Inside Your Dog's Olfactory Brain: 4 methods to support good things happening with essential oils
with Alicia Boemi of HolisticPetWellness, Wellness Advocate

Week 3

Methods of Use

  • Inhalation
  • Diffusion
  • Topical
  • Hydrosol Use

Never Use | Unless you’re working directly alongside a Certified Aromatherapist do not put essential oils (neat or diluted) in a dog’s ear canal, eyes, nose, on the paw pads, inside the mouth, in the genital areas, or in their food or water. Using essential oils internally can be very dangerous (more on this at a later lesson). 

Essential Oils should also be avoided in highly sensitive dogs or humans such as the frail and elderly, newborns, those who are pregnant and lactating, and those prone to allergic reactions. Hydrosols on the other hand can be used sparingly with those who are frail and elderly, sensitive, newborns, and those who are pregnant as long as you are avoiding hydrosols that are not safe for certain conditions or dogs in general. For example, tea tree essential oil is on the unsafe use list for dogs - the same goes for its hydrosol version, it is still unsafe to use. Rosemary essential oil  is unsafe for use in epileptics and those prone to seizures, the same applies to Rosemary hydrosol. 

How do dogs process essential oils in their brain for therapeutic use?

When scent molecules from essential oils are inhaled through the dog's nose, they travel towards the upper region of the nasal cavity where the scent molecules are captured by very tiny hairs called cilia. Cilia hairs are attached to olfactory receptor cells and located within the olfactory mucosa.

These receptor cells take in and gather information from an essential oil molecule where it converts to a signal that is then sent to the mitral cell which is located in one of two olfactory bulbs. These bulbs are located in the front of the brain and their job is to solely determine the smell sense. Once there, the mitral cells signal different areas of the limbic system within the dog's brain that then triggers an emotion such as calm or excitement. It can also trigger memories and motivations for the dog. This is when we see a dog react positively or negatively to an essential oil and we are then able to determine how to use the essential oil for therapeutic use with dogs.

Methods of Use

Inhalation | Inhalation is the quickest and easiest way for a dog or human to gain immediate benefits of essential oils. Inhalation affects a dog immediately and has an impact on their emotions, senses, and even physical state. Place 1-2 drops of a neat or diluted essential oil on a tissue or cloth material and inhale as needed. You can also do this in your hands but make sure to use a carrier oil to dilute the neat oil if you are putting the oil on your hands. It is best to hold the tissue or your hands about 4-5 inches away from the animal's nose. Do not overwhelm them with the scent - remember dogs in particular have more sensory receptors than we do so 1 drop of essential oil is very powerful to them. You also want to do this in an open air room and allow the dog to be able to move away if he or she does not like the scent, or if the dog has had enough of the scent. You can leave the tissue or cloth material hanging somewhere in the room for a few hours but make sure the dog can leave the room. Also, be sure the tissue or cloth material is not able to be chewed by the dog. 

I feel that unless an animal is particularly fond of an oil it is best to avoid forcing the dog/horse to wear that oil on their collar, harness or a bandana. The animal should be allowed to get used to any essential oil before it is ‘forced’ on them. If you have questions about when it is appropriate to use an oil on a dog or horse in this situation such as travel or training, please let me know. This is something that should be done carefully and over time so the animal does not have any reaction to the oil or become over-sensitized or desensitized to the oil. 

Diffuser | Diffusing is a great way for an animal and human to gain some benefits of essential oils, use 1-2 drops of a blend in the diffuser at a time. You never need more than that. For single use oils use 1-2 drops as well. If looking to combine single use oils proceed with caution as you do not want to overwhelm the animal's senses. Best to keep to 1-3 drops max of single oils /combined single oils at a time. 

  • Diffuse in a well ventilated area, do not use in small and confined spaces like right next to a crate where a dog has no choice in leaving the area unless you have worked with the oil and animal leading up to this situation
  • Constant diffusion of hours at a time is unnecessary and can lead to over-sensitization and desensitization. It is best to work in 10-20 minute intervals
  • Make sure diffusers are clean and using clean water each time you use to avoid any mold or buildup being diffused into the air you and your animal are breathing

Topically | Massage and mist sprays are both beneficial to use aromatherapy topically with dogs. 

  • Massage - Oil must be diluted. Use 1-2 drops of a blend or single oil in 1tsp-1tbsp of carrier oil (depending on size and sensitivity of your dog) and rub together in your hands. Let the animal sniff your hands and make sure they are able to leave the room if they want. Using broad massage strokes with your hands lightly and gently massage into your dog’s fur avoid sensitive areas of the face and paws. 
  • Mist sprays - Can be made with water and essential oils but if made with water they should be stored in the refrigerator and have a short shelf life of 1-2 weeks. 4oz of a mist spray bottle filled with distilled water and 10-20 drops of essential oils (less if a blend or a sensitive animal). Shake well before each use and always avoid contact with eyes, nose, ear canal, paws and genital areas. You can use a mist spray on a pet's bedding if they enjoy the essential oil and it is something that has been worked up to overtime and is not forced. 

Hydrosol Use | Hydrosols are very safe for use with our dogs and have many properties. While you would not diffuse a hydrosol, you can use them undiluted in the following ways: 

  • Bedding spray
  • Cleaning a wound
  • Mixed with witch hazel as an ear cleanser
  • Insect repellent
  • Calming spray
  • Compresses
  • Internal use - hydrosols are the only form of an essential oil I would possibly recommend using internally with an animal but I personally do not use this method with my dogs or clients. All the methods of use listed above are powerful enough on their own and should be exhausted first. Internal use should be done very sparingly and under the direction of a Certified Aromatherapist. Because hydrosols are water-soluble they could be cautiously added to a pet’s drinking water unlike essential oils which do not disperse and thus essential oils in drinking water are very dangerous as a result. Remember the 60 rose petals used in one drop of oil? That one drop is too potent for an animal to ingest. Another example, One drop of peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 26 cups of peppermint tea. You’d never give your dog that much tea, ever. NEVER force a dog to drink hydrosol. Do not use a syringe and force it on them - this is NOT ok or safe. Also, just because a hydrosol is much safer than an essential oil and less potent does not mean the chemical compounds do not exist - they are still there. This is why using them internally should be a very last resort and never done without a Certified Aromatherapist overseeing your dog and their progress. 

Hydrosols do not have as long of a shelf life as essential oils and should be stored in the refrigerator. They can be combined with other hydrosols to create specific blends for skin healing, wound care, relaxation, bedding sprays and more. Hydrosols do not need to be diluted. 

Alicia Boemi of HolisticPetWellness

Wellness Advocate
Dogly loves Alicia because she gives dog parents tools to be proactive and feel reassured in their dog's health journey.

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Canine Nutrition & Massage Therapy - Canine & Equine Aromatherapy - Canine Herbalism