FAQ: Are Essential Oils Safe for Your Dog's Hair?

by K Marie Alto March 31, 2022 14 min read 2 Comments

FAQ: Are Essential Oils Safe for Your Dog's Hair?

Essential oils are a potent part of aromatherapy treatment and holistic health, so it's no surprise that many of us want to use them on our fur babies as well. The question is, are they safe?

After all, it doesn't matter how nice your pup 🐶 smells if they're suffering because of it, right?

In this post I go an inch wide and a mile deep into essential oils for dogs and cats. From essential oils safety to what essential oils are not safe for your dog to how to safely use essential oils at home.

I have also included a great video where Dr. Allison Fields 👩‍⚕️ discusses using essential oil diffusers around your pets. This is a must watch!  

Let's dig into the safety of essential oils and how they may affect and benefit your pooch.

What Are Essential Oils?

Just in case you’re not quite sure what essential oils are, I figured I'd give you a quick rundown.

Many plants have chemicals in them that give them their unique scents. It's the same whether you're talking about an edible herb like Basil or an inedible plant like Sandalwood.  

The essential oil is drawn out of the plant using various extraction methods, the most common being through solvent extraction, steaming, maceration, and cold-press extraction. What you're left with is an extremely potent, extremely concentrated essence of the plant itself.

Essential Oil Vials Image by Toe Beans

Essential oils are considered "pure" when they're not diluted by a carrier oil. These oils are extremely potent – so much so that a single drop can scent your entire house for hours or even days, depending on how you use it.  

Essential oils are also used as an ingredient in numerous natural products. You might find them diluted down with a neutral carrier oil to be used in a diffuser. Or, a drop or two might be used to add scent to a bar of soap or another household good. They are a great alternative to synthetically created fragrances.

It's worth noting that – as we always like to point out about anything you buy for your fur baby – not all essential oils are created equal.  You'll notice that for example if you search for a specific essential oil, you’ll find a broad spectrum of pricing. 

While a higher cost doesn’t always mean better quality, choosing the cheapest option is going to give you what you paid for – a sub-par product. It’s a balancing act.

The quality of the original plant and the extraction process all play a role in the end product.  Many plants are grown using pesticides and fungicides, which may end up in the final product.  In addition, some extraction processes use hexane (which comes from refining crude oil) to extract the oils from plants.  This process will leave some hexane in the final essential oil bottle.

If you’re considering purchasing an essential oil for your own personal use or for your fur baby, the minimum requirement you should seek is a USDA Certified Organic product.  While the quality of the plant may still vary, you can ensure it wasn’t grown using any harmful synthetics and neither was the extraction process.

Are Essential Oils Safe for Fur, Skin, or in General?

In general, essential oils are "safe, but." They're of course natural, but that alone doesn't mean something is safe. As I like to repeatedly emphasize on my blog, “natural” should NEVER be a proxy for safe.

Not for you, let alone for your fur baby. After all, wolfsbane, poison ivy, and rattlesnake venom are all natural, but you obviously wouldn't want to rub them on your skin.

For starters, essential oils are usually not safe to eat. Some, made from edible plants, may be ingestible in small amounts, diluted, and used as an ingredient. Others are simply toxic, or caustic enough to burn skin and stomach lining.

Typically, you don't eat essential oils, instead you either put them in an aromatherapy diffuser or use them as a scent ingredient.

Using essential oils as a scent ingredient in topical products is the safest and most practical way  to use essential oils with your pets. Never apply pure undiluted essential oils directly on your or your dog's skin.

"Applying oils topically can be irritating to the skin — yours and your dog’s. This is counterproductive for treating skin conditions and can add to your dog’s discomfort. Therefore, without proper professional guidance, it’s best to avoid using essential oils topically or directly on your dog. Instead, look for expertly formulated products that incorporate dog-safe essential oils.- American Kennel Club

 

Drop of Essential Oil Image by Toe Beans

The trouble with discussing essential oils is that they're as widely varied as the plants they're made from. It's impossible to simply declare them all safe, or all dangerous, because you (and your fur baby) will react differently to different plants. It’s simply not a binary scenario.

When it comes to your fur baby, essential oils can be safe if they're properly diluted or used as an ingredient in another product. The most important keyword here is “properly.”

