Many people these days are becoming enthusiastic about utilizing aromatherapy to improve well-being. But what about our furry friends? Are there benefits of aromatherapy for pets? Yes! Hydrosols and essential oils can provide a variety of benefits, when used properly.

Certain aromatic botanicals can be diluted to apply topically. Or, they could be used as inhalation therapy via diffusers or spray bottles to impart an aromatic scent that helps improve mood.

But before you get started, it is important to know that animals tend to have a much lower tolerance to essential oils than humans. With differing anatomy and an acute sense of smell, just a fraction of what you would think is the right amount could be too much for a dog or cat. It is important to be aware of basic safety guidelines for aromatherapy with pets. Most importantly, contact your Veterinarian with any questions or concerns.

This article will first review basic safety guidelines, then discuss some possible benefits of aromatherapy for pets.

Using Essential Oils Safely with Pets

First and foremost, know that pets can be harmed from the excessive or inappropriate use of botanical extracts. For more specifics as it relates to dogs and cats, please refer to this recently written Wellness Aromas article: Essential Oils and Pets (1).

How can you tell if your pet is being negatively affected by aromatherapy? Initial signs that your pet is not enjoying a scent can include pacing, panting, drooling, whining, whimpering, sneezing, snorting, turning away from an aroma, or franticly trying to rub an aroma off themselves (2).

More serious reactions can include nausea, diarrhea, dermal irritations, confusion, and lack of coordination. Discontinue using an aromatic botanical if irritations occur and call your Vet or Animal Poison Control immediately if you notice any serious reactions. 

Here are some general pet aromatherapy guidelines (1).

General Aromatherapy Safety Guidelines for Pets

  • Keep essential oils, hydrosols, and diffusers out of reach of pets (and children).
  • Avoid using aromatherapy with fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals.
  • Diffusing: Diffuse aromas in well-ventilated rooms. Pets should have an escape route out of the room if they are disturbed by the aroma. Use diffusers for short 10-minute time periods once or twice a day. Never diffuse near a pet’s cage or sleeping area. Never diffuse near pregnant or nursing pets or young kittens or puppies.
  • Ask your Veterinarian before applying any essential oils topically onto a pet. Dilute heavily.
  • With internal use, there is a very small therapeutic margin, making it potentially dangerous to administer essential oils and other botanical extracts. Do not try this at home. Seek your Veterinarian’s expertise!
  • Some aromatic botanicals are contraindicated for pets, especially with certain medical conditions. Discuss concerns with your Vet.
  • Discontinue using aromatherapy immediately if any irritations occur. Contact your Vet or Animal Poison Control for emergencies (3). 

More than Just Aromatic Pleasure

Essential oils and hydrosols can provide far more than just aromatic pleasure for a pet. There are both emotional and physical benefits as well! Scents have shown in multiple scientific studies to help improve mood. Botanical extracts have also provided centuries of usefulness as topical applications for a variety of skin afflictions and muscle and joint aches. 

The key with aromatic botanicals and pets is moderation! A small amount goes a long way. Thus hydrosols, which are heavily diluted botanical waters, are a gentle way to introduce aromatherapy to your dog or cat.

What is a hydrosol?

A hydrosol is a water solution containing beneficial plant components. To make a hydrosol, fresh plant material is distilled in water, infusing healthful benefits from the botanicals into the liquid. 

Typically, the strong essential oil constituents of a botanical are diluted to 0.05% in a hydrosol (4). Plus, these aromatic extractions have a similar scent to an essential oil, but also extract valuable water-soluble constituents that are not present in essential oils.

A hydrosol should be stored in a cool dark place and lasts about six months to two years. Discard a hydrosol if you notice any mold, cloudiness, or variance in color or aroma.

Some Ways to Utilize Aromatherapy with Your Pets

First off, with pets, heavy dilution is key. Whether you are using a diffuser, spray, or salve, a small amount goes a long way. Less is more! Pets can a significantly lower toleration level than humans.

Some aromatic extractions may be too strong for pets. Each animal can be unique in their preferences and reactions. Enjoyed sparingly, aromatic plant extractions can offer a variety of benefits.

  • Bergamot has a calming aroma.
  • Calendula may help with mild skin abrasions.
  • Cedarwood has a soothing scent that may help with muscle aches, and to repel insects.
  • Chamomile is relaxing and has also been used as a topical anti-inflammatory.
  • Citronella may help act as an insect repellent.
  • Cypress might help with mild wounds.
  • Fir needle has been used topically for mild wounds, and its aroma may uplift mood.
  • Geranium has long been used to help repel insects.
  • Ginger might help topically to reduce mild inflammation and stimulate circulation.
  • Helichrysum may help with mild skin irritations.
  • Juniper berry has been used for aching muscles and joints, to stimulate circulation, as an antimicrobial, and as a repellent.
  • Lavender may help with calming, insomnia, repelling insects, itching, and mild skin irritations.
  • Patchouli is considered calming, anti-inflammatory, and potentially antifungal.
  • Peppermint has a stimulating aroma that may help with nausea, or applied topically for itching, aches, or inflammation.
  • Petitgrain has an uplifting aroma that may help boost mood.
  • Pine needle may help calm anxiety and has been used as an analgesic and antiseptic.
  • Rose has a nurturing aroma that has been used to calm anxiety and relieve pain.
  • Rosemary may offer disinfectant benefits topically and has a stimulating scent.
  • Spearmint might offer anti-inflammatory qualities while stimulating mood.

