What to Know About the Risks of Essential Oils for Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 25, 2022
6 min read

While some essential oils may have pest repellent properties, it still might not be the best idea to use them on your dog. 

This is because they can cause health problems when you apply the essential oil on your dog topically or when they ingest or inhale the essential oil. Your dog may accidentally lick the oil from its fur. If this happens it may start drooling, gagging, or foaming at the mouth. 

Some essential oils may even cause lethargy, skin reactions, and liver issues.

Essential oils are plant compounds that give plants their natural scent. They are extracted by distillation. 

These aromatic compounds can be used in households for their good smell and multiple health benefits. Essential oils are also commonly used as mosquito repellents, sleep and mood boosters, and a treatment for nausea

Some essential oils are also efficient in repelling pests from pets and managing separation anxiety.

Essential oils are absorbed quickly via mucous membranes and the skin. This is mostly because they are hydrophobic. After getting past the skin or mucous membrane, they quickly go to the liver for metabolization and are then excreted. 

Some essential oils are not metabolized by the liver and will be excreted unchanged.

Essential oils come from plants and are quite potent substances. Most of them are beneficial when used by humans; however, just because they are good for you doesn't mean they are good for your dog. 

Some essential oils are considered healthy for dogs by vets and are incorporated into medical use. Due to their perceived benefits, many pet owners consider using them to manage conditions like anxiety, skin issues, and tick and flea control.

Due to their high potency, though, even a few drops of essential oil have a very huge impact when applied. Some may cause irritation when used on the skin. If not used properly, you may end up getting your dog into more problems. 

Try not to use essential oils if you don’t have professional guidance. The chemicals in these oils are taken up quickly by the dog’s body and go straight to the liver for metabolization. This means that essential oils could be an issue for younger dogs, elderly dogs, and dogs with liver problems.

If your dog is exposed to certain essential oils, they may experience gastrointestinal issues, liver issues, and worse, necessitating urgent attention from a vet.

Using some essential oils may harm your dog. Examples of these oils include:

  • Clove
  • Pine
  • Anise
  • Thyme
  • Tea tree (melaleuca)
  • Garlic
  • Citrus (d-limonene)
  • Juniper
  • Yarrow
  • Cinnamon
  • Peppermint
  • Wintergreen
  • Sweet birch
  • Pennyroyal
  • Ylang ylang

Using essential oils in your home may affect your dog more since they have a more powerful sense of smell. Some of them may help to calm your dog, but make sure to use essential oils with care, since they can also cause serious behavioral changes, respiratory issues, and central nervous system problems in your dog. Essential oils can be harmful whether inhaled, consumed orally, or absorbed through the skin.

If your dog gets essential oil poisoning, they may show symptoms like:

  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Wobbliness
  • Behavior changes

Some essential oils like turmeric and orange oil are effective in repelling ticks. However, one study revealed that turmeric oil is more efficient than orange oil.

Other essential oils that are effective against ticks include:

  • Lemongrass
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Cedarwood

Knowing which essential oils are safe for your dog can be tricky. Because of this, the best way to use essential oils on your dog safely is by talking to your vet about it first before application. 

Your vet is better informed on which essential oil might be harmful to your dog. They will tell you the best essential oils to use, the appropriate dosages, and how to dilute the oils for your dog.

If you are planning to or are already using a certain product to control ticks or fleas, consider the following tips to keep your pet safe:

  • Always make sure that you read any instructions on labels. This may help you determine if what you are about to use is age- and weight-appropriate for your pet. Sometimes, the prescribed application might be specific to a certain size of the dog. What might be good for a grown dog may be harmful to a puppy.
  • After using any method to try and control ticks or fleas on your dog, watch them carefully to see if they experience any reactions to the application. Watch out for signs of reactions like tremors, skin irritation, excessive salivation, or more. If you notice any worrying symptoms, call your vet to manage the situation as fast as possible.
  • Before using your essential oil, make sure it's not meant for another pet type. For example, take care not to use an essential oil meant for cats on your dog. What works for cats might be poisonous to your dog. If you have both a cat and a dog, try to use a product that will be safe for both. Some cats may tend to groom or lick dogs that live with them, and this might be dangerous if you used a chemical that is toxic to cats on the dog.
  • When you are trying to control ticks or fleas in your dog, take care not to use products that should be used on humans only. Some products used by humans may contain components that may harm your pet.
  • If you are using a certain product but seeing no results, talk to your vet before switching to another one.

Another tip that does not include using products for controlling pests is clearing the yard. Maintaining it may help keep away ticks and fleas. Mow your grass regularly, dispose of dead leaves from the yard, and keep any pet brushes clean. Doing this will make the environment unconducive for ticks and fleas to thrive.

Also, keep your essential oils away from the reach of your dogs. If they nevertheless reach them and ingest the oils, call your vet and poison control as fast as possible.

Apart from essential oils, there are other treatment options you can use that are regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

These treatment products are divided into two categories — oral and topical. The oral products include medications that may contain pesticides. They work by poisoning the pest after it bites the dog. Topical products are applied to the skin and fur of the pet. They include sprays, dust, shampoos, and collars. They work by preventing the pest from biting the pet and may contain chemicals like permethrin. 

The oral treatment medications are regulated by the FDA, while the topical products are regulated by the EPA.

Other products like apple cider vinegar have been suggested to have an effect when used against ticks. Mixing this type of vinegar into dog food, drinking water, or spraying it onto the fur is said to potentially work in repelling ticks. However, this fact has not yet been proven to work by vets.

Using even the most effective product may not get rid of all pests on your dog. Sometimes, you may have to remove some ticks yourself. Always make sure to check your dog regularly. Check their fur and skin. Make sure to check areas where ticks may hide, including under the legs (back and front), between the toes, inside the ears, and under the tail.