Updated: Jun 12, 2019
My Dashi doodle has a tendency to lick my legs after I've oiled up. She's been doing this since she was a puppy. When I realized this, I immediately eliminated the use of certain essential oils in my body oil mix to keep her as safe as possible.
Essential oils and fancy diffusers - the entire practice is blowing up right now! As we use this plant wisdom for ourselves and our families, let's be smart for our fur babies too. Here's the low-down(dog) on which oils to avoid using around pets and best practices for the way you use them in a home with pets. (BTW as a general rule - around pets and kids, less is more.)
a toxic list and ingest poisoning
The biggest problem is to make sure your pet doesn't ingest a pretty sizeable amount of oils undiluted - such as 8 drops of tea tree oil. Remember that EOs are potent and concentrated, so that's why we dilute them for ourselves. This goes for pets too and more seriously. So... tightly cap all oils and store them in a place that is pet-proof.
dogs - cinnamon, clove, garlic, juniper, rosemary, peppermint, pine, melaleuca (tea tree), thyme, wintergreen, ylang ylang, citruses with limonene (highest - 90% range: orange, tangerine, grapefruit; moderate - 70% range: lemon, lime; low - 30%: bergamot)
cats - cassia, cinnamon, citruses (see limonene, above), clove, eucalyptus, lemon, lavender, peppermint, spruce, melaleuca (tea tree), thyme, wintergreen, oregano
Also worth noting, the lists change per source. Some say lavender is fine for cats and that dogs are fine with peppermint.
Symptoms of toxic exposure include: diarrhea, vomiting, unsteadiness/stumbling, depression, unusual pawing at the mouth or face, difficulty breathing, excessive drooling. To be fair, these symptoms overlap with symptoms for other conditions too, so just keep an eye on your methods, types of oils, and seek help immediately if you suspect poisoning.
With their enhanced sense of smell, diffusers can be overwhelming. Use them in a different room. If they're in the same room, leave the door open. Go light on the drops - like five max. It's best not to diffuse with birds and pets with respiratory problems.
Diffuse for a short amount of time. I set my diffuser for a one hour session and let it do its auto shut off thing for a break (for myself and Dashi). If doodle is around, I stick with more on the lavender-based blends at night. In my office, the door is always open.
topical - on their fur, paws, skin
Avoid applying any EOs directly to pets, especially where they can lick them. Any EO used on a pet should be highly diluted. Because each oil is different, I only go so far as to heavily dilute lavender and put on the tips of Dashi's ears when we're going into a situation that might be stressful for her (easy go-to is the doTERRA kids' kit roller blend Calmer on my hands and smooth behind her ears). In general, she's pretty solid, but just in case, Calmer.
clean and safe: floors and surfaces
We're not down there, so we might forget that they spend their entire lives lower to the ground. Even "natural" floor cleaners sold at the store contain essential oils that are on the toxic list.
I normally wouldn't even question the Honest Company's Grapefruit Grove or Method's Hard Floor Cleaner in lemon-ginger-citrus, because I trust both those brands. Though both claim high safety testing and probably don't have enough oils to be dangerous once the cleaning has happened and dried, it's always worth considering even safer options.
You can make your own floor cleaner with vinegar and highly diluted water with lightly added lavender, frankincense, cedarwood, or peppermint (peppermint not good for cats). For surfaces, and cats that climb, vinegar and water sprays that are even more diluted.
All this to say, I would rather highly dilute an essential oil cleaner of my own or use one of the more eco-conscious cleaners than anything that includes bleach, ammonia, or the like. I mix baking soda with lavender and geranium for a carpet freshening powder - sprinkle, let sit, vacuum, and keep doodle out for the process.
The American Kennel Club is acknowledging that essential oils can have benefits for pets and some holistic veterinarians are using them in treatment. However, the research is preliminary. Here are some other resources for you, below.
I'm super lucky that Dashi is not much of a face and neck licker in general, as much as I use EOs on my neck, wrists, and chest for mood management, and citruses are among the best for me a lot of the time. But for my legs? It was worth changing it up for this little face (framed by a headphone squeaker toy, a gift from her friends at BarkBox).
Love self-care for ourselves and our communities... share care with our pets, safely and lovingly.
If you like learning about these types of topics, you can join my facebook community on oils and self care: SNEHA & SELF CARE with ChristineChenYoga.