Essential Oils and Herbs – Are They Safe?

There has been a lot of chatter on social media recently about essential oils and herbs and their use in veterinary medicine. There are people who use them successfully in animals and education is really important – especially for clients and lay-people that may want to try them.

The best advice is to proceed with caution and inquire with your veterinarian BEFORE you use any essential oil, herbal or natural remedy. You don’t want to accidentally cause any harm to your pet. Here are some thoughts on the topic.

• It is the active chemicals found in plants that are of concern. They are grouped as: volatile oils, resins, alkaloids, polysaccharides, phenols, glycosides and fixed oils. They each act differently in your pets system.
• As far as peer reviewed research on essential oils and herbs– there are currently more questions than answers. So when in doubt check with your veterinarian first. (Peer review means that a board of scholarly reviewers trained in the subject area scrutinize the research for quality and adherence to scientific and editorial standards before an article is accepted for publication).
• Most of the testing performed has been done on laboratory rodents. Cats and dogs are different species and may react very differently. So this information is only a rough guide and must be interpreted with caution.
• Poisoning of an animal can occur in a variety of ways – overdose of the oil or herb, incorrect use (eg. topical only product that gets licked off), contaminants (lead, arsenic, mercury, etc), additional medications in the product (NSAID’s, steroids, caffeine, etc.), misidentification of the plant or herb, buildup of the chemical with long term usage.
• Some of the substances can interfere or react with medications or supplements your pet may be taking.
• Cats and dogs also metabolize many substances differently and something that can be ‘safe’ for a dog- can kill a cat and vice versa.
• Cats tend to have a more sensitive respiratory system and are very sensitive to scents, both artificial and natural.
• In general, when it comes to toxins – anything can be toxic if the dose or amount is high enough – ex. water can be toxic if you drink too much of it. So, even if a substance is listed as non-toxic it can still cause stomach irritation resulting in decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, skin/eye/lung irritation- all of which could land you and your pet in the veterinary office.

Resources and additional reading

Proceed with Caution When it Comes to Some Oils Proceed with Caution When it Comes to Some Herbs

Written by Dr. Nichelle Peck, DVM