Diffusers

Diffusers impart aroma into a room and can help improve mood. Because animals are more sensitive to aromas, I suggest using hydrosols in a cool mist diffuser instead of essential oils. 

Please note: Only certain types of diffusers can use hydrosols. Hydrosols may not work in heat-based and nebulizing diffusers. 

When diffusing, test a small amount first. Diffuse for 10 minutes once or twice a day. Monitor your pet’s reactions. Discontinue use if they are unhappy with the aroma.

To dilute a hydrosol in a cool mist diffuser, add a half ounce of hydrosol per 5 ounces of water.

While each pet is unique in their emotional reactions to aromas, here is a list of potentially calming and stimulating scents.

Calming

  • Bergamot
  • Cedarwood
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Patchouli
  • Rose

Stimulating

  • Fir Needle
  • Peppermint
  • Petitgrain
  • Pine Needle
  • Rosemary
  • Spearmint

Sprays

Sprays can offer therapeutic benefits via inhalation or when applied topically. To help improve a pet’s mood, try spraying a small amount of a hydrosol aroma onto a cloth to let your pet smell. Do not let your pet eat the cloth. Avoid with young or pregnant pets or those with certain medical conditions. Discontinue using the aroma if your pet seems irritated by the smell in any way.

Hydrosols can also be sprayed topically for mild skin issues or muscle / joint aches. To use a hydrosol topically on a dog, skin patch test a small inconspicuous area first. Spray a small amount and cover with a cloth to avoid ingestion. 

To use a hydrosol topically on a cat, first dilute the hydrosol. Add ½ ounce of a hydrosol to 7 ½ ounces of distilled water (5). Skin patch test before use. As with dogs, cover the are to avoid ingestion and discontinue using if any type of irritations occur.

Avoid spraying hydrosols on young, pregnant or sick / elderly pets. Avoid getting hydrosols on a pet’s face, paw pads, genitals, or anus. Discontinue use if any irritation occurs. Ask your Vet if you have any questions before use.

Salves

Salve recipes can be easily made at home by combining carrier oil and bees wax with a tiny amount of essential oil. The salve can then be applied to small local areas. Skin patch test before use. Avoid salves with cats. Ask you Veterinarian before using a homemade salve on your dog.

Basic Salve Recipe for Dogs

  • ½ cup of carrier oil such as jojoba, sweet almond, or coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp of beeswax
  • 1 Tbsp of cocoa butter
  • 5 single drops of essential oil

To make: Melt all but the essential oil together on low in a double boiler. Once melted, remove from heat. Then, add the essential oil. Stir, and pour into a glass container that has a lid. Once completely cooled, cover with the lid. Label the container with the date made and ingredients.

To use: Skin patch test a small area of a dog before use. Apply a small amount to an area and cover with cloth so the dog does not lick the salve. 

Avoid using salves on very young, pregnant, or very old/ sick dogs. Discuss possible contraindications with your Vet before use. Discontinue use if there is any irritation.

Hydrosols and Essential Oils with Topical Benefits

  • To help repel insects: try cedarwood, citronella, geranium, juniper berry, lavender, peppermint, and rosemary.
  • To help with mild skin wounds: try calendula, chamomile, cypress, helichrysum, fir needle, juniper berry, and lavender.
  • For mild itching: try lavender or peppermint
  • To help with muscle / joint aches: try cedarwood, juniper berry, lavender, peppermint, or pine needle.
  • For mild local inflammation:try ginger, juniper berry, or peppermint
  • To help stimulate circulation and flow in a local area… try ginger, helichrysum, juniper berry, or peppermint.
  • For antiseptic benefits: try juniper berry, lavender, pine needle, or rosemary.

In conclusion

Aromatic botanical extractions can offer benefits to cats and dogs. Moderation is important for your furry friends because they have an acute sense of smell and lower safe dosage amounts. Hydrosols are much milder than essential oils and generally safer to use with pets than essential oils. There are some great ways to use aromas to help improve mood or use topically. Ask your Vet with any questions you may have and immediately stop using a botanical if your pet shows any kind of aversions.

References

  1. Sadowski, K. (12/27/2019). Essential Oils and Pets. Retrieved on 5/14/2020. Retrieved from: https://www.wellnessaromas.com/essential-oils-and-pets/
  2. Bell, K. L. (2012). Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with Animals. Simon and Schuster.
  3. Animal Poison Control. (n.d.). Just Answer. Retrieved on 5/15/2020. Retrieved from: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control
  4. Tisserand Institute (n.d.). Did you know that hydrosols and essential oil contain the same constituents but at a different ratio. Retrieved on 5/18/2020. Retrieved from: https://tisserandinstitute.org/learn-more/hydrosol/
  5. Azzaro, K. Animal Aromatherapy Safety: Essential Oils and Cats. Retrieved on 5/18/2020. Retrieved from: https://www.animalaromatherapy.com/educate-empower/safety/cats/