A few people asked me recently about which essential oils are safe or toxic around their dogs. Since a dog is a man’s best friend, you definitely don’t want to harm your best friend!
If you use essential oils, you’ll want to protect your best friend from any harm that could arise from using oils in potentially unsafe ways.
This post will help you become aware of which essential oils are toxic to dogs and suggest some oils that are safe for them.
Dogs are Sensitive
I bet you’ve seen some movies where a heroic dog tracks down a missing kid or finds drugs in a suitcase at the airport, thanks to the dog’s keen sense of smell.
While humans have six million olfactory receptors, dogs supposedly have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses. And it’s possible they can smell somewhere between 10,000 to 100,000 times better than us mere mortals!
Essential oils need to be used with caution around dogs because dogs are much more sensitive to scent and to essential oils than humans.
According to Pet MD, there’s a lack of scientific research studying the effects of specific essential oils on cats and dogs.
Additionally, to date, Pet MD reports that there are no studies specifically testing pure essential oils on flea and tick infestations for dogs.
There’s a large number of products for dogs that contain some concentration of essential oil.
However, according to the American Kennel Club, most cases of toxicity in dogs occurred when natural flea and tick repellents containing certain essential oils were used (or misused).
A 2012 study described adverse reactions from natural flea products containing essential oils:
“Dogs and cats can experience significant adverse effects when exposed to plant-derived flea preventatives even when used according to label directions. The number of reports of exposure in cats was higher than dogs, but the frequency of reported adverse effects was similar between the 2 species. Agitation and hypersalivation were common in cats, whereas lethargy and vomiting were common in dogs.”Genovese, McLean, & Khan
15 Essential Oils that are Toxic to Dogs
The following is a list of the most common essential oil toxicities:
- Tea tree oil–In high concentrations tea tree essential oil (aka melaleuca) can cause adverse effects; however, shampoos containing low concentrations are okay.
- Pennyroyal (aka squawmint)–This oil is sometimes used in products to treat fleas.
- WIntergreen Oil–This oil contains methyl salicylates, also commonly known as aspirin.
- Pine Oils–These oils are sometimes used in cleaning products.
Additional essential oils that are unsafe for dogs:
- Citrus–includes lemon and orange oils
- Sweet Birch
- Ylang Ylang
*Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of essential oils that are toxic to dogs. If you’re unsure whether an oil is safe to use around your dog, consult your veterinarian.
Symptoms of Harm or Toxicity
Whether you’re using essential oil products on yourself or for your dog, keep in mind that any oil can be harmful if it’s not properly diluted or used incorrectly.
In its pure, undiluted and concentrated form, essential oils can cause harmful reactions for animals, just like it can cause reactions in humans.
When using products containing essential oil, a few factors determine its effect on your dog. These include the type of oil, concentration level of the oil, and additional ingredients mixed with the oils which can cause varying reactions.
Topical or oral exposure can cause any of the following reactions:
- Skin irritation–e.g. itchiness, burning, sloughing
- Respiratory irritation–e.g. panting, coughing, wheezing. If your dog has underlying respiratory conditions such as asthma or allergies, certain essential oils can also exacerbate those conditions.
- GI upset–e.g. vomiting, diarrhea
- Other potentially severe, less common symptoms also include gait unsteadiness, depression, lethargy, weakness, ulcers, hypothermia, rear leg paralysis, seizures,
In rare cases, if the oil is absorbed into the bloodstream, liver and kidney damage can occur.
Essential Oils Safe for Dogs
For those who plan to use essential oils safely around their dogs or are looking for products containing safe oils, the following is a list of oils that are generally considered safe to use around dogs.
- Carrot Seed (Daucus carota)–Should avoid with pregnant dogs
- Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica or Juniperus virginiana)
- Chamomile, German (Matricaria recutita)–aka blue chamomile
- Chamomile, Roman (Anthemis nobilis or Chamaemelum nobile)
- Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)–Should avoid with pregnant dogs
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
- Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Marjoram, Sweet (Origanum marjorana)
- Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
- Ravensare aromatica (Cinnamonum camphora)
- Rose (Rosa damascena)
- Thyme linalool (Thyme vulgaris)
- Valerian (Valerian officinalis)
Eucalyptus and Peppermint
There’s a lot of conflicting information about eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils.
If you scour the internet, you’ll often find both oils to be on the safe or dangerous lists, depending on the source of information.
According to Dr. Callum Turner, DVM, eucalyptus can be considered toxic if ingested and used topically (on the skin), whether it’s directly applied or diluted.
If used in a diffuser, extreme caution should be used (see diffuser tips below).
Another oil that appears controversial for use around dogs is peppermint essential oil.
Certified aromatherapists are more likely to place it on their “safe” list, while animal hospitals seem more likely to place it on the “unsafe” list.
I kept peppermint essential oil on the “unsafe” list in this post because a number of veterinarians place it in that category.
However, I do want to link to this article that examines the issue and may provide the reasoning behind the inclusion of peppermint in the “safe” category on other lists around the internet.
The article advises many safety precautions and promotes careful, cautious use to take advantage of the therapeutic properties of peppermint essential oil.
Can you diffuse essential oils around dogs?
We all want to diffuse our favorite oils, but is it safe for your dog?
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASCPA) Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) specifically addressed this question, stating:
“Using an oil diffuser for a short time period in a secured area— one that your dog or cat cannot access—is not likely to be an issue.”Aspca animal poison control center
The APCC also advises to make sure the area is secure so that your dog can’t knock over the diffuser, lick it, or drink it.
Additionally, the room should be well ventilated and have an exit to allow your dog to go into a different area or room in your home..
However, if your dog has breathing problems due to underlying health conditions, allergies or asthma, you may want to avoid using diffusers.
Also, be mindful that dogs that walk through oils that are being diffused can have oil land on their fur and may lick their coat, causing unsafe oral ingestion.
Tips to keep your dog safe around essential oils
- Always dilute oils! Avoid high concentrations of the oil.
- Examine the labels of your dog products containing any essential oils to ensure they are formulated specifically for dogs. Some products may contain an oil on the unsafe list but have proper dilution with very low concentration which may then make it safe for use.
- Consider avoiding diffuser use if your dog has an underlying medical condition, especially if it’s respiratory in nature.
- Secure all diffusers. Make sure that your dog can’t knock any over or accidentally lick it or ingest oils from it.
- If diffusing, allow your dog to leave the area–don’t shut the dog in an enclosed space with the diffuser without a way out. Make sure the area is well-ventilated.
- Observe your dog’s behaviors–does he/she show displeasure or act weird after an initial exposure? Leave the room immediately? Show any symptoms, even mild, of possible harm or toxicity?
In brief, we all want to keep our little furry best friends safe, so it’s important to take precautions when using essential oils. Consult your vet if you’re unsure whether an oil is potentially dangerous to your dog.
You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888)-426-4435 or the Pet Poisen Helpline at (855) 764-7661 immediately if your dog has ingested essential oils, or if you have concerns about exposure to essential oils. Both lines are available 24/7.