We have many clients ask about natural treatments for patients, one of them being essential oils. Essential oils have been around for thousands of years and have a variety of uses from stress relief to muscle relaxation. The use of essential oils for pets has become more popular recently. It is important to do your research about essential oils before using them on your pet to avoid any problems.
Essential oils are derived from plants and are natural aromatic compounds. The oil can be distilled and used in cosmetics, perfumes, and aromatherapy. Essential oils come in many different concentrations. There are products containing essential oils which can range from 1-20%, and then there are products with pure essential oils which can be 100% concentration.
Essential oils can be toxic for pets. The more concentrated the product the more concern for possible toxicity. Even if an essential oil is considered safe, too high of a concentration can have adverse effects. Also, whether the oil is applied topically or diffused can change the effect. The essential oils that have been reported to be toxic are pennyroyal oil and tea tree oil (melaleuca oil) causing seizures and in some cases liver injury.
Cats in particular are more of a concern when there are topical exposures because of grooming and possibly ingesting the compound. Any pet that is compromised by illness may not be able to metabolize the oil so better to consult your veterinarian before using any essential oils. Also, diffusing essential oils should be avoided with pets with any respiratory condition. Keeping essential oils and diffusers up and away out of reach is important to avoid accidental exposures.
Signs to watch for that may indicate your pet may have had a toxic dermal exposure to essential oils would be ataxia, muscle weakness, depression, and behavior changes. With more severe cases hypothermia and collapse are possible. If you suspect your pet is having adverse effects from a dermal exposure, contact your veterinarian right away. With an oral toxic exposure you may see vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. Again, contact your veterinarian or ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435.
As a veterinarian, we are always open to new ideas and therapies that can help our patients. Essential oils are not usually our first line of treatment because our education is focused more on science and treatments that are backed by research and studies. We are more than happy to give advice on the use of essential oils and what to avoid. We also like to hear feedback on what works so we can make recommendations for other patients.