Good intentions, marketing and misinformation have been fuelling the improper use of essential oils among pet owners.
It’s a dangerous movement that has led to oils being ingested or applied directly to the skin without dilution.
Nowhere in nature can you find large amounts of essential oils being produced by a single plant. They’re produced in minuscule amounts for the purpose of plant communication, reproduction and protection.
In order to produce more than a few drops of essential oil, pounds upon pounds of plant matter must be distilled, expressed or extracted. For example, to make one ounce of peppermint essential oil, it takes 16 pounds of peppermint leaves.
In general, one drop of a plant’s essential oil is more than 75 times stronger than its herbal equivalent.
This formidable strength makes them an extreme form of natural medicine with a potency that must not be ignored. Safety is a huge concern and this is especially true when using essential oils internally or in their undiluted state.
There are exceptions to every rule and for some health conditions like cancer and antibiotic-resistant bacteria (MRSA) treatment with essential oils is recommended.
However, advising people to give their dogs or themselves daily internal doses of undiluted essential oils is not only dangerous, it’s irresponsible. All animals and humans react to essential oils differently and caution is needed.
Robert Tisserand, a master aromatherapist and author of Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, states: “With ingestion, various risks increase, including gastric irritation, interactions with conventional medications, and fetal damage in pregnancy. And long-term, depending on dose and frequency, there’s a risk of accumulation in the body, possibly leading to systemic toxicity. You may not notice anything, but some types of toxicity do not announce their presence in the early stages.”
Tissue damage is one of the reasons you should never allow your dogs to ingest undiluted essential oils.
For example, many people tell me how they’ve begun adding essential oils directly to their dog’s water.
Please don’t do this.
Essential oils sit on top of the water and when swallowed, they can easily irritate the lining of the mouth and throat as well as the stomach and intestines. Prolonged ingestion can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and in some cases, kidney and liver damage.
Remember, toxicity symptoms manifest slowly and have usually already caused damage by the time they’re noticed. These symptoms include diarrhea, depression, excessive salivation and lethargy.
Applying undiluted essential oils externally to your dog is also risky, due to the likelihood of skin sensitivity, inflammation, dermal damage and ingestion through fur licking.
Essential oils need to be diluted in a carrier oil so they can be separated into tiny particles again. This method of dispersing the oils helps achieve the maximum healing benefit with the minimum dosage.
For dogs, I recommend a 0.5 percent to a one percent dilution. This is equal to three to six drops per ounce of a carrier oil like almond, coconut or apricot kernel oil.
GRAS, Labeling and Grading
The FDA has classified certain essential oils as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). The argument being made by some companies is that an essential oil’s GRAS status makes it safe for ingestion and undiluted use. This argument can give consumers a sense of false safety because an essential oil’s GRAS rating does not stipulate quantity.
Also, just because the FDA approves a substance doesn’t make it safe. FDA-approved drugs are responsible for over 100,000 deaths per year (see fda.gov) from adverse side effects caused by those approved drugs. The FDA also allows many toxic substances to be included in personal care products for animals and humans.
Grading of oils is another misnomer.
When you read the words high grade, low grade, aromatherapy grade, food grade and therapeutic grade, know that they are just descriptions, not regulated classifications. For aromatherapy, therapeutic benefit and holistic care you want to use pure, unadulterated, organic or unsprayed oils from reputable essential oil producers.
Unfortunately there’s no such thing as an authentic grading system – it just doesn’t exist.
Oils that are labeled Grade A are labeled as such by the company marketing and selling them. In the last few years the term “therapeutic grade” has saturated the essential oil market. What used to be a term to identify oils for therapeutic purposes has now has become a qualitative word on which to judge all other oils.
Therapeutic grade is purely a marketing term.
Sadly, many reputable essential oil companies have been forced to resort to using these buzzwords in order to compete in the marketplace.
Be wary when companies boast that their essential oils are the “best” essential oils available.
Essential oils are a natural product that cannot be replicated over and over to a homogeneous standard. Oils differ from batch to batch and geographic location. Moisture, soil quality and variations in the extraction process can also affect an oil’s quality. For example, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil grown in Oregon near the sea can be quite different than the same species grown in the high elevations of France.
Purity is of the utmost importance when using essential oils for health.
To help choose quality unadulterated essential oils, Certified Master Aromatherapist Kristen Leigh Bell, author of Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals, suggests using the following guidelines:
- Look for small companies who distill their own oils or have direct relationships with the farms that do. It’s important to be able to obtain information on the country of origin, growing conditions, elevation and what method of extraction was used.
- Make sure your essential oils are bottled in dark amber or blue glass, come labeled with their Latin names, lot and or batch number.
- Each essential oil has a price range and pricing should range according to individual oil type. If the price is much lower than the typical average price, the oil is highly suspect and may be adulterated.
- Ensure your chosen company has good customer service practices and will provide you with gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS) test results if you request them. This type of testing helps to determine the purity of the essential oil in question.
Purchasing essential oils is a “buyer beware” business.
There is no regulatory system in place for essential oil standards. Variations in quality exist and you must do your due diligence when purchasing oils.
If you’re new to using essential oils or confused about how to use them safely, contact a certified aromatherapist or holistic practitioner with a high level of experience using essential oils with animals. If you’re using essential oils regularly, selling essential oils, or making products with essential oils, it’s imperative that you first learn how to use them safely.
Bottom line: essential oils should only be used internally or undiluted when absolutely necessary, and then under the care of a certified herbalist or experienced holistic vet. These physical, emotional and energetic healers are available for the benefit of our dogs and ourselves, but used unwisely, they can also be detrimental.
**If you believe that your dog has ingested essential oils or come in contact with undiluted oils, call your holistic veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680).