Without entering into a long, arduous discussion about essential oil use in ancient history, we can say the more recent proliferation of essential oils for medicinal and therapeutic use has gained global momentum within the past forty years or so. And as of late, their use on animals has yielded reports of positive results.
Anxiety is a medical condition, so the underlying cause must be addressed to bring true relief. However, aromatherapy in practice can aid in calming the animal so they are more focused to training and corrective methods.
Animals Are People, Too… But Are Not Human
Special care must be taken using essential oils around our pets, in the proper formulation and dilution for animals. Not every oil is beneficial for all walks of life, and oil exposure can actually be toxic – especially to cats – so consider all in the household when selecting oils for use. Dogs are extremely sensitive to smell, and therefore should be exposed to oils carefully, and depending on the animal, different essences may be accepted or rejected.
What Are Essential Oils and How Are They Conveyed?
Essential oils are the pure, non-synthetic chemical product of a botanical, extracted by steam distillation, or in the case of citrus, cold-pressing of the peel.
Oils may be conveyed using several methods:
Ingestion (not recommended): Do not give oils orally without complete understanding and guidance about the oil used, its toxicity levels, and potential side effects. It is always best to try other methods to achieve desired effect.
Dispersal: Through the use of a device, oil is released to circulate in the air.
Topical: Application directly on animal.
Essential Oil Lingo
When reading about essential oils, it may help to have a greater understanding of some jargon used in the industry.
- Absolutes: Aromatic liquids produced by chemical extraction, then chemical solvent removed, while traces of the solvent may remain. Absolutes a more potent product than oils, and should be properly represented as such.
- Blends: Mixtures of complimentary oils to achieve a particular purpose.
- Carriers: Essential oil dilution media used in topical applications, and produced from the nuts or seeds of a plant. Examples are: Virgin Olive Oil and Coconut Oil.
- Constituents: The chemical components of an oil derived from a botanical.
- CO2 Extracts: Similar to an absolute, the extraction method is pressurized, liquefied carbon dioxide, which dissolves the desired botanical constituents. The carbon dioxide solvent is then returned to a gas, leaving only the constituents behind.
- Diffusers: Devices used to mix essential oil with distilled water and heat to produce vapor.
- Dispersants: Agents used to keep oils and water mixed.
- Emulsifiers: Agents used to keep oils dispersed in creams and lotions.
- Hydrosol: The water by-product of botanical steam distillation.
- Nebulizers: Similar to a diffuser, but rather than using heat and water, uses an air pump to atomize the oil.
How Do I Start?
First, try lavender. Lavender is a highly recommended and practical oil because it is one of the safest when diluted, has calming, sedative and antibacterial properties and for most, has a non-offensive aroma. A trial introduction is necessary to confirm your dog’s acceptance or rejection.
How is this done? Apply 2-3 drops of lavender to a tissue, wave in the air, leave it in your hand or on a surface near the animal and observe behavior. If the animal does not reject the scent, you’re good to go!
There are several ways to apply and use essential oils for dog anxiety.
For topical use: Choose medical grade oil, and dilute to 1-2% concentration for the safest introductory topical application. Try olive oil as a carrier oil to apply topically, using the following dilution in a one (1) ounce glass dropper:
1% Dilution: 2 TBSP olive oil + 5 drops essential oil
2% Dilution: 2 TBSP olive oil + 10 drops essential oil
Dilute further if you wish for smaller animals.
- Apply with carrier oil to you, then pet your dog from head to toe (keep away from eyes and inside of ears), and on the belly as well. This will benefit you and your dog as they mirror your energy. If you are calm, they will be, too!
- Some recommend applying to the front paws and outside tips of ears to create a fragrant zone when resting.
- Apply 1-2 drops directly using “raindrop” method, a couple inches apart, from base of spine to base of neck, massaging toward the neck as you go, then smoothing back toward the tail.
Other Application Ideas
- To mist, use distilled water as carrier (with same dilution) in glass mister bottle.
- Lightly mist on environment, toys or bedding.
- Diffuse in air 1-2 drops, in open or near resting place. Take caution with other animals that may inhabit the same space.
- Cold pressed coconut oil is also a good carrier for massage applications.
Tips and Cautions
- Never use orally without complete understanding of oil used and veterinary guidance.
- Use medical grade oil, diluted to 1-2% concentration for the safest introductory topical application. Perfume or aromatherapy-grade oils are not the same; they are generally absolutes that contain chemical solvents. Take care when choosing your oils; although more expensive, medical grade oil is the best and safest choice.
- Always mix and store essential oils in glass containers. Do not store in container with rubber dropper as it will deteriorate and contaminate the oil.
- Take special care when using on very sick, young or old animals, and avoid using on pregnant ones.
- Essential oils are highly flammable.
- Follow dispersal instructions carefully, using the proper amount of oil, as some in greater quantities may cause irritation to mucous membranes (cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary are examples).
- Label oils with date of purchase and store properly (see below) to maintain efficacy.
While carrier oils will become rancid, essential oils simply lose their potency over time.
Store away from light, in a cool place, tightly lidded, using the smallest dark glass container possible.
Oils and Blends for Anxiety
There are many companies offering therapeutic grade essential oils, proprietary blends, devices and accessories.
Here are two of the most popular, with products formulated for animal use:
Peace and Calming
T-Away (in the Animal Scents product line)
Serenity (Here is a video of Cesar Millan using Serenity on a client’s dog.)
Recommended Reading and Research
Julia Lawless, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1995), 56-67.
Kristen Leigh Bell, Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils and Hydrosols with Animals (Findhorn Press, 2002).
Animal Aromatherapy (Safe Use). Facebook, closed group.
Do you use essential oils on your pet? Do you have a story or results to report? Comment below!
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”