Aromatherapy for Dogs: What's Safe, and How It Works

Using essential oils for aromatherapy may benefit your pets, but you need to know the risks and what's safe.

Published February 8, 2023
Happy dog smelling flowers in the lavender field in summer

Aromatherapy for dogs is a growing trend in the pet care industry. It's also a controversial one. Some people say that it works, while others are convinced that it's all a bunch of hocus pocus. Also, some essential oils used in aromatherapy - including eucalyptus, pine, peppermint, cinnamon, tea tree, and more - are toxic for pets. Let's take a look at what aromatherapy is, how it works, and what essential oils are safe to determine if aromatherapy can help your dog.

What is Aromatherapy for Dogs?

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment involving the use and application of naturally extracted aromatic essences from different parts of plants to help balance, harmonize, and promote the health of the body, mind, and spirit. It works by using essential oils that can be applied through massage, inhalation, or bathing.

It's not unlike how dogs naturally respond to pheromones. These days, aromatherapy is being used as an alternative treatment for pets that have anxiety, inflammation, and other stress-related issues.

How Aromatherapy Works

Essential oils are thought to work primarily through the sense of smell and the olfactory system. Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell and use it to communicate with each other and find their way around new places. In fact, if you've ever taken your dog on a walk where there are other animals or people in the area, you may have noticed that they will stop at every sign of life in search of scents from familiar faces or in a search for food.

Dogs rely on scent heavily to understand their outside world. The human nose has about 5 million sensory cells that are responsible for detecting scents. Dogs have closer to 100 million sensory cells. Also, the part of your dog's brain devoted to processing information from smell is around 40 times larger than in the human brain.

Dogs have an amazing sense of smell that's significantly better than yours! Their sense of smell is so powerful that they can detect cancer, infections, and even their owner's emotional state. This means that when you use essential oils around dogs, they can detect these smells much more easily than you can, so it makes sense that certain scents could calm dogs down.

Although this isn't proven yet, there are tons of anecdotal accounts online of aromatherapy helping dogs. Think about your own use of essential oils. There are many people who utilize essential oils to relax, provide an energy boost, or lift their spirits. If essential oils benefit humans in these aspects, you can only imagine what the scents are doing for your furry friend.

Is Aromatherapy Safe for Dogs?

There are many kinds of essential oils available, but not all of them are safe for dogs. Some oils can cause serious reactions in animals because they're toxic or irritating to their skin and lungs, whereas others can be quite beneficial.

Understand that the benefits of essential oils for dogs is not yet proven. Before you begin using any aromatherapy or essential oils for your dog, check with your veterinarian first and discuss the exact oils you would like to use. It's only safe to use these products after you've confirmed they are non-toxic with your veterinarian. There are many holistic veterinarians who use essential oils for dogs, and these practitioners may have more information on the benefits and uses of essential oils.

Beneficial Essential Oils for Dogs

Check with your veterinarian before you apply any oil to your dog's coat or skin. There is a chance they may ingest it, and it may be harmful if used improperly. When used correctly, properly diluted oils on this list are generally considered safe for use with aromatherapy with dogs. These essential oils may bring great relief to both you and your dog. Some of the most popular essential oils for dogs include:

  • Lavender: Diluted lavender oil that is made specifically for use with dogs has a sweet floral scent that is thought to be calming and relaxing for both humans and animals alike. It's often used as a sleep aid, especially for dogs who suffer from anxiety at nighttime or during thunderstorms.
  • Chamomile: This essential oil has an earthy scent similar to hay, which might make it great for treating nervousness or anxiety in dogs, such as separation anxiety or noise phobias. It is also reported to have anti-inflammatory properties. Chamomile helps calm the mind while promoting restful sleep.
  • Jasmine: Aromatherapy using jasmine for dogs is said to increase their levels of calm. It may help treat anxiety, stress, and aggression issues in dogs.
  • Sweet Orange: Known for its uplifting properties and its energizing effect on humans as well as animals, sweet orange also has mild sedative effects, which make it useful in treating nervousness or excitement in pets.
  • Bergamot: A very versatile oil that has many uses for animals. The scent of bergamot is often described as citrusy, with a hint of spice. It may reduce discomfort in your dog, including noise phobias, anxiety, and restlessness.

Potentially Hazardous Essential Oils

Some essential oils can be toxic to dogs. Here are some of the more common essential oils that are potentially toxic to dogs:

  • Eucalyptus: May cause liver or kidney damage. Toxic if ingested, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and other health issues.
  • Wintergreen: May cause neurologic problems, including seizures.
  • Oregano: May cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.
  • Pine: Causes gastrointestinal upset and possibly pancreatitis.
  • Cinnamon: Can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as redness and irritation of the skin.
  • Bitter orange: Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, an increased heart rate, and tremors.
  • Tea tree: May cause low body temperature, symptoms of intoxication, problems walking, and in high concentrations, death.
  • Ylang Ylang: May cause difficulty breathing, coordination issues, and gastrointestinal upset.

Note that some of these essential oils are more dangerous than others. For example, tea tree oil reparations with a concentration of less than 1 to 2% are generally considered non-toxic. Always check with your veterinarian before using aromatherapy products or essential oils around your pets.

How to Use Aromatherapy on Your Dog

High-quality essential oils are highly concentrated, so they should be used sparingly. Some need to be diluted before use. A few drops in your dog's bath or on their bedding will go a long way toward creating a soothing environment that will help them feel comfortable when they need it most.

The following are the various ways you can use aromatherapy for your dog:

  • Diffusing essential oils: You can use aromatherapy by diffusing essential oils in your dog's environment. This is especially useful when you are home, but not with your dog, as the scent will continue to calm your pup even when you're not there.
  • Direct application of diluted essential oils to skin: Another option is to apply them directly to your dog's skin so that they absorb the aroma through their olfactory system. You can do this by rubbing a few drops of oil onto their paws or behind their ears; just be sure not to use too much oil at once!
  • Adding essential oils directly into food or water: Finally, there are also some people who choose simply to add drops of the desired oil directly into their dog's food or water bowl so that it becomes part of what they consume daily. Make sure it doesn't get in their eyes, and check with your veterinarian before adding any essential oils to your dog's food or water.

Each oil comes with different recommendations on how to use it. Some may already be diluted, whereas others are more pungent. Take a look at the product you are purchasing. Carefully review the label and ask any questions you may have on how to use the product or what the product contains. A reputable company will be fully transparent.

Tips on Using Aromatherapy for Dogs

You can use essential oils for dogs safely and effectively by following a few tips. These include:

  • Use only high-quality therapeutic-grade essential oils!
  • Don't use more than one type of oil at a time. Instead, choose one or two types of oils and use them each day until the problem has resolved itself or until you see an improvement in your dog's behavior.
  • Before putting essential oils directly on your dog's skin or fur, you should always dilute them first. If you don't, they could irritate their skin or cause allergic reactions if they lick themselves afterward.

Getting Started

Consider giving your dog an aromatherapy treatment the next time they are acting anxiously or stressed. Aromatherapy could potentially be a great way to help your dog relax and relieve stress. If your dog is anxious or tense, aromatherapy may be just what they need. As long as you're using caution and choosing the appropriate oils, it's worth trying to help reduce the stress your dog and you may be feeling.

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Aromatherapy for Dogs: What's Safe, and How It Works