Here is the ASPCA position on whether or not essential oils are safe for pets:

"The answer, as we so often see, is slightly more complicated than a simple “yes,” or “no.”...In their concentrated form (100%), essential oils can absolutely be a danger for pets...Some oils may in fact be more harmful than others. However, there are several factors that affect this such as concentration level, and what the product is mixed with. For example, concentrated forms of tea tree oil (melaleuca oil) may cause issues for your pets with only seven or eight drops, whereas another oil may take more or less. Due to the variability in concentration, formulation and possible quality of essential oils, it is best to completely avoid directly applying them to your pet. You should also keep any oils up and out of paws' reach to prevent potential ingestion." - The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®)

Essential oils won't harm your dog's skin or fur, as long as they aren't just slathered on. A deodorizing spritz, for example, with a dog-safe and properly diluted amount of essential oils can be enough to be therapeutic without risking irritating skin or overwhelming your fur baby.

Needless to say, deodorizing spritzes that contain natural fragrances such as essential oils make for a much safer and better choice than those using artificial fragrances made from harsh chemicals. 

Are Essential Oils Risky for Pets?

Essential oils have the potential to harm pets if two conditions are met.

  • Too much oil is used at once.
  • It's an oil that is toxic to your fur baby.

Too much of any essential oil will be irritating, though only certain essential oils are actually toxic. You should never apply pure essential oil to your fur baby.

Not only will it be way too strong for their extremely sensitive sense of smell, but it can also irritate their digestive system if ingested via self-grooming. And, of course, if you've happened to pick a toxic oil, that's bad no matter what.

Just like there are certain plants that are toxic to your dogs and cats, there are also some essential oils that are toxic too.  After all, they are derived from plants.

Dog With Essential Oils Image by Toe Beans

Luckily, most pet-focused products (mine included) are perfectly safe for your furry friend. There's only a tiny amount in any given product – we don't sell pure essential oils – and we only use scents that are safe for dogs and in some cases our products are also safe for cats. 

Cat safe products are clearly labeled as such; they have more sensitivities to essential oils, so don’t use a dog safe product on your kitty.

However, if you're using aromatherapy with oils you buy for yourself, you should be careful about which ones you use when your fur baby is around or eliminate the dangerous scents altogether.

Which Essential Oils Can Be Dangerous to Dogs?

If you're interested in using essential oils around the house, or even as a treatment for your fur baby's medical issues, you'll need to make sure you aren't applying human standards to your pet.

Some smell great to us but some essential oils are toxic to dogs. This is a tough subject to broach, as there aren’t many studies to support which oils are safe versus which are toxic. 

Most documented cases of death due to essential oils is from direct application or consumption of an undiluted oil.  If the essential oil had been properly diluted it could have been safely applied.  So, in this case is the oil safe or toxic?

The previous example is why you’ll find so much contradictory information on the internet.  One site will list the essential oil as safe where another will say it’s toxic.  It’s frustrating, I know.

Instead of relying on the wide variety of opinions scattered on the internet, we follow the guidance of a team of veterinarians who specialize in therapeutic essential oil use for pets.

Their list provides a small number of oils that should NOT be used with dogs.  They include:

  • Birch
  • Tea Tree (Melaleuca)
  • Wintergreen

There is also a group of “hot oils” that should be used cautiously (read must be highly diluted), some examples include cinnamon, clove, and oregano.

Cats are even more sensitive to essential oils as they lack a liver enzyme to break them down.  So, in addition to the should NOT be used list above, you can also add all citrus oils, peppermint, and spearmint. 

Can You Use Essential Oils as an Ingredient?

There are uses for essential oils other than as aromatherapy scents. In fact, one of the most common uses is as an ingredient in topical products, such as in a lotion or spray. That’s how we use them.

So, can you safely use essential oils as an ingredient in these types of products? Or, to be more precise, if you buy a product with essential oils as an ingredient, is it safe?

The answer to this is generally yes, though with caveats.

If you buy a product like my Momma Knows Best organic paw balms, you might notice that essential oils are listed as ingredients. Is this bad?

Well, of course not. I wouldn't sell it if it had even the slightest chance of harming your precious friend. I use the vegan paw balm to keep my Sosa’s (18 yo) toe beans hydrated and looking great 😊 

Sosa the cat

As you may imagine, we are unable to speak for the quality and safety practices used by other pet product manufacturers that use essential oils in their products. 

