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The Aromahead Blog - Aromatherapy Education and Resources

Safety Tips When Using Aromatherapy with Pets

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Aromahead Institute’s Co-Educational Director, Karen Williams, on Using Aromatherapy for Animals Safely

Fred was an aggressive horse.

My friends, his owners in upstate New York, warned me that he often struck out with his front hooves when they tried to get close to him.

I had experience with essential oils, and I knew how to use Aromatherapy for animals safely. I wanted to help Fred!

I took a few essential oils with me and stood quietly in his space so he could get used to my presence. I also made sure he wasn’t tied up, so that he was free to get as far away from the oil as possible if he didn’t like it.

Very, very slowly, I took out a bottle of Angelica essential oil for him to smell (Angelica archangelica). I held it firmly, since horses are adept with their lips and can snatch things out of your hand before you know it!

I also let him smell Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides), and Hops (Humulus lupulus).

Finally, Fred became calmer and more curious. That’s when I decided to try Rose otto (Rosa × damascena).

In the past, I’d had success using Rose essential oil for animals who needed emotional support. I felt that the oils listed above helped prepare Fred for accepting the Rose.

I reminded myself not to worry if Fred’s first reaction to Rose was agitation. When we’re processing through emotions, agitation is often one of the first feelings to come up and be released and Rose oftentimes promotes this reaction.

Fred did get agitated.

But I stayed with him, stayed calm, and kept the Rose available if he wanted to give it a sniff.

Eventually, he came back and sniffed the bottle again, giving a huge sigh of relief. It was as though I could sense his relief as the years of anxiety and distrust finally worked their way out of him.

By the end of my one-hour Aromatherapy session with Fred, he had his head bowed and was asking me for pets and love.

Fred and I shared a beautiful, heart-warming experience! It brings tears to my eyes even now.

Horse photo by Helena Lopes from Unsplash

Using Aromatherapy for Animals Safely: Training and Experience Matters!

My experience with Fred was one of many I’ve been privileged to have using Aromatherapy for animals.

This is the first blog I’ve written for Aromahead, so I’d like to introduce myself to you.

I’m Karen Williams, Aromahead’s co-educational director.

Education, training, experience, and purity have guided my work from the beginning of my career, and they continue to do so today.

You can read more about my work as an R.N., C.A., and my studies on using Aromatherapy for animals at the end of this article. For now, I’m so excited to share what I’ve learned over all these years about using Aromatherapy for animals safely!

There’s a lot of unreliable (and even unsafe) information “floating around” online about this.

I’m so glad you’ve found your way to this article!

Aromahead is dedicated to education and SAFETY, first and foremost.

We’ll never guide you to use essential oils in ways that are not supported by science, research, and experience.

The Aromahead team loves animals! Many of us own pets—from cats, to dogs, to horses, and others. Aromatherapy is a natural, effective choice to help care for them . . . as long as you know how to use it safely.

Before attempting to help your animal friends heal from anything more than emotional stress, always be sure to talk to you vet (whether they’re a traditional or holistic vet).

Two pups

Rule #1: Using Aromatherapy for Animals Safely –
Trust Their Instincts

When I worked with Fred, I never pushed the essential oil toward him. I never tried to convince him or coerce him to accept the oil.

The most important thing is to trust the animal’s instincts.

Animals have super-olfactory senses.

Kelly Holland Azzaro is the founder of AnimalAromatherapy.com, and she says:

“An animal’s sense of smell is much more potent than ours and with some . . . they are capable of detecting scent 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than humans!”

It makes sense that animals naturally gravitate away from aromas that are too strong for them, or which won’t help them thrive.

On the other hand, they’ll instinctively move toward scents and substances that can help them feel better—and even heal themselves.

Caroline Ingraham is a specialist on how to use Aromatherapy for animals safely. I studied with her when I decided to learn more about this. She’s worked with both domesticated and wild animals, and has some amazing stories to share!

Here’s what Caroline has to say about letting animals choose their own plant medicines . . .

“When animals are allowed to choose their own plant medicines, it can alleviate much unnecessary suffering and save lives, while simultaneously providing us with clues and insights into their needs.”

She’s found this is true for both domesticated and wild animals.

