We think of essential oils as natural and safe, and we use them for everything from cleaning to freshening the air. But are they safe for our pets? And if we use them at home, are there varieties or options that should be avoided?
- Be sure to never put any essential oil or oil product directly on your dog’s coat.
- For dogs, some essential oils, in some forms, can be used safely, while others cause problems.
- Always monitor your dog around any essential oils or oil diffusers.
Not sure whether to see a vet?
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated organic compounds made by plants. These oils can be mixed with other ingredients or sold as 100% (concentrated) essential oils. People enjoy essential oils in a large variety of ways, including for alternative medical therapies, cleaning products, flavorings, herbal remedies, personal care products, and potpourris for air fresheners and fragrances. Because they are derived from plants, many people think of them as being “natural” and therefore safe, but they can present risks when used around our pets, and care must be taken to use them safely.
Are Essential Oils Safe for Dogs?
As for the safety of essential oils when it comes to dogs, the answer is not so simple. When cats are in the house, the answer is simpler. Cats are much more sensitive to essential oils than dogs, and while a few oils are safe for cats, the easiest guideline to follow is that cats and essential oils don’t go together.
For dogs, some essential oils, in some forms, can be used safely, while others cause problems. Things to consider include not only the oil you wish to use, but also how you use it. For example, some sensitive dogs who breathe in oils being warmed in a potpourri may experience some respiratory disease. Or, if a dog walks on oil that is being used as part of a cleaning solution, it may irritate their skin or possibly their GI tract if ingested by licking their paw. And, for dogs who get into everything, ingestion of the oil itself (sometimes including the bottle it came in!) can absolutely cause health problems.
It is important to remember that some essential oil products contain mixtures, so you always need to check the ingredients to make sure all of them are safe for dogs—not just the primary component.
If you wish to use essential oils in your home around your dog, it can often be done safely, but it will take some research and thought to be sure both that you are using a nontoxic oil and that it is being used in a fashion that won’t cause any harm to your pup.
Are Some Essential Oils Toxic to Dogs?
Perhaps the easiest starting point is to eliminate the essential oils that you should completely avoid because they are bad for dogs. Oils that can be toxic from both ingestion and skin exposure include:
- Sweet birch
- Tea tree (melaleuca)
- Ylang ylang
These varieties should be avoided both as a liquid potpourri product as well as an essential oil.
Other oils may cause problems if ingested or placed directly on the skin. Be sure to never put any essential oil or oil product directly on your dog’s coat. This even includes products that have been marketed for pets, such as flea products. Your pooch may be sensitive to the included ingredients!
Pet-Safe Essential Oils
While some essential oils are considered “safer” than others for dogs, you should still always use them sparingly, and only after consulting with your veterinarian. Oils that are tolerated by one animal may not be as well tolerated by another one.
Some of the oils that fall into this pet-safe category include:
Please note, these oils should not be put directly on your pet but might safely be used in the laundry with the bedding, or placed in a diffuser that is kept out of your pet’s reach.
Lemongrass appears to teeter on the border between safe and questionable—with some veterinarians comfortable with small exposures and others having concerns about its use at all, therefore be sure to discuss this and any other product you are interested in using with your veterinarian.
What To Do if Your Dog Gets Exposed to Essential Oils
If your dog gets into essential oils, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. If possible, take the bottle of the product with you, or text/email a photo for advice. Your veterinarian will probably recommend contacting Pet Poison Helpline for additional guidance. The treatment required will depend on what product was involved, how your dog was exposed (such as inhalation versus ingestion versus skin contact), and how large the exposure.
Signs that your dog may have been poisoned can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Trouble walking
- Muscle tremors
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pawing at the mouth
- Redness of the lips, gums, tongue, or skin, which may progress to burns.
You may also be able to smell the essential oil on the dog’s coat or breath.
Because these products can be quickly absorbed, it’s important not to delay treatment. If you think your dog may have been exposed, seek care promptly—and remember to take the product with you, if possible.
How to Safely Use Essential Oils Around Your Dog
If you would like to use essential oils in your home, it can be done safely. Be sure to keep ALL essential oils—whether considered toxic for dogs or not—well out of reach of curious paws. If you’re using them in cleaning, do so only when your dog is not present and allow them to dry completely before allowing your pet to have any contact with the surfaces.
Again, never apply any essential oil or herbal product directly on (or in!) your dog. And remember that cats are MUCH more sensitive to the effects of essential oils than dogs are. Remember too that “natural” is not the same as safe. So be sure to consult your veterinarian with any product you might be considering using.
However, if used with caution and care, you can have the best of both worlds, using essential oils rather than synthesized chemical products while keeping your furred family healthy.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Liudmila Chernetska
Help us make PetMD better
Was this article helpful?