Essential Oils For Dogs – What Are They, Do They Work, And Should You Be Using Them?
After all, essential oils have rapidly gained popularity for cooking and in cleaning supplies.
They can be used as air fresheners, as perfume, as bath oils, for aroma and massage therapy, and even for medicinal purposes.
Many folks swear by the health benefits provided by natural oils.
I actually know quite a few people who are advocates of diffusing and ingesting certain oils, including someone who even uses them on her horses!
If you can use essential oils on horses, can you use essential oils on dogs? Or are essential oils toxic to dogs?
Are essential oils for dogs safe?
Although some essential oils seem to be safe enough for dogs, there’s a catch – even the safer essential oils and dogs are not always friends. Some “safe” essential oils may irritate one dog but not the next.
Some oils appear to be toxic to dogs in some cases, but not all. And some oils are dangerous in all circumstances.
This may sound confusing, but don’t worry, we’ve got all of your questions about essential oils for dogs covered!
In this article, you’ll find out which essential oils are thought to be safe for use on dogs and which ones aren’t.
We’ll also discuss when to avoid using essential oils (even the safe ones), and to how administer essential oils for dogs when it’s appropriate to do so.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are defined in the U.S. National Library of Medicine as “the scented liquid taken from certain plants using steam or pressure [that] contain the natural chemicals that give the plant its ‘essence’ (specific odor and flavor) [and] are used in perfumes, food flavorings, medicine, and aromatherapy.”
They are commonly marketed for use in diffusers or candles for the resulting steam’s mood-boosting qualities.
This is commonly referred to as aromatherapy.
Food-grade oils are also sold for consumption, usually to flavor baked goods or savory dishes.
Some consumers purchase essential oils for medicinal purposes, using them in sports massage, body lotions and creams, insect repellents, and as all-natural “medicines.”
Note that I used that term loosely; essential oils may help to speed the healing of various physical ailments, but they are not meant to replace medication, regardless of whether they’re being used for people or pets.
We’ll share the veterinary community’s take on essential oils for use in dogs throughout this article.
Can I diffuse essential oils around my dog?
Hypothetically speaking, yes, you should be able to diffuse essential oils around your dog.
But because dogs react differently to essential oils, we recommend diffusing according to the following guidelines:
Always diffuse essential oils for dogs in a room that your dog doesn’t spend too much time in.
Should your dog accidentally knock over the diffuser and ingest or otherwise come into contact with the oil, they could have a reaction like muscle weakness or tremors and digestive upset.
Additionally, too much exposure to the oil (be it inhaled or by skin contact) has the potential to cause a negative reaction if your dog happens to be allergic to the oil.
Furthermore, dogs have a much more powerful sense of smell than we do, and the scent could be rather overwhelming when an essential oil is diffused all day long.
You should not diffuse essential oils at all around dogs that already have a breathing problem.
The steam may aggravate the condition, similarly to how perfume aggravates some people with asthma.
You also should not diffuse essential oils around your dog if he is visibly aggravated by whatever you are diffusing.
Some dogs may react to essential oils differently than others, as we’ll touch on in the next section.
Are essential oils safe for dogs skin or to eat?
Essential oils on dogs’ skin – is it a good idea? Can dogs ingest essential oils?
If you do an internet search of “essential oils for dogs” or “are essential oils safe for pets?” the search results will return a wide range of feedback, with some of the results contradicting others.
This uncertainty seems to be because the use of essential oils in veterinary medicine is a pretty new topic.
There just isn’t a lot of concrete evidence that suggests certain oils are always or never okay for dogs.
Some dogs may react to oils that are thought to be safe, while some dogs will not and can continue to be treated with essential oils.
Some essential oils have done more harm than good when they were applied or fed to dogs, but in several instances, the harm occurred from misuse of the oil.
As you’ll find out below, there is also some evidence which suggests that other essential oils should never be used on dogs due to their highly toxic natures.
For the aforementioned reasons, we recommend avoiding diffusing or applying the following essential oils on or around dogs (unless you have your veterinarian’s explicit instructions for using these oils safely):
- Eucalyptus/eucalyptol – The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) lists the eucalyptus plant and eucalyptus oil as being toxic to dogs, cats and horses. A dog who has ingested eucalyptus may slobber excessively, vomit, have diarrhea, depression, and/or experience overall malaise.
