The Georgia Shih Tzu

Essentials for Life


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Safe use of essential oils for dogs
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2016
Before starting lets assume you have read many of the same articles I read. The ones that tell you to be extremely careful with essential oils and never to use them on animals. Then there are the articles that recommend their use on animals under certain conditions, while yet more say they are perfectly safe. Confusing? Yes, it is. The first experience with oils came after helping my sister put down one of her cats; she was attacked in the night. There was no hope for healing her extensive wounds and we made the depressing decision to have her put down. Her lifelong feline companion became quickly depressed and began starving herself. Now, my take on oils for the longest time, in conjunction with animals, was only as a last resort and that all oils are made the same. Never administer internally and always dilute. In some ways I was correct, in others I was very wrong. After paying for the care of her lost sister, funds were depleted and I knew there was not much the vet would be able to offer for her depression as cats react badly to most medications. At the time I was using Lavender and Lemon to help control my depression (long story) and felt I was backed into a corner. She would either starve herself or we could try one last resort. We chose to use these two oils three times a day on the back of her neck to help bring her back to activity. The result was immediate and strong and she continued to act very normally 6 months later. I had very limited information at the time and was very lucky that my lack of proper knowledge did not backfire. So here is where this article comes in. As with all my articles, my intent is to share experiences and knowledge to ensure others not suffer from the lack. I got lucky, but that does not mean the next person will be as fortunate.
So here is the basics of essential oils. Oils can be purchased in most health and holistic stores around the country. They serve purposes ranging from health to cleaning to simply smelling nice in arts and crafting. I know of 6 different companies that manufacture essential oils, though I am sure more exist. Not all essential oils are the same. Some are manufactured simply for the use of scent and nothing more. Others are labelled as pure, but the FDA regulations for pure oils need only include 10% of actual oil in the mix. As with all labels, do your research. Do not assume you can trust what is on the label since the FDA does not really have our health as their number one priority. Read the packaging on the oils. If the directions state not to do something then DON'T do whatever you bought them for. After much research I have decided upon doTERRA oils. They are one of only two oils on the market that confidently state safe usage for pets and internally (the other being Young Living). Should this change in future feel free to email me with the company making similar claims so that I can make needed changes. There is a great deal of controversy on the use of essential oils and the companies that produce them. All I can say is that is not much different from the controversies I face with the entirety of this website. People are going to agree and people are going to disagree.
** Should you choose to use essential oils on pets I strongly recommend you only use one of the two companies mentioned above while the others strictly advise against purposes for pets. Read the packaging, I really cannot say that enough, and please listen to your instincts. If any company, any method, any recommendation feels wrong DON'T do it!! This goes for anything I tell you. I firmly believe your instincts are key to keeping your pet safe and happy and they will not fail you so please learn to listen to your own feelings. I certainly won't be offended if you feel anything I suggest would be harmful to your pet. I think I would actually be happy one more person has learned how to follow their instincts. In case I have not knocked it into your head enough, please remember that every animal, every dog, every shih tzu is different and will react to everything differently from other animals, dogs, shih tzu. One shih tzu I knew suffered a fatal heart attack after anesthesia while many other shih tzu have had no side effects. Your dog may very well be that 1 percent and I would much prefer you save your dog doing the opposite of every other owner because you felt it was the better course; rather than following the well trodden path against your better judgement simply because no one else had reason to worry.
Having thus pointed out my very long disclaimer let us continue. Here is what I know about the basics of using oils on dogs and cats.
  • Topical use of oils is well recognized as being generally dangerous for cats.
  • Oils used on pets should be diluted- usually 3-20 drops fractionated coconut oil to 1 drop essential oil (varying weight).
  • Animals have a very sensitive sense of smell and undiluted oils can cause irritation.
  • Oils administered for pets should be topical or diffused and rarely internal.
  • Pets react favorably to the oils they need.
  • Essential oils are not always the best solution.
  • Stimulant oils should be avoided in pregnant and epileptic animals.
  • Melaleuca (tea tree) is a dangerous oil and should be cautiously used if not avoided.
  • Do not use oils near eyes or nose.
  • Only use therapeutic grade oils
At this time there are really no long term studies concerning animals and the use of essential oils. Until recently they have been considered quack medicine and avoided. Without the knowledge from long term studies, the use of oils should always be cautious. As you will find with medications and chemicals, some dogs will react favorably while others will experience adverse or fatal reactions. Just because one of every 200 dogs has a bad reaction does not mean a treatment is unsafe. It simply means that dog has a different genetic makeup than the others or the treatment was applied improperly. My opinion is that all treatments should be handled with care and any animal needing any treatment should be closely monitored until healed.
Allow me to delve a little deeper into some of the points I have made. Simply stated, cats lack a particular enzyme that allows their bodies to break down oils and over months/years of topical use they can develop liver and kidney failure. Many holistic vets are using topical oils to great effect, but no one has been able to test any number of cats for more than a couple of years. In order to prove or disprove adverse effects on cats there would need to be studies lasting 10 or more years for cats using oils regularly and those using only occasionally. My decision for use with my cats is to stick to diffusing with heavy diluting (50:1) if using on furniture that cats frequent. I have one (my son's cat) that has developed some serious attitude problems after frequent state to state moving and the best calming method we have found is to mix 3 drops Balance oil- though I am going to try switching to Serenity- in a 30 ml glass spray bottle filled with distilled water and then sprayed on my son's bed every morning. She is out of the room at the time it is applied and does not return to it until she chooses. I will specify, oils are not the only calming method we are using as her mental state is really delicate. She originally liked the Balance blend but has since started to run from it so a change is in order until we find one she enjoys. The key is to be sure the cat likes the oil as a favorable reaction is their nonverbal que you are on the right track. In desperate or life threatening situations where all other treatments have been exhausted I will not hesitate to apply oils directly to skin where they cannot lick, but only once diluted 50:1 with fractionated coconut oil and never for more than a couple of weeks.