What we can do however, is disclose what we do to make our products 100% safe for your dogs and for some products cats even if they are consumed via self-grooming.

Here's what makes our products safe to use on your dogs and cats:

  • Very little of the product is necessary. For items like  paw balms or deodorizing spritzes, you only need to apply a very small amount of the product every time.
  • We use a safe amount in every product. For example, we properly dilute all essential oils to ensure they are safe for small dogs (and cats where applicable). All our products that contain essential oils have been diluted based on the dilution rate for small dogs.
  • We only use scents that are safe for dogs. Frankincense, for example, is known to be safe for pets, which is why I use it instead of something like Peppermint.
  • We only use USDA certified organic essential oils. The essential oils present in our products are USDA certified organic. This guarantees that no pesticides, synthetics, harsh chemicals, or heavy metals will make it into your fur baby’s organs.

Generally speaking, most essential oils are going to be safe, of course and once again, when used properly. One thing we recommend to pet parents is to be careful with the use of diffusers around pets.

Using essential oils with diffusers is very different from using them as ingredients in other products. If you use essential oils in infusers for medical reasons, make sure to keep your pets out of the room while the oil is being infused.

"Active oil diffusers, including nebulizers and ultrasonics, should be used away from pets so the microdroplets don’t come in contact with your pet’s fur, skin, or lungs." - Tim Evans, University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine - for the NY Times

Watch the 2-min video below about using essential oils in diffusers around your pet.

Are Essential Oils Harmful to Pets?

With that said, whenever you’re trying a new product with an essential oil, you should do a small spot test on your pup to ensure they don’t have an allergic reaction.  If your pup gets a little rash, or starts scratching, discontinue use. 

Can Essential Oils Help Your Pet?

Essential oils have great benefits for people, but what about for pets? Can your four-legged friend benefit from a scent infused in their environment or applied to their skin?

Giving Dog Treatment Image by Toe Beans

The short answer is yes, with a larger question about the actual overall efficacy. Remember, asking "can essential oils help" is like asking, "can medicine help?" There are so many different essential oils (just like there are so many different medications) that you have to be more specific.  

A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) confirms certain essential oils exhibit antimicrobial behavior.  While these may not be able to replace an antibiotic ointment, they may help stave off an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast that live on your pup’s skin.

In particular, dogs with skinfolds benefit from regular cleaning and application of moisturizers and humectants such as dog balms that contain frankincense essential oil for example.

Dogs with Skinfolds and Yeast Growth by Toe Beans

Another study shows that thyme essential oil (among others) is good for repelling fleas!

Frankincense has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which may help with joint pain and fight off skin infections.

Check our USDA certified organic line of dog and cat balms here

What Are the Symptoms of Essential Oil Toxicity?

Essential oil toxicity in pets is more likely to happen when the oil has either been inhaled or consumed (via droplets spread with an infuser).

If the worst-case scenario happens and your fur baby encounters a toxic oil or simply has too much essential oil in too short a span, they can end up poisoned.

Obviously, I hope you never have to experience this, but it's better to be informed ahead of time.

Dog Essential Oil Toxicity Image by Toe Beans

So, what are the symptoms of a dog with oil toxicity?

  • Strong scent of the oil, particularly if your fur baby got into your bottles or ate an entire product at once.
  • Redness around the mouth, where the oil came into contact with their skin.
  • Difficulty breathing, particularly if they inhaled large amounts of the oil.
  • Drooling.
  • Fatigue.
  • Difficulty walking, muscle tremors, or other signs of weakness or dysfunction.
  • Pawing at their mouth or face, like there's something they're trying to get rid of but can't.
  • Vomiting.

If your fur baby smells strongly like an oil and is exhibiting any of these symptoms, take them to the vet immediately.

Your vet will be able to run blood tests and other exams to check the extent of their exposure, and help you plan the next steps. Often, this kind of exposure is treatable, though unpleasant.

Additionally, you can contact an animal poison control center for immediate assistance 24/7.  These centers, based in the United States, specialize in helping veterinary patients.

They will be able to provide specific assistance. The following are available 24 hours a day, but they do charge a fee for their services: 

Pet Poison Hotline
800-213-6680

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
888-426-4435

How to Safely Use Essential Oils in the Home

If you're interested in using essential oils and you're worried about your fur baby, or if you're already a regular user of aromatherapy, but you're looking to adopt a dog (great choice!), you need to put a few safe habits into practice.