- Melaleuca (tea tree) – According to a 1994 study, inappropriate application of tea tree oil to dogs (and cats), usually in an attempt to treat skin issues, has resulted in numerous cases of depression, weakness, loss of coordination, and muscle tremors. It is generally accepted by the veterinary community that tea tree oil should not be given to or applied on dogs or cats.
- Peppermint – You can read more information that we’ve found about peppermint oil and dogs here.
- D-Limonene (citrus) – According to a 2001 study, dogs which were treated topically with a concentrated strain of limonene in an effort to kill fleas developed skin irritation at the application site. In cases of extremely concentrated usage, dogs also developed nervous system issues and even blood pressure changes. Since this oil is highly permeable (can easily be absorbed by the skin), it’s recommended that you do not use it on dogs.
- Pennyroyal – Contrary to what some websites suggest, pennyroyal oil is never a great option for natural flea and pest control on dogs. In fact, according to Tina Wismer, who is the medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, applying this oil to your dog can cause depression, vomiting, and diarrhea. Ingestion can lead to nervous system issues and/or death.
- Birch, anise, and clove – According to 2014 research findings from the toxicology laboratory of the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Heath at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, essential oils which are commonly used in scent training (birch, anise, and clove oil) are highly toxic when fully concentrated oils are ingested. If the dog accidentally comes into contact with one of these oils when it hasn’t been diluted by at least 25%, the dog may present with a wintergreen smell, face irritation and possible breathing issues, and digestive problems. These may lead to anemia, kidney failure, lethargy, seizures, coma, and even death.
- Ylang ylang, wintergreen, and pine – The VCA Animal Hospital also lists these essential oils as toxic to dogs, so we recommend that they not be diffused or administered to a dog.
Are essential oils good for dogs?
There are some essential oils that are generally recognized as safe for use on or around dogs, but only when they are administered appropriately.
Even essential oils which are typically safe for dogs can become dangerous if they are not therapeutic-grade, if they are highly concentrated, or if they are administered in too high of an amount.
From some veterinarian-authored websites about essential oils for dogs, there seems to be some level of agreement that the following essential oils are safe to be diffused around or administered to dogs:
- Cedar wood
- Copaiba or helichrysum
- Sweet marjoram
The aforementioned list is not exhaustive and should be viewed as a general reference only. It’s also possible that your dog could have a negative reaction to one of these oils – remember that every dog is different. Your veterinarian will be able to help you determine if any other essential oils are safe for use on your dog.
We’ll tell you how administer and use each of these oils in the following sections.
How do I administer essential oils to my dog?
First and foremost, always consult with your veterinarian before you use any essential oils on your dog.
It is very easy to accidentally injure your dog when you do not administer the oil properly. You may inadvertently aggravate an existing health condition by using essential oils without your vet’s supervision.
When you’ve been given the go-ahead from your vet to use essential oils for dogs, be sure that you use only the highest quality oil which is made specifically for therapeutic use.
There are many commercially available essential oils on the market, but oils with “for aromatherapy only” or other similar indications may not be safe enough for use on pets.
As your veterinarian will likely advise you, it’s also necessary to dilute any essential oils that you plan to feed or apply to your dog.
This can be done by diluting the oil with water and/or applying the oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut or grapeseed oil.
(The Fox Ridge Veterinary Clinic has a nice article about how to dilute and use essential oils for dogs based on your dog’s size; you can read it here.)
Be sure to only apply or feed a very small amount of the properly prepared oil to your dog initially. This will serve as a test of whether or not your dog will have a negative reaction.
Finally, when you do apply an essential oil to your dog, be sure to avoid applying the oil to areas with sensitive skin (such as in or around the ears, anywhere on the face, and the genital area).
This thin skin is more likely to react to the oils, as opposed to other areas with thicker skin and a denser fur cover.
Essential oils for fleas and ticks on dogs
According to holistic veterinarian Janet Roark, cedar wood oil can be helpful as a flea and tick repellent.
Furthermore, when I was growing up on a farm, I recall that we also used lavender-infused flea collars on our farm dogs. They definitely seemed to help repel fleas, but I can recall a few bad years where the collars just weren’t enough.
(We cannot stress enough that essential oils are not meant to be used as the only treatment plan for your dog, in any case. Most of the time, a veterinarian will only recommend incorporating essential oils as part of a healing or treatment plan which also includes prescription medication or other professional treatment.)
Essential oils for itchy dogs
The folks over at the Canine Journal recommend coconut or lavender essential oils for dogs (dry skin or itchy skin) as a possible part of a treatment plan for this chronic issue.
