When is aromatherapy appropriate for your pet?

It may be hard for you to image your pampered pet out in the wild, but the ancestors of our feline and canine ‘children’ had to fend for themselves during times of stress, famine, and danger. Through their instincts, they developed senses on what they could or couldn’t eat, including herbs, flowers, and fauna. So it may seem that incorporating aromatherapy into your pet’s life is a win-win situation, with the natural oils and scents easing your pet’s day. But domesticated pets haven’t developed the senses their ancestors had, so it’s up to you as a pet parent to determine when aromatherapy is appropriate for your pet, and when it may be a danger.

Fragrant Fixes

Aromatherapy, defined by organizations such as the University of Maryland Medical Center as the “use of essential oils from plants for healing,” has become big business. You may see specially-branded bottles being sold in your veterinarian’s office, kiosks at the mall, even the dollar store. The main way aromatherapy is used is by being disseminated through the air (diffusers, candles, plug-ins) or massaged into the skin.

Pet owners have come to rely on aromatherapy for certain common ailments before a vet visit becomes necessary. These include insect bites, allergies, anxiety, motion sickness, grief, hyperactivity, insomnia and bad breath.

Cool, Calm, and Collected

One of the biggest uses of aromatherapy for pets is for its calming abilities. Aromatherapy products include infused cat collars, cat-only sensitive wall plug-ins, and even pet shirts treated with aromatherapy soaked right into the material. These products include some common ingredients that have demonstrated abilities to achieve a soothing experience, including calendula, jasmine, sweat pea, yarrow, rose, and scented geranium.

While you don’t often see these as the top picks in human-preferred perfumes, candles, and sprays, they’re ideal for the uber-sensitive cat and dog noses. Our pets have senses of smell that are much more sensitive than our own (approximately 14 times more), and these aromatherapy options seem to hit them in the right place. You may want to experiment with aromatherapy when you’re bringing your pet to the vet (or anywhere that requires a car trip), when you have new guests coming to the house, before bringing in a new animal family member, or as you leave the house for a work day.

Doesn’t Smell So Sweet

That aromatherapy scent of your dreams may become a nightmare for you and your pet if you don’t study up on its effects. Tea tree oil, a popular calming choice for people, is deadly for cats, warns the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine. You should also keep peppermint, cinnamon bark oil, lemon oil and wintergreen oil away from your cat (aromatherapy items that are considered “hot” oils). Even the scent could tempt her to take a lick, and you don’t want to risk it. Veterinarians have also reported dog deaths from tea tree oil, used to treat bites and scratches in humans.  Unfortunately, tea tree oil can be toxic to your canine companion.

Sometimes, it can be hard to break away from what you think you know, or what you may have heard from other well-meaning pet owners so when in doubt, check with your veterinarian.



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