What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy using essential oils is an ancient form of healing used by the Chinese, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Indians for over 6,000 years.  Essential oils were an integral part of perfumes, cosmetics, and medications. While aromatherapy has long been a common practice for humans, in recent years it has become a popular alternative treatment for dogs. 

Essential oils are created from concentrated liquids that have been extracted from a wide variety of plants, flowers, shrubs, trees, herbs and their roots, seeds, leaves, and stems via distillation. Aromatherapy can be administered by the veterinarian and, after a small amount of education, can be used on an as-needed basis by the pet owner as a non-invasive form of treatment for many conditions. 

Book First Walk Free!

Aromatherapy Procedure in Dogs

First and foremost, it is important to understand the essential oils used in aromatherapy for dogs are very strong. A dog's sense of smell is far better than that of humans and is more sensitive to the effects of aromatherapy. A veterinarian who has experience in the use of this form of treatment should always be consulted before using essential oils in this manner. 

The aromas from essential oils are very powerful by nature and in most instances, they will need to be diluted before use. An escape route should always be provided for the dog so that they can leave in the event this form of therapy causes them pain or other issues. The most common form of administration is through the use of a diffuser. 

While there is no specific length of time for this form of therapy, two treatment periods of approximately 30 minutes each are typical. Mix the oil with a carrier or base oil as per the veterinarian's instructions. Each oil may require a different ratio of water to oil. The mix ratio should be approximately 10 drops of the essential oil to 1/2 ounce of the carrier. 

It is, however, recommended that treatment using essential oils be limited to two weeks followed by a rest period. If treatment of a longer period of time is required, it should be left to a trained professional. 

The diluted oil is placed in a diffuser that releases the aromatic vapors using heat to cause the mixture to evaporate and disperse in the room. Again, while it is important for the dog being treated to be in the same room as the diffuser, an egress should be provided for their safety. 

Efficacy of Aromatherapy in Dogs

Aromatherapy has been found to be a highly effective treatment for humans for over 6,000 years. In the past few decades, the use of essential oils has grown in popularity with veterinarians for use in successfully treating a number of conditions in dogs. Veterinarians use aromatherapy to treat anxiety (including separation anxiety) and a range of behavioral issues. 

Traditionally, veterinarians have treated these conditions using the anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs used to treat humans. These include:

  • Alprazolam
  • Amitriptyline
  • Buspirone
  • Clomipramine
  • Dexmedetomidine
  • Diazepam
  • Fluoxetine
  • Lorazepam
  • Paroxetine
  • Sertraline

Each of these medications has a long list of side-effects including worsening the condition for which they are being prescribed. Given this possibility, the use of holistic treatments continues to gain in popularity among veterinarians and pet owners. 

Results of aromatherapy treatments for dogs have proven to be very successful but be aware that overuse can cause allergic reactions. Any time the dog appears to be having a reaction to the use of essential oil vapor therapy, it should be stopped immediately and a veterinarian consulted. 

Aromatherapy Recovery in Dogs

While aromatherapy is an all-natural or holistic form of treatment, it does involve the inhalation of essential oil vapors.  Due to the nature of this form of treatment, there is no specific "recovery" or recovery period. The most common side effect is sleepiness or calm behavior that can last for several hours at a time. If there is any change in the dog's normal behavior or any signs of an allergic reaction to the treatment it should be stopped immediately and a holistic veterinarian with experience in aromatherapy should be consulted. 

Cost of Aromatherapy in Dogs

Essential oils used for aromatherapy for dogs can be expensive due to the need to buy premium quality oils. The diffuser itself can often be purchased for under $100, but the oils can range in price from $200 to $800 or more depending on the specific essential oils needed. The cost can also vary depending on the severity of the dog's condition as well as the length and frequency of treatment. In most instances, the cost should be towards the lower end of the spectrum since only a few drops are needed for each treatment. 

Dog Aromatherapy Considerations

It is important to understand that dogs are far more sensitive to the odors released by essential oils. They must be diluted using a carrier oil to prevent the risk of severe inhalation poisoning or even possible death.

The risks with inhalation are far less than those associated with direct topical application. However, it is possible to determine whether a dog is allergic to an essential oil by applying a small drop directly to their skin. If a reaction is noted, the oil can be washed off and should not be used without consulting a veterinarian trained in the use of essential oils. 

Aromatherapy Prevention in Dogs

Aromatherapy is a mildly invasive treatment used primarily for anxiety, behavioral issues, and pain relief. There are several options to reduce or eliminate the need for this type of treatment. Among these are plenty of exercise and play. Doing so can help reduce energy levels and at the same time exercise muscle groups and joints, which will reduce the risk or arthritis and numerous other causes of pain. A good healthy diet can also help by providing much-needed nutrition. Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, regular checkups by a veterinarian can help reduce risks and catch medical conditions before they become too far advanced.