When used on dogs diluting is generally recommended. Many owners have used "neat" (undiluted) to great effect while others have developed skin irritations both mild and severe. Since there is no consensus for proper dilution the best I can suggest is 3:1 for the giant breeds (Great Dane, Pyrenees, Saint Bernard...), 5:1 for large breeds (Standard Poodle, Labradors, Rottweilers...), 10:1 for medium breeds (bull dog, Boxer, Collie...), 15:1 for small breeds (Lhasa Ahpso, Beagle, Corgi... ) and 20:1 for tiny breeds (Shih Tzu, Maltese, Chihuahua...). The use of diluting does not weaken the oil; it merely slows the rate of absorption, effectively cuts one drop into halves or fourths, and decreases the tendency towards skin irritation.
Oils have been shown to work wonders both topically and diffused for dogs while I have already stated the points toward topical for cats. Consumption of oils is a different matter. Many sites state ingestion is beneficial and recommended, while others state the opposite. Finding the truth about consumption is difficult and exhausting. In this case I always take the cautious route. Cats, of course, should never ingest. As bad as the results when used topically you increase the danger for internal. Dogs are another matter. I would recommend keeping treatments to diffused and topical where possible and when topical fails for internal problems and no other treatments have worked then follow the rules for diluting for your dog and use capsules rather than adding to food. Oils are very strong in flavor and smell which can cause discomfort when given directly. Capsules will protect the nose, mouth, and throat during treatment.
While in humans, the dislike of the scent of a particular oil means we are more likely to need it this does not hold true for pets. Animals are much more in tune with their health than humans. While you may have some exceptions, as a general rule, avoid or use sparingly any oils your pets shrinks from. Lean more towards the oils they tolerate or enjoy as this will tell you which oils are more likely to help. This goes for my son's cat. Once in awhile she likes the Balance blend, but mostly she runs from it. Time for a change. In this same strain you must beware of becoming an oil junky. We all know who these people are- those who believe oils are the only and superior treatment for every ailment in life. Not true and history has shown this. For instance, allergies are best dealt with through dietary changes, removal of known allergens, and clean homes. Oils will not eliminate allergies, they are simply a means for treating them. Most animals are allergic to their food and once their diet is changed the allergies are eliminated. The same goes for the use of lotions, cleaning agents, lawn treatments, plants.... the list is pretty long. Remove the allergen and you remove the allergy. If you find your pet is allergic to something that cannot be removed you can then turn to oils for an answer. We can also site behaviors such as marking in the house. Oils are not really going to be your best option since the behavior is purely a disciplinary problem. I could go on for a very long time listing all the situations in which I would not use oils first, but I hope you get the point.
Stimulant oils include basil, laurel, angelica, thyme, cumin, aniseed, citronella, juniper, fennel, rosemary, and sage. These oils have been known to increase frequency and severity in epileptic episodes and cause preterm labor. Melaleuca, also known as tea tree, is well know to cause toxic and fatal results to cats while causing less severe yet still toxic reactions in dogs. This oil is so widely considered dangerous that the Pet Poison Helpline strongly recommends avoiding the oil. Many sources, including Young Living and doTERRA, insist that when carefully diluted can be an effective oil for dogs, but avoided for cats. My opinion? Well, with so many reported cases of tea tree poisoning in both cats and dogs I think it should be avoided and I won't let it near any of my babies. If I were facing a life threatening situation with my dog I would probably reconsider as a last resort but would dilute it 20:1. But only as a last resort as there are plenty of alternatives.
So why did I choose doTERRA? I may seem eloquent, but most of the time I find it very hard to debate my beliefs with someone far wittier than myself. An argument can be found for every subject and many are able to passionately defend their side, while I have trouble verbalizing why I believe in anything strongly. Simply put, I chose doTERRA because it felt right. I spent many hours researching different oils companies and talking to distributors and friends. Many of the reasons I like doTERRA include testing by several unbiased labs for purity without additives. I like that their ingredients are harvested from their natural growing sources and not from sources where they have been made to adapt to a new or similar environment. I like the price and I am not saying they are cheap. I know that frankincense is a very expensive oil. It was so revered in ancient times that only the very wealthy and ruling individuals had access to it. Thus, I am wary of companies that offer the oil for so little cost. I would expect a hard to access oil to cost a higher amount. I like the smell. Other oil companies provide oil scents that rub my nose the wrong way. They smell a little funny to me and I won't use anything that does not smell quite right. I am quite sure there are many that could passionately argue my choice as being inferior to whatever other company they prefer and that is fine. I am not telling you my company is the only company to purchase from. That is a choice you need to make for yourself.
If you would like more information on the use of oils, my favorite sites include Oils to Live By, Everything Essential, Live Life Love Oils, Dogs Naturally, and Experience Essential Oils. If you are a Facebook member you can benefit greatly from membership in the Facebook group Essential Oils for Animals. Run a search on the title and ask to join. The administrators are quick to answer and members are quick to respond to all questions.
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