Natural alternative treatment for your dog, cat and other animals

Holistic Pet Care



Aromatherapy is an ancient therapy dating back to pre-Christian times. It involves the use of special oils called ‘essential oils’ that are extracted from plants.  These essential oils are usually added to massage (or carrier) oils.  They can have a beneficial effect on both the physiological and the psychological wellbeing of the patient but it is important that only good quality oils are used.

The effect of essential oils on animals can sometimes be difficult to assess since animals rely heavily on the use of scent to communicate.  Sometimes the effect on dogs, cats and other animals is different than the effect on humans.

Valerian has a smell which humans find offensive but cats may like it as it is in the same botanical family as catnip which can make some cats quite euphoric. Siamese cats do not seem to be affected by catnip!

Essential oils are used at Melbourne Zoo to alter the environment where lions and tigers are housed. The oil is rubbed along tree bark so that the animals can investigate new smells in their small area.

Essential oils are readily absorbed through the nasal mucosa and significant levels can occur in the blood stream in a very short time. The oils are rapidly absorbed through skin although the hair on animal skin makes it difficult to apply them. The hairless areas are very sensitive and oils which are dermal irritants should be used with care on these areas. Essential oils should be carefully diluted with carrier oils. They should not be given to animals by mouth and should be used with great care in areas where they are likely to be licked off the skin.

Cats are very sensitive to any oils containing phenols and birch oil is contraindicated in cats since it contains methyl salicylate.

The use of essential oils for behaviour modification is well recognised. Collars which spray citronella oil in front of the dog’s nose when it barks are used as a deterrent for this annoying behaviour. Citronella is regarded as non-toxic and the accompanying “hiss” and offensive smell stop the dog from barking. Dogs associate the collar with the smell and use of the collar alone may act as a deterrent after first using citronella. However, some smart dogs can recognise when the collar runs out of citronella spray and bark at these times!

Lavender oil in a diffuser in an enclosed kennel may be used to lower the barking of confined dogs as it has a sedative effect. A cotton ball with 6 drops of lavender oil can be attached to the bars of a carry cage to soothe your pet during transport. The smell of lavender may mask other odours in a kennel environment that have a stimulating effect.

Chamomile oil may soothe anxious behaviour and is non toxic. Marjoram oil may settle an overactive libido while Ylang ylang will attract the males.

Therapeutically, oils are used in animals for their insecticidal properties.  These include pennyroyal (fatal if ingested), tea tree, rosemary and eucalyptus oils. Absorbent collars are impregnated with the oils and these are suitable for use in small dogs.  Alternatively, a spray can be made by shaking 20 drops of oil into 500ml of water and using that to spray the animal and bedding. If you are using these collars on your cat, air the collar well before attaching it around the neck and watch the cat for signs of local or general irritation such as depression or watering eyes. These methods act only as flea repellents and will not control a severe infestation of fleas.

Garlic is often used for worming. Be careful with the oil when using it to treat animals as garlic is a member of the onion family and prolonged use can cause anaemia as well as blood clotting and thyroid disorders.

Essential oils rival antibiotics in the treatment of superficial fungal and bacterial skin problems. Tea tree oil is very good in these conditions and washes and creams developed for acne are ideal for use on the skin of animals. A recent article mentioned the successful use of a tea tree lotion to treat ringworm and mange in hedgehogs in the UK. Always test a small area of sensitive skin for signs of allergic reactions before treating the whole animal. Thyme, cedar and eucalyptus oils are other oils which can be included in this therapeutic category.

Cats and dogs with upper respiratory tract infections can benefit from having a paper or cotton tissue with 6 drops of peppermint oil pinned to the cage for 3 days.  Follow this with pine oil used in the same manner. A diffuser could also be used in a confined area. Always look for signs of irritation to the animal and cease immediately if this occurs.

Arthritic aches and pains can be eased by applying a wheat bag with a few drops of lavender oil to the affected area. A suitable rub for stiff areas can be made up as follows

                                    2 drops eucalyptus oil

                                    2 drops oil of wintergreen

                                    5 drops lavender oil

                                    3 drops rosemary oil

                                    1 drop black pepper oil

Mix these with 25 ml of a base oil. Apply 1-3 drops sparingly to two of the large joints of the body e.g. knee or elbow or along the spine. Use daily for 4 days then increase the time between treatments.

Because of the risk of toxic effects in animals, consult a well written text containing lists of potential toxicity and methods of use before applying essential oils to your pet. Remember that animals can react in a different way to essential oils than people.


Dr Douglas Wilson BVM&S PhD VetMFHom MACVSc


The Holistic Vet Online



Natural alternative treatment for your dog, cat and other animals

Holistic Pet Care




Page last edited: May 24th 2016

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