  • Keep essential oils in a safe location. First and foremost, make sure any pure essential oils or oil-carrying products are securely locked away from your pup. A cabinet out of your fur baby's reach, preferably with a lock or latch, or even just a case they can't open can all be good ideas. Remember, especially, puppies will chew on anything and can get into places they shouldn't, so use extra care.
  • Handle essential oils away from your fur babies. When handling raw essential oils, keep your pup contained elsewhere so you don’t get bumped or distracted and spill the oil. Preferably, prepare them in a kitchen or bathroom sink. That way if a spill occurs you can easily clean it up.
  • Wear gloves. Make sure to use use gloves when opening a brand-new bottle.  I learned this lesson the hard way when opening a new bottle of rosemary (a hot oil).  It came with a plastic plug that I had to pry out of the mouth of the bottle.  When the plug finally came free, I splashed the rosemary all over my hand.  It immediately started to turn red and my skin started to burn.  I of course washed it off right away, but my skin stayed pink for hours due to the irritation from the oil.  The last thing you want is to accidentally spill raw oil on your fur baby.

Using Essential Oil Image by Toe Beans

  • Never confine your dog to a room that has an essential oil diffuser. If you like to diffuse essential oils, make sure that you do so in an area that you pup has the choice to leave. Additionally, make sure that the diffuser is on a stable and unreachable surface by your pup. For example, you can place it up high where your dog cannot get close and get his or her nose or tongue on it.
  • Consider the dilution rate. There are a ton of DIY recipes online which are fine for humans but remember your pup’s sense of smell is somewhere between 10,000 to 100,000 times better than yours, so even a small amount can be irritating. Ask your veterinarian.
  • Avoid plug-in diffusers. Given the regular location of most outlets around the house, plug-in diffusers will be easily accessible by your curious dog or cat. Instead, use corded diffusers that you can place beyond their reach as high as possible.
  • Consider already diluted essential oils.If you’re more safety conscience, but still want the benefits, you can always forgo the raw essential oils and purchase products that already include a diluted version.

Which Scents are Safe for Dogs?

As I noted earlier, most essential oils, when properly diluted are safe for topical use on dogs. The keyword here is topical.  When choosing an essential oil to use with your pup, always observe their behavior. If you’re getting any negative reaction that’s a sign to stop use.

Dog Sniffing Oil Image by Toe Beans

Let’s go through some essential oils that are commonly used in products for dogs:

  • Lavender, Geranium, and Chamomile provide benefits to your dog’s coat, including strengthening and conditioning the hair as well as adding softness and shine.
  • Cedarwood, Rosemary, Thyme, Lemongrass, and Arborvitae all help repel those pests that like to latch on during outside playtime.
  • Frankincense, Myrrh Copaiba, and Marjoram all help reduce inflammation, which may help lesson joint discomfort.
  • Lavender is great for motion sickness.

I cannot stress this enough: even these essential oils are dangerous if you put them directly on your fur baby, or if they eat them. Always dilute using a carrier oil (for example coconut oil) before applying to your dog’s skin.

Read Further

Ensuring your canine companion's safety is of utmost importance when it comes to essential oil use, so if you have any questions or concerns about essential oil use around your furry friends, please be sure to leave a comment down below, and I'll do my best to assist you however I possibly can.

Additionally, if you are feeling like getting a little special something for your fur baby that is unique, made right here in the USA (or other than in Asia), 100% pup and cat safe, USDA certified organic and brought to you by a US company, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 22K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).


2 Responses

K. Marie - toe beans team
K. Marie - toe beans team

April 09, 2022

Hi Cindy – Thanks for the question! Lavender is probably the most commonly used essential oil for its calming effects. It’s known to reduce anxious feelings and ease tension. Frankincense has similar soothing and relaxing benefits. While less commonly used, juniper berry and geranium also calm nerves and lessen feelings of stress.

Please remember if you’re going to diffuse an essential oil, make sure your pup has the option to leave the room. Also, when starting with a new oil, watch how your pup responds. Various essential oils will work better for some pups rather than others, so pick one, give it a try and if you’re not seeing desired results, consider trying another oil.

Please reach out if you have any other questions 🐶

Cindy
Cindy

April 09, 2022

Is there any essential oils or aroma therapy that helps a dogs anxiety or stress?

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