Like so many health trends that become popular among humans first (coconut oil, anyone?), aromatherapy is the latest craze for dogs. Walk into any pet store (or do a search online), and you’ll find an assortment of “therapeutic” dog toys and bandanas in scents like lavender and chamomile, as well as stress-relieving sprays and mists featuring ingredients like bergamot, tangerine and cedar wood.
Studies in humans have found that the scents of certain essential oils may help ease anxiety, improve sleep, and increase alertness. But when it comes to dogs, the research remains scant. So, is aromatherapy safe for your pup? Here are four things to keep in mind before dabbling in doggie aromatherapy.
1. Stick to dog-friendly products.
Did you know your dog’s sense of smell is up to 10,000 times stronger than your own? Because of this, you should never use undiluted essential oils on your pup, says Judy Morgan, DVM, a veterinarian certified in acupuncture and food therapy for dogs. It’s best to stick to dog-friendly products from reputable sources, which will already be formulated to accommodate your pup’s olfactory prowess. If you can’t find the scent you’re looking for, you can dilute essential oils on your own but use caution since they can be dangerous if not diluted properly. The exact ratio for dilution will depend on the oil, but a good starting point is 1 drop of essential oil to 20 drops of a carrier oil like coconut or olive oil, says Morgan.
2. Lavender has the most science behind it.
In a 2006 study of 32 dogs prone to “travel-induced excitement,” pups took car rides both with and without the scent of lavender in the air. During the lavender-filled rides, the dogs were more relaxed—both whining less and sitting more. In addition, lavender, along with chamomile, was shown to have a similar soothing effect in a 2005 study of 55 shelter dogs.
3. A few other scents may be effective, too.
Ginger, coconut, vanilla and valerian may also have stress-relieving benefits. In a just-published study of 15 shelter dogs, researchers found that all four scents significantly reduced the amount of barking and movement, while coconut and ginger also resulted in better sleep.
4. There’s a long list of essential oils to avoid.
The scent of rosemary may perk you up, while the scent of juniper could help you wind down. But in dogs? These essential oils (along with others) could be hazardous. “Dogs may be sensitive to anise, clove, garlic, horseradish, juniper, rosemary, thyme, wintergreen and yarrow,” says Morgan. She warns that they could lead to “skin reactions, allergies, or other ailments such as tremors, drooling, or difficulty breathing.” Before you use any essential oil on your pup—or even around them—be sure to check with your vet first.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.