Applications and Safety of Essential Oils with Animals

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To start with, it is essential to state that before buying essential oils for your pets, it is of utmost importance that you only purchase the highest quality oils, 100% pure. Food grade and cosmetic grade essential oils are not considered the highest quality, even if stated they are 100% pure.

Animals are highly sensitive and you must only use the best.

Nowadays, there are many synthetic imitations on the market and although cheaper, they will not work and might even trigger some bad side effects. Do not confuse essential oils and fragrance oils as the later is a synthetic version of the aroma of the former and can only be used in diffusers.
When buying essential oils, you need to ensure you can trust your supplier to provide you with the following:

  • On the label:
  • Common name
  • Botanical name
  • Batch number
  • Date it was bottled
  • Organic certification if it applies
  • On demand:
  • Extraction method
  • Country of origin
  • Plant parts used

Storage of essential oils is important. Oils come in dark coloured glass bottles (amber, or blue or green) and should be stored away from sunlight and heat. This way they will conserve for a long time. I still have oils that I bought 10 years ago! I don’t use them topically or internally any more, but they still provide wonderful fragrances in burners or in pot-pourri around the house. It is said that in general, old oils will loose their therapeutic benefits but they don’t normally loose their fragrance. Some of them have acquired an even stronger, deeper scent.
Don’t use plastic or steel to store oils. It will melt plastic and will attack metal. Stainless steel is all right though.

Essential oils are potent material as they are highly concentrated. Some can be toxic, irritating, and dangerous so it is vital that you gain knowledge on which oils you can use and how to use them.

Essential oils can be applied topically on the skin as a rub or a massage. They must be diluted in a carrier oil. The main carrier oils we use at Australian Natural Health and Healing are cold pressed virgin coconut oil, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and cold pressed soybean oil. In certain blends, we also use cold pressed virgin wheat germ oil, neem oil and cold pressed flaxseed oil.

Essential oils should never be applied neat (undiluted) on the skin at the exception of True Lavender, Chamomile and some others not discussed here. Even though, great care must be taken as some animals may still have a reaction to them. As a rule and to avoid any problems, do not apply undiluted essential oils on the skin.

They should never be applied close to or in the eyes and on the genitals. Care must be taken when applying them on sensitive and delicate skin such as on an animal’s belly.

Essential oils can be inhaled directly from the bottle or from a cloth where a drop or two have been poured, or using a diffuser/burner. Never leave bottles of essential oils to the reach of animals. All essential oils, pure or in a blend, come in glass bottles, which can hurt your pet if broken. When using a burner/diffuser with a candle, ensure that your pet cannot reach it as the candle would set the place on fire!

Essential oils can be taken internally in food and drinks as long as they are deemed to be safe to ingest for a particular species. One drop or two (depending on the size and age of the animal) of one essential oil in food, molasses, coconut oil or honey with some liquid is an easy way of offering it to your pet. Do not pour undiluted essential oils in their mouth or rub the oils on their gums as it will burn them!

Some essential oils must never be applied on the skin, diluted or not, as they are highly irritating and will harm your pet. See information on Toxicity of Essential Oils

Presenting essential oils to your pet

As a rule, it is a good idea to let your animal sniff the oil or blend you intend on using. It is said and believed that an animal will instinctively know what’s good for him/her. This subject is controversial and raises many disagreements. No matter what, when possible, you should still allow your pet to acknowledge the oils.

The animal might just sniff it without any distinctive reaction, or show a particular interest in it or really dislike it by running away or growling. Some dogs run away as soon as you grab a spray or bottle as they think it’s a medication and they simply don’t want any!

Some aromatherapists say that you should never force an oil on an animal. I personally disagree a little as with the example above, at times, it might be necessary to gently “force” the application. Topical application of essential oils should be turned into a special moment between your pet and yourself. Animals love being touched and patted. Use this moment to communicate with your pet and develop a special bond. For example, just pour a little bit of the essential oil blend on your hands and gently pat your dog, or put some on your grooming brushes and gently brush your horse.

Animals uncannily feel your own feelings. Let your love for your pets be felt through your touch. They will be thankful and loving in return.

Test spot

It is a good idea to try essential oils on a spot before applying a blend to a big area of your pet’s body. If you are making your own blend, add 1 drop of essential oil to 1 teaspoon of carrier oil. If you are testing a pre-mixed blend, use about ½ a teaspoon of the blend. Dip your finger in the blend and rub some on your pet. Observe its skin for few hours (up to 24 hours) for reactions.

If your pet develops a skin reaction to the oil such as a rash or swelling, freely apply some carrier oil on the spot as to “rinse” it off. Olive oil is excellent in this case. Contrary to the belief, rinsing it with water will actually aid the oil to penetrate the skin further. Once you have thoroughly washed it off with oil, then you can use warm water to remove the carrier oil.

Other types of reactions

Like humans, animals are individuals and have reactions that may vary between them. There are various variables that may influence the reaction of an animal to an essential oil, but the main ones to take into consideration are: the species, the breed, the age, the health condition and the sensitivity of the animal.

Apart from a skin allergy as discussed above, after application of a blend, the animal may suddenly show heavy breathing, lethargy, or seem distressed. If possible, remove the oil as explained in the Test Spot. Keep your animal calm and in a safe environment with clean fresh water. The effects should wear off after a little while. Don’t forget to seek veterinarian care if needs be or in doubt.

These reactions may appear when the blend might be too strong for your pet, or the oils used in the blend might be contra-indicated for some ailments your pet might have. It could also be due to your pet being overly sensitive, or too young or too old to receive an aromatherapy blend, or the essential oil used is not pure.

For example, a Thoroughbred is a horse breed considered hot blooded, while the Quarter Horse is more placid. In general, Thoroughbreds are sensitive horses. It is quite common that a blend that suits a Quarter Horse just fine, will trigger some sort of reaction on a Thoroughbred. Their skin and hair are generally finer and more delicate, implying that the absorption of essential oils will be quicker and deeper than with a Quarter Horse. If you are in doubt, you can always dilute your blend down further by adding more carrier oil. Diluting the blend further does not mean it will not be efficient, the contrary is often seen.

The age of the animal is important as well. Young and geriatric animals require specific and different care than adult ones. Some essential oils should never be used on youngsters. All the blends sold by Australian Natural Health and Healing are designed only for adult animals and should not be used on young or geriatric pets.

Some essential oils are contra-indicated for certain ailments/illnesses. For example, an animal with cancer might not be able to receive any aromatherapy at all. If your pet suffers from epilepsy, you will not be able to use certain oils. Check the Toxicity of Essential Oils and essential oils’ profiles first and ensure you know your pet well.

Unless being a professional aromatherapist, it is not recommended to use essential oils with gestating animals.

Essential oils are unsafe to use with cats. Our felines friends’ liver is unable to process essential oils’ chemicals appropriately and they can be fatal to cats. Instead, you can use floral waters as they are safe and gentle for cats.

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