As Aromatherapy is becoming more widely accepted in the mainstream, more people are using essential oils on their own, at home. Unfortunately, as some people are finding out, this is not always having a positive affect on the animals in their lives.
There have been many reports of animals harmed, even dying, from essential oils. Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia, has received a bad rap laTelly, mostly reasonably stemming from the fact that it is so widely available. Well meaning owners have used this oil to treat dermatological afflictions such as bites and scratches, only to end up at the veterinarians office with an animal exhibiting signs of toxicity, such as ataxia, incoordination, weakness, tremors, vomiting or depression.
Misinformation is an awful problem in this area as well. As an increasing amount of people turn to a more natural approach at life, companies are jumping to cash in. Thousand of products include essential oils in their ingredients; pet products are no different. The average person, unaware of the dangers, can easily think these products would be completely safe when in fact they are not.
Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides), for instance, is widely used as flea control. This oil is a known abortifacient in humans, and considered a toxin to the liver and the kidneys. Not exactly a strong selling point, although it is very good at keeping fleas at bay!
Many products for cats also contain essential oils. Unfortunately, for the cats, many cat owners are unaware that by using these products, they can slowly cause toxins to build up in the feline's system, causing a slow onset of organ failure. A cat's liver can not process toxins as a human's or even a dog's can, and the chemical constituents of the oils, such as terpenes, phenols, and ketones, are no exception. The effects of these can be immediately in showing up, or can take years.
Birds are well known for being sensitive to scents and particles in the air, and essential oils are no different. Gillian Willis, a toxicologist in Vancouver, has seen many cases of avian poisoning, including a well-meaning cockatiel owner who, upon seeing an abrasion on her bird's foot, applied a drop of Tea Tree oil. The bird became depressed and even with veterinary intervention, died within 24 hours of respiratory failure. Even diffusing oils around a bird can produce dire consequences.
Not all is lost:
While this may all seem daunting to an animal lover who also enjoys the benefits of aromatics, all is certainly not lost. A little knowledge can go a long way while incorporating essential oils in and around your animals.
Choosing essential oils:
Purity can be an issue when it comes to essential oils. For example, it takes approximately one hundred pounds of plant material to produce one pound of Lavender Lavandula angustifolia. Due to the expense, many essential oils are diluted in other substances. These can range from carrier oils, such as Jojoba, to synthetic fragrance, even chemicals. When you are choosing essential oils to use therapeutically for yourself and your pets, you only want the purest available. To determine this, there are a few key things to look for:
– EO's should not be oily or leave a greasy residue.
– Packaging should include the common name (Lavender), the Latin binomial (Lavandula angustifolia), the country of origin, the method of distillation, the part of the plant used, lot number, amount of oil in bottle, contact information of the company , how the plant was grown, and the words “100% pure essential oil” OR the ingredients, if in a carrier or blend.
– Price usually dictates quality.
– Not all bottles of the same size yet of different oils should be priced the same. In other words, if they carry 50 different types of oils, yet every 5ml bottle is $ 7.40, there is something wrong, and you can guarantee these oils have been adulterated in some way.
Using quality oils in homes with pets:
Once you have your essential oils and are satisfied with the quality, the task becomes using them correctly. While they can be very therapeutic and helpful, they can also do harm. Remember, just because a product is natural, does not mean it is safe.
There are some essential oils that should never be used for animals: Anise, Clove Leaf / Bud, Garlic, Horseradish, Juniper, Thyme, Wintergreen, or Yarrow, to name a few.
Some that can be used include: Cedarwood Atlas, Chamomile, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Lavender, Myrrh, Ravensare, Rose, And Valerian. (Note that these lists are not exhaustive and further research from the pet owner should be done).
For dogs, essential oils can be used in a variety of ways, from bathing to calming the nerves through diffusion. Some points to remember:
– Dogs can not tell you what is or is not working. As such, you must closely watch their reactions. Excessive scratching, sniffing, nervousness or whining are all signs to watch for.
– Always dilute the oils. A common acceptable dilution is 25% of the adult human formula.
– Giving essential oils internally is not generally recommended.
– Do not use any oils on medium-large breed puppies under 8 weeks, and small or toy breeds under 10 weeks. Hydrosols are a much better choice.
– Gradually introduce the oils.
– What is good for a large dog is NOT good for a small dog. Size Matters, and less is definitely more when working with oils, for animals or humans.
– Sick, frail, older, or pregnant dogs have special considerations, just as in humans. Do not administrator the same dose to them as you would to a healthy animal of the same size.
– Never use oils near the eyes, mouth, nose, or genital area.
Felines are especially sensitive, as previously mentioned. Even dispersing oils in the air or using them as cleaning agents around the house can be detrimental. Make sure that the cat has a way to go into another room, with fresh air to 'escape'. Oils should never be used topically because of their liver's ability to process them. Hydrosols, also known as hydrolats or floral water, are a much safer option with many of the same benefits. For smaller animals, such as hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits, hydrosols are also the best option, at a 50% dilution of what is used for felines.
Birds should never be exposed to oils, whether topically or in the air due to their extreme sensitivity. Hydrosols can be used, but in very minute amounts, much like in homeopathic remedies.
Fish can not tolerate oils or floral waters. The oils, not being water-soluble, would end up sticking to the fish, causing a host of problems, up to and many times including, death. Hydrosols each have their own pH levels, and have the possibility of wreaking havoc on the pH levels within the tank, also causing harm to the fish.
An animal lover's best bet, for the sake of their pet, would be to educate themselves even further. One must be cautioned about searching the net, however, as misinformation is everywhere. Be sure to check the credentials of the writer before following the advice of any site. There are a few good books on the subject, one of my favorites, and the reference for this article, is Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals by Kristen Leigh Bell. With a little love and research, aromatherapy can be very beneficial to humans and animals alike!
Bell, Kristen. Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals. Findhorn-Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press, 2002.