All animals are hard-wired with instincts for self-healing—even newborn animals. If the animals have evolved in relationship with certain plants, they’re especially able to recognize them as therapeutic.

“Any animal that didn’t have this innate mechanism would have died out long ago,” Caroline points out.

When using Aromatherapy for animals, trust the animal’s intelligence, first and foremost.

Remember, you’re there to help the animal heal. . . not try to force healing.

What NOT to do!

With this in mind, a few things stand out as what NOT to do when using Aromatherapy for animals without proper training:

  • Don’t put essential oils in an animal’s food.
  • Don’t apply essential oils (undiluted or diluted) to an animal’s skin or coat without proper training.
  • Don’t use essential oils, hydrosols, or any other Aromatherapy product that an animal does not seem to like, or tries to get away from.
  • Don’t diffuse essential oils in a small space where the animal has no option to move away, if the scent overwhelms them.

Kitten and cat

Hydrosols and Clay: Two Great Ways to Use Aromatherapy for Animals!

The Aromahead team and I have had great experiences using hydrosols for animals.

Do you know what hydrosols are?

A hydrosol is produced during the process of distilling an aromatic plant.

The plant is put into a still along with water. When the still is heated, the plant releases its essential oils . . . and the water in the still becomes infused with the plant’s water-based therapeutic components.

This is the hydrosol!

The hydrosol and the essential oil are then separated, and very little essential oil is left in the hydrosol.

Hydrosols are much gentler than essential oils, far less concentrated, yet they’re still full of beautiful benefits for us . . . and for animals.

We also love using green clay, especially for skin conditions.

Always let the animal choose the hydrosol or clay it likes best, and if you’re not sure what to do, talk to your vet.

5 Aromatherapy Products to Use for Animals

Remember to let the animal smell the hydrosol, essential oil, herb, or clay before using it.

If they run away, that’s your first clue that this isn’t the right solution for them.

If they circle around, seem curious, and keep coming back to take another sniff, have patience and let them get familiar with it.

You can try . . .

  • Dry Green Clay
    For hot, weepy areas on skin.

  • Cornflower hydrosol (Centaurea cyanus) and German Chamomile hydrosol (Matricaria recutita).
    For helping to clean pets’ eyes. (Be sure to talk to your vet about this!)

  • Calendula hydrosol (Calendula officinalis), German Chamomile hydrosol (Matricaria recutita), and Helichrysum hydrosol (Helichrysum italicum).
    General scrapes, cuts, or bumped areas. (Your vet will be able to help with wounds and can give you guidance on follow-up care.) If the experience of getting the wound created anxiety for the animal, you can also try Rose hydrosol for emotional comfort.

Distiller and his dog in a lavender field

Using Aromatherapy for Dogs . . .

My Golden Retriever, Marley, often sneaks off to take a summer swim in a nearby pond!

But with her long, thick coat, she tends to dry off slowly.

I soon discovered that her skin was suffering behind her front legs, where it was generally warm and moist. Based on my training, I thought the area looked right for an application of dry, green clay.

First, I let Marley smell the clay. She loved it! She literally lifted her leg so I could apply it. She instinctively knew the green clay would help!

Within two to three days, her skin went from raw and weepy, to clear and healthy.

Other Aromatherapy products I’ve had success with for dogs are:

  • Hydrosols
  • Clays
  • Infused oils
  • Smelling essential oils

Caroline Ingraham has a book called Help Your Dog Heal Itself, which goes into much more detail about using Aromatherapy and natural solutions to help our dog friends feel better. If you don’t have the book, talk to your vet for guidance.

Cat photo by Sheri Hooley from Unsplash

Using Aromatherapy for Cats . . .

I’ve found that cats tend to respond well to herbs—not only catnip (which some cats find calming, and others get worked up by!), but sometimes things like dried rosebuds or chamomile.

My cat, Calamity Jane, started feeling fearful and timid as she got older. I wanted to help her feel more safe, comfortable, and confident.

So, I introduced her to some essential oils to smell—Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) and Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). These are “heart notes,” like Rose—rich floral essential oils known to help soothe our hearts and heal our emotions.

Not for Calamity Jane! These oils were not for her. She wanted nothing to do with them. Cats can smell the aroma’s from far away!

