Aromatherapy is more than just a pleasantly scented candle or potpourri sachet. Used properly, aromatherapy can help an anxious dog relax or an ill one regain his appetite. The essential oils used in aromatherapy, such as lavender (excellent for calming) or eucalyptus, are an extremely concentrated form of plant matter. The oils are obtained either through distillation or are mechanically expressed. “The subtle use of aromatherapy can enhance all healing therapies…[it] stimulates the immune system and promotes healing,” says Celeste Yarnall, PhD in Natural Dog Care.
We all know dogs are more sensitive to smell than us two-legged folks. According to PetPlanet.com humans have about five million receptor cells for scents, while dogs can have 50 times as many. That’s why aromatherapy can be particularly powerful with dogs. They affect “the body on a biochemical level…being absorbed by the mucous membranes in the nose,” explains Teresa Fulp DVM in New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs & Cats.
“When trying aromatherapy, be sure to use very high quality 100% essential oils. Do not use fragrance oils,” says Camilla Bishop, certified aromatherapist and owner of 3 Flowers Healing in Hood River, Oregon.
We all know dogs are more sensitive to smell than us two-legged folks. According to PetPlanet.com humans have about five million receptor cells for scents, while dogs can have 50 times as many. That’s why aromatherapy can be particularly powerful with dogs.
Oil blends, made by a number of different companies, are an easy introduction to aromatherapy. They take some of the research out of knowing which ingredients do what. Do look for products that use 100% pure essential oils, not just fragrances, and natural carriers such as spring water or almond oil. Single essential oils can be very powerful too. Bishop suggests choosing a single oil based on the symptoms. For example, use peppermint to aid digestion, lavender for calming or neroli for separation anxiety or sadness.
In Veterinary Aromatherapy, Nelly Grosjean explains that “for preventative or curative purposes, [essential oils] can be taken in three different ways: by diffusion into the air, as a massage, or by internal absorption.”
When using the diffusion method, you benefit from the treatment as well as your dog. There are products designed specifically for this purpose, such as electric diffusers and nebulizers. Some room humidifiers have a receptacle specifically for essential oils. This is especially helpful for the dry indoor air of winter. Of course, spritzers also act as diffusers, releasing the essential oils into the air.
Exercise caution when using essential oils on your dog, as small doses of some oils can be toxic. Oils should always be diluted, never used neat. You can add one drop of oil to one milliliter (about 40 drops) of carrier oil like sweet almond oil or aloe vera gel. A small amount of this can be rubbed on the ear, where the scent easily reaches the nose, but the dog can’t lick it off.
One drop can go a long way. “More isn’t always better,” says Bishop, “especially with animals.” If your dog responds well to a particular oil, try putting a drop on their collar or bedding to expand the therapeutic effects.
Most experts recommend caution when using oils internally, while some even go so far as to say never use them internally. Grosjean is in favor of the internal use of oils, particularly those being used for digestive issues. She does recommend giving the oils with food.
One of the most popular essential oils is tea tree, or melaleuca alternifolia. It is most widely used as an antiseptic, and can be found in many products, such as shampoos and natural flea repellents for dogs. Bishop expresses concern about this oil. “Be careful with tea tree, especially with puppies or small dogs,” says Bishop. “They can be extremely sensitive and susceptible to overdoses.”
If you have a toy breeds, puppy or a cats, consider using hydrosols rather than the more potent oils. Hydrosol is the water produced during the distillation process as opposed to the oil. Hydrosols maintain the therapeutic constituents of essential oils but are gentler and safer.Be considerate when using scented products. “Try to be empathetic to your animal’s heightened sense of smell and personal preferences,” says Bishop. “Get permission from your animal to use a particular essential oil, or scent.”
She suggests letting your dog smell the product and gauging his reaction. Does he come towards the scent, lick his lips or otherwise respond in a positive way? Or, does he back away and try to get away from the odor. Follow your instincts and theirs. After all, you wouldn’t want to be doused in a smell you found offensive.
With a bit of education you will not only have a more pleasant smelling dog, but a happier, healthier one too.
Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals Kristen Leigh Bell
The Holistic Dog Book