Essential Oil Safety in Dogs


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Lacey Kelly BVSc (Hons)

Essential Oils have gained considerable popularity in recent years but are they safe to use in your home if you have dogs?

Are essential oils safe?

Essential oils are all the rage right now and their safety for use in animals has become a hot topic. Many health-conscious individuals are switching out chemical laden cleaners and fragranced candles for these safer alternatives. Some even turn to them for medical ailments and as a form of general health support. With recent years bringing health and wellbeing to the forefront of our minds it is no wonder then that many pet parents are wondering if essential oils could also benefit the health of their furry friends. Unfortunately, without governing bodies or set guidelines for use pet owners often find themselves at a loss as to whether or not it is safe to use essential oils for their pets.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are the highly concentrated organic components of plants that gives them their distinctive fragrance and taste. These components are sourced from basically all parts of the plant; the leaves, roots, seeds, stems etc. There are countless varieties, all with their own unique properties. Despite their natural source it is important to remember that natural does not always mean safe, and a lot of essential oils can cause great illness to your pet.

Risks of using essential oils


Although some essential oils are safe to use around dogs there are many that can cause serious illness, whether they are applied to the skin, used in diffusers, or licked up after a spill. Tea Tree Oil, also called Melaleuca oil, is an essential oil produced by the Australian Tea Tree Plant. It is known for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties and is therefore commonly seen being used by well meaning pet parents hoping to ease their dog's skin issues. Although generally considered non-toxic in very low concentrations, as little as 7 drops of concentrated tea tree oil has resulted in severe poisoning and death in both cats and dogs. There are a number of other seemingly innocuous essential oils that have similar disastrous outcomes for our pets.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Another point of concern when using essential oils is the risk of aspiration and aspiration pneumonia. Due to the viscosity of oils, it is possible for dogs to breath them into their lungs both when ingesting the oils and when vomiting after they have caused irritation to their gastrointestinal tract.

No Governing Bodies

There are also no governing bodies or strict guidelines for the essential oil market so although something is labelled as 100% pure essential oil you may in fact be using dangerous 'filler' chemicals and putting your dog and family at risk.


Irritation and discomfort are a major factor that gets discounted as the signs aren't as obvious as say liver failure or vomiting but it is very important to remember for your pooch's sake. A dog's sense of smell is estimated to be 1000 to 10,000 times greater than humans! So, what may seem like a small amount of a pleasant aroma for you could be very irritating or distressing for your dog. For this reason, it is best to dilute the amount of Essential Oil (EO) used around your dog, avoid placing any on your dog's bedding or toys, and always have an escape route for your dog to get away from the essential oil, especially if diffusing.

So can I use them in my house or not?

Don't panic! There is no need to go throwing all those little glass bottles away. So long as you stick to premium quality oils and follow some safety rules there's no reason why you can't continue to use some essential oils in your home.

Rules to follow:

  • Only use diffusers in well ventilated areas and ensure your dog has the ability to leave the area if it becomes too overwhelming for them.
  • Limit diffusing to no more than 1hour at a time. An intermittent setting is great too.
  • Ensure essential oils are kept well out of reach of your furry friends and are returned there immediately after use.
  • Only ever use essential oils that are pure, therapeutic grade.
  • Never apply concentrated EOs to your pet.
Essential oils to avoid:
  • • Camphor
  • • Cinnamon
  • • Citrus
  • • Clove
  • • Eucalyptus
  • • Pennyroyal
  • • Peppermint
  • • Pine
  • • Sweet Birch
  • • Tea Tree (melaleuca)
  • • Wintergreen
  • • Ylang Ylang

I would recommend checking out Pet Poison Helpline for further information on essential oils that aren't safe for your pet: Essential Oils and Dogs.

The use of essential oils for health conditions

Some preliminary research has indicated that essential oils may pose some benefit for the health of dogs. However scientific support of their positive impact on health is limited and widely contradictory. There is also yet to be any large body of evidence to support the use of essential oils for medical conditions. If you are interested in using essential oils for your dog's ailments it would be best to talk to a qualified veterinarian who has experience using EO, about potentially using them alongside traditional medicine.

Essential Oil Poisoning

Despite being a natural substance there are unfortunately a large number of essential oil poisonings reported in pets each year. The degree of essential oil poisoning varies with a number of factors such as the specific essential oil your pet is exposed to, the concentration of that oil, and the route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, topical application etc). Symptoms of essential oil poisoning can range from drooling and gastrointestinal signs like vomiting, through to seizures, comas and organ failure.

Common Symptoms of Essential Oil Poisoning:

  • Watery eyes or nose
  • Redness around the lips, gums or where an essential oil has been applied
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing, panting without exertion
  • Coughing/wheezing
  • Lethargy/weakness
  • Difficulty walking/tremors

If you suspect your dog is suffering from essential oil toxicity:

  • Take them to somewhere with fresh air, away from the essential oil
  • Wash off any oil that may be on their fur
  • Contact your regular vet or emergency clinic immediately
  • Bring the essential oil product with you to the vet clinic (in a sealed bag)

If you suspect your pet may have been exposed to an essential oil, contact Australian Animal Poisons (1300 TOX PET) or your veterinarian immediately.

Further reading

Pet First Aid Tips

Toxic Plants

Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

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