For more information about the efficacy of and uses of coconut oil for dogs, check out our Coconut Oil for Dogs article!
Essential oils for dog allergies
For dogs who suffer from chronic skin ailments due to allergies, the Canine Journal also recommends chamomile, helichrysum, and/or sweet marjoram essential oils for dogs (dry skin or flaky, crusty, red, or otherwise irritated skin).
Chamomile works to sooth the body’s inflammatory reaction, while helichrysum and sweet marjoram may actually help to heal irritated skin faster while reducing pain.
(Even though these essential oils may have healing properties, please don’t discontinue any medication that your dog may be on for his allergies, unless your veterinarian tells you to.)
We must stress that you avoid putting essential oils on broken skin, unless your veterinarian instructs you to do otherwise. You could accidentally slow the healing process, and the oil may actually aggravate the problem, instead of calming it.
Essential oils for dog ear infection
I’ve come across many internet websites which suggest using tea tree, oregano, and/or coconut oil as a method for clearing up a dog’s ear infection.
The truth is that no essential oil will clear an ear infection, as it is a bacterial infection which requires proper antibiotic treatment to fully eliminate the offending organism.
The other important thing here is that essential oils also should not be applied to the ears, period.
If you need a safe and effective way to clean your dog’s ears, refer to our article on How to Clean Your Puppy’s Ears.
Essential oils for dog odor
Coconut oil is consistently named as a “miracle” oil that eliminates the ever-so-familiar “doggy” odor when applied to the fur or fed to the dog, but we cannot vouch for this belief.
When it comes to eliminating doggie odors from your furniture or house, you may be tempted to spray lots of air-freshening products or to burn liquid potpourri.
However, both of these products can be irritating or even sickening to pets, especially if they are ingested!
Instead, we recommend finding a natural odor eliminator that is safe for your pet to be around. Find out more in our Best Pet Odor Eliminator article!
Essential oils to calm dogs
So what about essential oils for dog anxiety? Does your dog get nervous during tense situations, such as thunderstorms or trips to the vet?
According to veterinarian Carol Osborne, applying or diffusing lavender oil or chamomile oil may be a natural way to help calm him down during these times.
(I can vouch for lavender oil, as I like to use lavender oil-infused bubble bath when I need a relaxing soak in the tub! This does not mean that you should promptly put your dog in a lavender bath – as always, please consult with your vet before you do anything!)
Essential oils for dogs – a summary
When it comes to essential oils for dogs, they are shrouded in controversy and a lot of unverified information.
There is simply not enough research to state with confidence that certain essential oils are always safe to use. However, some essential oils are thought to be safer to use than others when applied correctly.
There have been reports of generally safe essential oils causing negative reactions in pets, but this seems to be due to owner error in some cases.
Other research indicates that certain essential oils should never be used on dogs due to their toxic properties.
Because of all the uncertainty about the effects of essential oils on pets, if you want to diffuse essential oils in your home, we recommend doing so with caution and always in a room that’s away from your pet, so he does not accidentally knock the diffuser over.
You should also seek guidance from your veterinarian before spraying, feeding, or otherwise applying any essential oil to your pet, even the oils which we’ve mentioned as probably safe in this article!
If you do get an approval from your vet to incorporate essential oils into your dog’s care, you must use them exactly as directed. Only use oils that are therapeutic in quality and which are approved by your vet.
It could take only a very small mistake to create a big health scare for you and your dog!
Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center and Pet Clinic, “10 Things You Must Know before Using Essential Oils on Your Dog”
DVM 360 Magazine, “Veterinary toxicology alert: Oils used in ‘scent training’ can harm dogs”
Flint, C., Brutlag, A. “Essential Oil and Liquid Potpourri Poisoning in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals
Ibrahim, M., Kainulainen, P., Aflatuni, A., Tiilikkala, K., Holopainen, J. “Insecticidal, repellent, antimicrobial activity and phytotoxicity of essential oils: With special reference to limonene and its suitability for control of insect pests,” Agricultural and Food Science in Finland, 2001.
Villar, D., Knight, M., Hansen, S., Buck, W. “Toxicity of melaleuca oil and related essential oils applied topically on dogs and cats,” Veterinary and Human Toxicology, 1994.
Wooten, S. “Essential oils for fleas and ticks? Not so fast,” DVM 360 Magazine