Pet Connections

Aromatherapy for pets

Aromatherapy literally means “treatment using scents.” This designation is a bit of a misnomer since the scent of the oil accounts for only part of its therapeutic effect. Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils for healing. Essential oils are volatile liquid plant materials that play a key role in the biochemistry of the plant. These oils are located between the cells of the plant and act as messengers and regulators. Essential oils protect the plant from parasites and disease as well as assist the plant in adapting to its environment.

Essential oils have been used in healing for thousands of years. The Chinese burned plant-derived materials as incense to balance the body as many as 6,000 years ago. The Egyptians used essential oils for healing and for embalming. They even developed a crude distillation device to extract the oils from plants. Greeks and Romans continued the aromatherapy tradition in the West.

The word aromatherapy was actually coined by the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé in the 1920s. While working in his laboratory, he suffered a third degree burn to his hand and forearm. He instinctively thrust his arm into the nearest liquid, which happened to be a container of pure lavender oil. His injury healed so quickly that he began researching and writing about the medicinal use of essential oils.

Today in the United States, aromatherapy is used mostly in conjunction with massage therapy or infused into the air for relaxation. In France, where the modern science of aromatherapy originated, the use of essential oils is incorporated into mainstream medicine. In that country, some oils are regulated as prescription medications for their antiviral, anti-fungal, and antibacterial properties. Doctors determine which oil to use by culturing the disease organism and testing the ability of different oils to kill the germ. This technique is called an aromatogram and is similar to an antibiotic sensitivity test commonly used in conventional medicine.

Essential oils have their healing effect due to their many constituents. There are between 200 and 800 different chemicals in any given oil. Just a few of the common compounds include esters which have anti-fungal and sedating properties, ketones which ease congestion, alcohols which are antiviral and antibacterial, and sesquiterpenes which are anti-inflammatory and can cross the blood-brain barrier. Essential oils have a relatively small, simple, and lipid-soluble molecular structure that allows them to pass easily through the skin when massaged topically, which is the most common mode of treatment.

The scented oils can also be diffused into the air as a way of allowing assimilation of their healing qualities through the sinuses. Only a few specific oils can be taken orally. The mode of treatment depends on the condition being addressed as well as the oil being used. Some oils are toxic if ingested and some can cause skin irritation when applied topically.

It is best to dilute any essential oil before applying it to the skin of the dog or cat. This expands the oil and makes aromatherapy more economical; it also lessens the chance for skin irritation. The best way to dilute an oil is to mix 30 drops of the essential oil into one ounce of cold-pressed almond oil. To apply topically, massage several drops of the diluted oil into the pet’s ear flaps. The following oils should never be applied topically without being diluted due to their caustic natures: cinnamon, clove, lemongrass, oregano, and thyme. Also remember that any oil applied to the skin of a pet might be licked and ingested if not applied in a strategic location (like the ear flap). Do not apply toxic oils to any area that the pet can reach with his tongue.

Pure essential oils used for aromatherapy are called therapeutic grade, but this designation is based on industry consensus and is not always reliable. There is a vast difference in quality of oils between companies. Research the oil producer carefully to choose the best product. Two of the most important factors that determine the quality of essential oils are how the plants are grown and how the oils are extracted. It is ideal that the oil-producing plants be grown organically to limit contaminants. The oils should be extracted by low-pressure, steam distillation to limit the damage to the oil components. Also, be sure any oils that are used have not been adulterated by the addition of synthetic chemicals.

Be aware that perfume oils, fragrance oils, or fragrances are vastly different from essential oils. They contain synthetic chemicals and can do more harm than good. Because the term aromatherapy is loosely used on labels, it is important to read the ingredient list carefully when selecting an oil for aromatherapy use.

Aromatherapy can be quite useful for common animal conditions. A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that lavender oil is helpful for easing car sickness in dogs. Lemongrass can be massaged directly onto injured joints twice daily to speed healing. Frankincense can be infused or applied topically for its calming effect for stressed, anxious, or over-excited animals. It can also be used topically once or twice daily on a wart, cyst, and any tumor to help the body break it down. A good book on aromatherapy will give you more suggestions for the use of essential oils.

Oil Use
Citronella Insect repellent
Cumin Immune Stimulant
Frankincense Calming effect, tumors
Lavender Car sickness
Lemongrass Joint injuries
Peppermint Digestive aid
Sandalwood Bronchitis
Thyme Asthma, colitis
Ylang Ylang Balances blood pressure


December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023


November 20, 2023