By Jeanette Lee Yamamoto, DVM >>>
As you may or may not have heard, essential oil usage is becoming very popular in today’s modern world, though they have historically been utilized for all types of ailments for thousands of years. Essential oils are naturally occurring, volatile, aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants from all over the world. Essential oils are what give plants their distinctive smells, protect them from their natural enemies, and play a role in plant pollination. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Indians used essential oils for rituals and religious practices, medicinal purposes, aromatherapy and massage. After substantial research in the 1990s, biologists began to more fully understand how chemical sensors in the body respond to the effects of scent. This research has opened many minds to a concept that ancient civilizations discovered long ago: Essential oils can be utilized in a number of important ways in the 21st century.
The amazing thing about the popularity of essential oils – on the human side – is now we have started to incorporate essential oils into veterinary practice. A larger number of veterinarians practice what is commonly termed “Western medicine,” meaning that medical conditions are treated with medication, surgery, etc., based on scientific tradition. The counterpart to Western medicine is Eastern, or alternative, medicine. There are homeopathic and holistic modalities, where the goal is to utilize natural remedies that may include acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies. Essential oils would fall under the latter category and offer medicine that is complementary to traditional medicine.
Essential oils can be used three different ways – aromatically (inhaled), topically (on the skin/fur), and internally (via the digestive tract).
- Diffusers are utilized for aromatic distribution of essential oils. The most common types used are atomized water diffusers, which allow for the combination of several oils at one time. When using diffusers for the benefit of pets, it is recommended to not use more than 3-4 drops of essential oil. You should also allow your pets the ability to leave the diffused room in case the aroma is too overwhelming for them. Think about this – dogs have an olfactory system (sense of smell) that is up to 100,000 times more sensitive than ours!
- Topically, oils are applied to the skin and/or fur. To allow for a wider area of distribution or increased dilution of the oil, carrier oils, such as fractionated coconut oil, are combined with the essential oil. For small dogs and cats, only 1 drop of oil diluted with a carrier oil is typically needed for usage. In larger dogs, no more than 1-2 drops are needed.
- Essential oils can be ingested by adding them to drinking water, mixing with food, or administering them in gel capsules. Certain oils can also be applied topically inside the lips and along the gum line. It is not recommended to give cats essential oils orally.
- Given pets’ varying sizes and sensitivity to oils, a small amount of essential oil goes a long way. When using essential oils in pets (and people), it is recommended to use ONLY 100 percent pure therapeutic grade oils. Not all essential oils are safe to use on dogs and cats, so please do your research prior to usage.
Here are a few examples of essential oils and their uses for dogs and cats:
- Lavender oil is known for its calming properties, especially in times of stress or imbalances. Lavender helps minimize allergy issues and support the immune system. It can also be used topically to sooth dry skin, burns, bruises, and cuts.
- Peppermint oil is helpful with indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory congestion, fever and allergies. Peppermint can also be combined with other oils as a flea repellant.
- Citrus oils (like orange, lemon and grapefruit) are uplifting and energizing. They are useful for stimulating appetite, immune system support, and relieving anxiety. Citrus oils CANNOT be used on cats!!
Essential oils are an additional option when caring for ourselves and our pets. As with all modalities of medicine, both traditional and alternative, pets can have varied sensitivities, as well as different responses to the treatment options. It is recommended to discuss the use of essential oils for your pet with a knowledgeable veterinarian prior to usage.
Dr. Jeanette Lee Yamamoto is a veterinarian at Golden State Vet Care in Castaic, Calif. and the founder of Peaceful Pets. You can reach her by emailing Peacefulpetsinhome@gmail.com or calling (661) 670-8773.