Ask a Vet: Can I Use Essential Oils on Pets?

Essential oils have been an important part of folk medicine for thousands of years, and have recently exploded in popularity for their use in aromatherapy and alternative medicine. Proponents of essential oils use them regularly for everything from anxiety and muscle aches to treating illnesses and promoting relaxation and mental clarity.

The trend towards the use of essential oils for healing and relaxation purposes isn’t limited to humans. Many pet owners want to shield their animal companions from harsh chemicals, but using essential oils on pets may not have the desired effects. Some essential oils may be toxic to pets, or cause adverse reactions, and pet owners are wise to use extreme caution when it comes to this alternative therapy.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Pets have a highly developed sense of smell, and what may smell delightful or relaxing to us may be downright overwhelming to them. When using essential oil diffusers, always give pets a means of “escaping” the smell. Pet birds are especially sensitive to inhaled odors, and should not be exposed to essential oils or other fragrances.

Liquid Potpourri and Essential Oil Poisoning

Essential oils are absorbed rapidly through the skin, lungs, and GI tract, where they circulate throughout the body and are metabolized by the liver. Very young or old pets and those with compromised livers can be more sensitive to their effects. Liquid potpourri, which contains essential oils, is especially dangerous and can cause chemical burns in the mouth and on the skin.

Some signs your pet may be experiencing liquid potpourri or essential oil poisoning include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty walking/stumbling
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Scent or fragrance on skin, fur, breath, or vomit
  • Pawing at face/mouth
  • Redness or burns on the lips, tongue, gums, or skin
  • Vomiting

If you know or suspect your pet is experiencing essential oil poisoning, seek emergency medical care immediately.

Essential Oils and Cats

Essential oils pose an especially high toxic risk to cats. Not only are cats sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which are found in many essential oils, their livers lack an enzyme required to break down and eliminate essential oils from the body. Essential oils that are toxic to cats include:

  • Wintergreen
  • Sweet birch
  • Citrus
  • Pine
  • Ylang ylang
  • Peppermint
  • Cinnamon
  • Pennyroyal
  • Clove
  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea tree

Using Essential Oils on Pets

The safest way for a pet to enjoy the benefits of essential oils is by using a specifically designed pet care product that already contains traces of oils. We are happy to make recommendations for all-natural products that meet federal safety guidelines.

Always check with your veterinarian before using essential oils on pets, and never apply an oil directly to the skin or allow your pet to ingest an oil.

For more questions about using essential oils on pets, give your friendly team at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital a call!

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