Pets and Essential Oil Safety

Golden retriever dog with a toy

There seems to be a number of stories out there about how essential oils are toxic for pets. And it’s no surprise really, as there’s very little scientific research readily available on how they affect pets. Because of this lack of information, people are quick to believe anything they can find. I can’t say I blame them, as it's better to be safe than sorry and digging for the truth is time consuming and difficult. 
 
These unscientific opinions conclude that an essential oil was responsible for an effect on their pet. However it was most likely their own misuse of the essential oil rather than the essential oil itself. 
 
Anytime I need to research something, I start by googling it, reviewing the results and the frequency of the information. Skeptically, of course. I think about what sources would be trustworthy. In this case, aromatherapists, veterinarians and reliable scientific studies.
 
My search turns up no results from aromatherapists, probably because few of them specialize in pets. I found a few vet clinics that were happy to publish some information that sounded scientific and reliable. These veterinarians want to help protect pets, even though they are not essential oil experts, which is great, but none of them seemed to reference any scientific studies.
 
Then I hit the jackpot! An Alternative Care Veterinarian. There’s so much scientific reference here it even made MY eyes gloss over! Melissa Shelton has been working with essential oils and pets since 2008 and has dedicated her practice to it since 2011. In her article she dispels all the myths and bad science that is sometimes referenced. Here’s an overview, but you should really read it here:

  • Cats do not have trouble metabolizing essential oils, they just do it differently. 
  • Cats would be dropping dead all over the world if essential oils were as toxic as some claim.
  • Bad or old science includes studies that use only a component of the essential oil in question, or use a synthetic version, or use it in a product with other ingredients, or is in fact a study of the effect on fleas and not the cat!
  • Clearly, essential oils are not benign substances.  They must be respected and used with care. 

Most issues with pets occur because of misuse. It’s like making prescription medicine available to everyone without any dosage or instructions. A leading expert in aromatherapy, Robert Tisserand, cautions that it’s not that we need to avoid certain essential oils but that we need to use essential oils responsibly. See https://roberttisserand.com/2011/06/cats-essential-oil-safety.
 
So how do we use them responsibly? Treat them more like medicine and less like an air freshener, being conscious of how much and how long you use them. Don’t trap your pet in a room with a diffuser running all day; they need to escape if they're impacted negatively.  And do not use essential oils topically, unless advised by your veterinarian.
 
Happy and safe diffusing!
 
More reading: https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/cats-and-essential-oils.

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