Essential oils for animals: what you need to know

I can’t believe it’s been nearly five years since I toured Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary in England. It’s one of my sister Kathleen’s SARA sanctuaries, and she’ll actually be teaching equine Reiki classes there again next month. (Click here for info on attending!)

Caroline Thomas, one of Remus’ dedicated volunteers (and now a friend of mine), was sweet enough to take me on a tour that day to meet the animals. Caroline is not only a SARA teacher, but also the owner of Hoof and Paw Holistic Therapies and an expert in essential oils.

The powerful therapeutic benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy have been known since ancient times, dating back to Ancient Egypt (and probably even before). Recently, Kathleen—having had so much success with Reiki and animals—decided to give essential oils a try. I’m happy to report that, thanks to Caroline’s guidance, she’s had much success adding them to her dog Mystic’s wellness routine.

Mystic suffered some past traumas as a puppy (before they found each other), and today she sometimes shows aggression. Now Mystic is able to “take charge of her own healing,” as Caroline says, thanks to a variety of essential oils she recommended for Mystic: angelica (which helps with fears stemming from childhood trauma), neroli (for separation), yarrow (to address past traumas when nothing is known), violet leaf (when a traumatic incident has changed behavior) and carrot seed (for abandonment).

“In the wild, animals naturally choose plants to help them heal physical and emotional problems,” says Caroline, who offers essential oils and consultations worldwide via Skype. “And this is exactly the same way I use the essential oils.”

Kathleen and I are essential oil newbies, so I went straight to Caroline with all of our questions. Here, she gives us the lowdown on essential oils—the best oils for animals, how to use them safely, how they work, and the five top oils every animal lover should stock in their medicine cabinet:

IAHL: What are some common problems in animals that essential oils are great at helping?
Caroline: Essential oils can treat a multitude of ailments—from animals being fearful of fireworks to animals needing a flea repellent. The most common problem I use them for, however, is for fear issues, due to animals not being socialized enough when they were young. The world then becomes a very scary place for them.

  • Caroline Thomas offers aromatherapy to a horse.

What are your favorite oils for cats and dogs?
I own around 40 essential oils, and I do have my favorite ones, such as carrot seed, which is excellent for animals who feel abandoned. It is such a comforting essential oil. Yarrow essential oil is brilliant for animals when you do not know about their past, as it allows them to release old wounds. I use this oil a lot when working with rescued animals.

How do essential oils work?
As your animal breathes in the fragrance of an essential oil, the molecules are transported into the limbic system of your animal’s brain (the part of the brain that processes emotions and memories). The essential oil works here to promote happiness, calmness and physical well-being. All essential oils are safe, as long as they are used correctly.

You bring up a good point. I’ve heard a lot about the risks of essential oils.
All oils are potentially toxic if used incorrectly. It is important to have an understanding of the cautions. For example, bergamot is phototoxic, and fennel should be avoided in pregnancy. I always give clear instructions to my animal owner clients, so there is no misinterpretation of how they are to be used.

How can we use them safely?
You will need to dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil, such as calendula or grapeseed oil (one drop for a cat, and two to six drops for other animals). Find a quiet place and take the lid off the diluted bottle. Let the animal sniff the oil with the lid on, and if they are trying to lick the top of the bottle, this is a very positive indication that they need that specific oil. If your animal wants to lick the oil, pour some onto your hand; equally your animal may just want to sniff the oil, so hold the bottle tightly and let your animal sniff. The most important point is that they are choosing how to interact with the essential oil, as this will allow them to get the exact dose that they need.

How often do they need it?
I usually offer the essential oil twice a day. Your animal may sniff it once and then not need it anymore because that is the exact dose they need. Or they may choose to sniff it for a longer period and then not need it. Be assured that your animal knows best, and if you have invested in an expensive essential oil, don’t try to force more of it onto your animal, as this is when problems happen. Always leave an escape route, as the olfactory system of a cat or a dog is more advanced compared to ours. If they need a specific essential oil, they will happily sniff it; if they do not need the essential oil, they will happily move out of the room.

Do essential oils work for other animals, too, outside of cats and dogs?
Essential oils work for all animals if you use them as [intended].

Where can our readers find safe oils for their animals?
The essential oils that you use with animals need to be of medicinal quality; they need to be 100 percent pure. I buy my essential oils from Kobashi Pure Essential Oils. Their oils are of a very high standard.

Can you recommend the best oils for getting started? Which oils should all animal lovers stock in their medicine cabinets?
Yarrow, carrot seed, seaweed, valerian, Melissa and a carrier oil such as sunflower oil.

What are the therapeutic properties of these oils?
Essential oils are excellent for behavioral issues, but they also help with physical issues, too.

• Yarrow: emotional—past abuse, unknown past, fearful anger; physical—inflammation, skin problems, arthritis.
• Carrot Seed: emotional—abandonment, loss of will to live; physical—loss of appetite, slow-healing wounds.
• Seaweed: emotional—extreme lack of self-confidence, depression; physical—arthritis, immune stimulant, poisoning.
• Valerian: emotional—chronic fear, hysteria, panic; physical—shock, sedation.
• Melissa: emotional—anxiety, hyperactivity, over sensitivity; physical—high blood pressure, hormonal irregularity, viral infection.

Big thanks to Caroline for sharing her thoughts and expertise on essential oils. What about you and your animals? Share your experiences here! (For more info on essential oils and animals, check out Essential Oils for Natural Pet Care. Written by a holistic veterinarian, the book addresses some of the controversy over oils and their safety.)

This article is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice.

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Charlotte Jensen

Charlotte Jensen (@JensenChar), an internationally published journalist and former executive editor of Entrepreneur magazine, is an editor and writer with more than 15 years' experience. (She's also Kathleen's sister.) She loves cats, chocolate, traveling to London, writing kidlit and spending her days chasing her cherubic toddler son.

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