The essentials of essential oils

Externship Project

I can’t believe how many interesting cases I’m being exposed to every day during my externship and! I’m learning a lot every day, and each case and patient I see allows me to learn more about what condition or symptoms they presented to the clinic with. One case in particular that I wanted to explore and learn more about was a potential essential oil ingestion toxicity in a four-month-old (and also very cute!) puppy.

Due to the increasing popularity of essential oils and their widespread use, essential oil toxicity and/or ingestion is becoming more common in companion animals. The type of oil, dose, and route of exposure all determine what effect the oil has on the animal, so these are important things to gather when taking a patient history on the event. Essential oils are used in a variety of things in households, including diffusers and cosmetics. Some forms are highly concentrated, which can be even more toxic to animals when compared to the diluted forms. The most common essential oil toxicities in dogs that have been seen are tea tree oil, pennyroyal, oil of wintergreen, and pine oils. I’ll include a list of other essential oils that are toxic to dogs below. These oils can either be absorbed through the skin from topical application or from oral ingestion, which can both result in toxicity. With toxicity, we can see signs of depression, uncoordinated gait, vomiting, and skin irritation. The symptoms are specific to the type of oil that is causing toxicity and can affect many different body systems -  gastrointestinal, liver, neurologic, respiratory, skin, and so on. So it’s important if your pet is acting strange in any way and may have been exposed to get help right away.

Photo of essential oil with herbsThe best way to limit essential oil toxicity is to prevent it in the first place! When not in use, make sure that your essential oils are properly stored so that your pets can’t get to them. When you are using them around the house, keep an eye on your furry friend so that they’re not being exposed to them via ingestion or contact. Before using any oils on your pet, it’s also a good idea to discuss this with your veterinarian so that you are aware of any potential toxicities that can occur with their use.

Below is a list of essential oils that are toxic to dogs. It’s not a complete list, but includes the most commonly encountered ones:

  • Tea tree/melaleuca oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Oil of wintergreen
  • Pine oil
  • Anise oil
  • Yarrow oil
  • Juniper oil
  • Clove oil
  • Thyme oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Garlic oil
  • Rosemary oil

(Photo: IStock credit: :fotohunter)