- Breath or vomit that smells of essential oils
- Pawing at the mouth or face