It’s been exciting to work with the essential oils used in aromatherapy products. A lot has changed since I started blending in 1992. Along with increased interest in the healing power of essential oils, there is a greater understanding of their potency and that “less is more” is the best approach to take.
A dog’s sense of smell is remarkably better than ours. Dogs have about 40 times more scent receptors than humans, allowing them to identify smells between 1,000 and 10,000 times better than us. Dogs also have remarkable olfactory memory, and because their world revolves around scent, aromatherapy is ideal for use with them.
As with any home remedy, it is important to know the use and safety guidelines, and to recognize when it is time for professional help from your veterinarian.
Use products containing pure essential oils.
The essential oils used in aromatherapy are most commonly extracted by steam distillation from the rind, flower, leaf, bark, root or resin of aromatic plants. The scent of essential oils can vary with each harvest because the chemical composition changes with variations in growing conditions.
Fragrance oils are created in the lab to insure that each batch has a consistent scent. These synthetic products are not therapeutic, and have been known to cause problems such as headaches, agitation or allergic reactions.
Quality products include the botanical (Latin) names of the plants on labels. This identifies the exact plant used in product. It’s important to note that there is no regulatory agency that grades essential oils, and so “therapeutic grade” or “medical grade” are for marketing purposes only.
Less is more – dilute, dilute, dilute.
From both conservation and safety perspectives, diluting pure essential oils is not only responsible to your wallet and the planet, but also to prevent overwhelming your dog’s sense of smell, irritating the skin and mucous membranes, or causing sensitization.
External use only.
There are two methods of using essential oils safely and effectively in the home: topical application and inhalation. Internal use (oral, vaginal or rectal) is not advised unless recommended by a health care practitioner appropriately trained in clinical or veterinary aromatherapy.
You can add your favorite essential oil single or blend to an unscented product or base such as vegetable and nut oils, gels, lotions or shampoos. Start with 2 drops per ounce for puppies over 10 weeks of age, senior dogs and those with compromised immune systems, sensitive skin, or other serious health issues. Using 4 or 5 drops per ounce is acceptable for most adult dogs with no serious health issues.
Inhalation of essential oils vapors is used for emotional or respiratory support and to create a calm healthy environment. Essential oils can be inhaled by misting a water-based spray onto a favorite bandana or by diffusing (diluting by air).
Be sure to diffuse in well-ventilated areas for short time periods (15 minutes to 2 hours) away from infants, toddlers, and young children, cats and birds. Longer exposures to diffused essential oils in high concentrations could cause headaches, vertigo, nausea and lethargy.
Create a bonding experience.
Scent is the only one of our five senses that has an emotional response before a cognitive one. This is because the olfactory bulb has a direct link to the limbic system, the seat of emotion, memory and learning. For example, you don’t need to see a skunk to know it’s a skunk!
Because of the memoristic nature of scent, it can be beneficial to introduce aromatherapy at a nonthreatening time. This allows your dog to associate the scent with a person of comfort and safety rather than with an approaching storm or scary travel experience. Sometimes an essential oil is chemically sedating, but because of a bad memory associated with it, the scent actually causes agitation.
Sprays and massage or grooming products containing pure essential oils, can be physically applied to create a bonding experience and potential behavior modification. This can provide comfort for dogs that are fretful during storms, fireworks, travel, competition, adoption, bath time, veterinary or kennel visits, and holidays.
Many people have noticed that when the cupboard opens, the dog comes into the room and sits or lies down, waiting for the aromatherapy experience to begin!