Cats typically avoid essential oils. Even very minute amounts tend to be too much for them. I’ve found that it’s a great, rare occasion when a cat is attracted to essential oils. For example, if a cat has been abandoned and has serious trust issues, they’ll sometimes find the scent of an essential oil comforting.

However, I take great caution introducing cats to essential oils. I just put a drop of the oil (just ONE oil, and just ONE drop!) on a tissue or cloth. I lay that in a place where the cat can come and go as they please.

So, I did not force anything with Calamity Jane. I put the essential oils away and turned to dried herbs.

I laid out a blanket and made small piles of dried rose buds, chamomile, lavender, valerian, yarrow, and marigold.

I wanted to see which herbs, if any, Calamity Jane would like best. She spent a lot of time with the chamomile flowers and lavender buds, and I watched as she calmed down and relaxed.

I decided to leave a little flower garden out for her visit whenever she felt anxious.

In Caroline Ingraham’s book, How Animals Heal Themselves, she writes that:

“Cats have a very low gluconryl transferase activity, an enzyme involved with breaking down some chemicals including alcohols, and more importantly, phenols.”

Some essential oils contain alcohols and phenols. This is one reason it’s absolutely essential to never force a cat to smell, eat, or touch an essential oil—or any Aromatherapy product. Even if you’re just diffusing essential oils, make sure the animal has the choice to leave the room if they get overwhelmed.

Remember Rule #1: Respect the animal’s instincts.

If you’re not sure what herbs or Aromatherapy products your cat seems drawn to, talk to your vet about how to help your cat heal naturally.

Woman and dog by Manuel Meza from Unsplash

More Resources to Use Aromatherapy for Animals

These are just a few of my personal experiences using Aromatherapy for animals, based in my education and research.

If you go slowly, respect the animal, let them choose what they like, and do the proper research, you can offer so much support to animals with hydrosols, essential oils, herbs, infused oils, clays, and other natural products.

I highly suggest you do more research on this for your own animals! The sources below have lots of information, case studies, and suggestions on how to help your pet safely and naturally.

You can start with . . .

Caroline Ingraham’s website and her books:

Kelly Holland Azzaro’s website.

And finally, remember to talk to a Certified Aromatherapist who works with animals and your vet if you have questions. They’re there to help.

Have fun bonding with your animal friends!


Karen Williams, Co-Educational Director of Aromahead Institute

As promised, here’s more about me!

I became an R.N. in 1983, and spent years studying western medicine, healthcare, and holistic remedies.

In 1993, I began working with essential oils and seriously studying Aromatherapy. I earned my Aromatherapy Certification from Australian College (which is now called the American College of Healthcare Sciences), and went on to study extensively with Andrea Butje, Founder of Aromahead Institute, and the renowned Aromatherapist Rhiannon Lewis in France.

I had a strong background in using essential oils and Aromatherapy for natural wellness, but I wanted to start using them for my animal friends, too.

I needed more training! I studied with Caroline Ingraham in 2014. I also hosted a workshop in Montana, inviting professionals on the subject of Aromatherapy and animals to come and participate in a hands-on, inspiring, and informative workshop. When working with animals and essential oils or herbs, education is a must!

I’m also a co-owner of Aromatics International, sourcing the purest essential oils, carriers, and other Aromatherapy ingredients from around the world. All of our essential oils are laboratory tested with GC/MS technology for purity, and we provide this information to our customers.

I’m so honored to be working with Andrea and the Aromahead Team, and to share what I’ve learned with you.

Free Webinar: How to Become a Certified Aromatherapist

Karen serves as Co-Director of Education at Aromahead Institute, where she works closely with students and helps them earn aromatherapy certification. Karen’s strong values for healthcare, education, and sustainable practices have guided her entire career, and remain the principles that shape her daily activities at Aromahead. Karen loves sharing her knowledge of essential oils and how they can enhance the beauty of ones’ journey through life and has authored numerous articles and guides on the safe and effective therapeutic uses of essential oils. In Karen’s free time, she can be found hiking amongst nature, reading, and enjoying her family.

Topics: aromatherapy for cats, aromatherapy for dogs, aromatherapy for horses, aromatherapy for animals, essential oils for cats, essential oils for pets, essential oils for dogs, essential oils for animals, essential oils for horses, aromatherapy for pets

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