Are Essential Oils for the Birds? Or Spot? Or Fluffy?

Aug 11, 04:10 PM

For the past few days, a flurry of posts has been appearing on my personal Facebook feed regarding the usage of essential oils for pet care, prompting this post in turn.

Horror stories abound about people poisoning or killing pets after attempting to treat their beloved animals with aromatherapy. Some stories are fact; others are merely urban legend.

The health of animals large and small can be improved with aromatherapy, but mistakes occur when people simply don't use common sense. Most pets are quite a bit smaller than their owners, so it follows that animals cannnot be dosed with essential oils in the same quantities as their humans.

Horses and other large animals respond well to aromatherapy, and there are several breeders in Europe who use essential oils as an integral part of equine healthcare. Dogs love aromatherapy as well, and will respond enthusiastically to just about anything that has a strong smell, pleasant or otherwise! Canine aromatherapy can be useful for skittish or hyperactive dogs, hotspots and various allergic skin conditions, antibiotic resistant infections, separation anxiety and a host of other doggie maladies. Key to safe and successful administration of essential oils is varying the dosage according your dog's size and weight.

One of the urban legends I want to dismiss: tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil is poisonous to dogs and is too dangerous to use in canine aromatherapy. This story apparently started circulating when a well known aromatherapy researcher reported that her dog became paralyzed after being treated with tea tree for a skin ailment. After reading her account of the incident and discussing the situation with several aromatherapy icons to whom she'd turned for help, it appears that she made several generous applications of neat tea tree to the hind of a very small dog, who then suffered temporary paralysis of the tail. Her first mistake was using undiluted essential oil, which is not a good idea for animals or humans, period. Her second mistake was not acknowledging that a small dog requires a very small dose of any medication, whether holistic or allopathic. Tea tree in and of itself, when properly used, is not toxic to dogs. Stupid humans are toxic to dogs.

Cats are a bit of a different story. They are very particular about aromas in general, and often will not let you approach them with an essential oil in hand unless they are extremely ill. I speak from personal experience, having had as many as 4 felines in the house at any given time. Cats do respond more favorably to hydrolats, which can be applied topically or given in dilute form in their water bowl. It is very important to note that some essential oils are not safe for cats. Felines lack an enzyme which enables the metabolism of phenyl propanoid compounds and their derivatives. Phenyl propanoids are found in a number of very popular essential oils, including basil ct. methyl chavicol Ocimum basilicum ct. methyl chavicol) and ylang ylang (Canaga odorata). If you are unsure about the phytochemical composition of an essential oil, do not use it on your cat. Consult with a qualified or registered aromatherapist, and leave the blending to a professional.

The average veterinarian won't treat a sick bird. Instead, he or she will refer you out to a vet who specializes in avian medicine. Nor should you attempt to treat a sick bird, especially with essential oils. I can't tell you how many posts I've read on aromatherapy list serves about people killing canaries, cockatiels, etc., by diffusing essential oils in an enclosed room where the birds were kept. It never occurs to people that the amount of essential oil that might be appropriate for a 150 pound human is easily lethal to a 2 ounce bird. Don't run an aromatherapy diffuser in the same room as the birdcage, and keep the bird's area well ventilated if you are operating a diffuser in another part of the house. Bird owners should not leave a diffuser running when they are not at home unless someone else is present to monitor the bird for adverse reactions.

If you're interested in learning more about veterinary aromatherapy, Kristen Leigh Bell authored a short but well-written book, Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with Animals (Findhorn Press, 2002). It's a little hard to find but well worth seeking out.



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