Aromatherapy - The Good
The value of essential oils in modifying behaviour has been documented in people, especially in dementia and anxiety related disorders. A study by Dr. Deborah Wells in Ireland was conducted to evaluate the effect of Lavender oil on dogs, in particular whether it could have a calming effect on dogs and reduce excitement.
Many dogs become excited when traveling in a car and can be distracting and potentially dangerous. These dogs can show signs such as excessive barking, hyperventilation, and hyperactivity. The dogs selected for the study had all shown previous excitement when traveling, she used a control group (not exposed to the essential oil) and the treatment group.
Lavender has been shown to have a calming effect and reduce anxiety in people. The oil was placed on towels in the car to produce the odor.
The study showed that dogs exposed to the lavender spent more time resting and sitting and less time moving and barking in the car. It is unclear how the odor affects the dogs but it does appear to have an effect. It is also possible that lavender had some effect on people in the car and this may have also affected the dog’s behaviour. The bottom line is that lavender may be beneficial for dogs that have excitement in the car.
Aromatherapy – The Bad
Essential oils are potentially healing but can also be potentially lethal. There are reported toxicities in cats and dogs to the application of essential oils usually to due to excessive doses. However in the hands of a professional practitioner they may be useful.
Skin burns, anorexia and elevated liver enzymes have also been reported in people, cats and dogs from the use of essential oils. Cats are particularly vulnerable to poisonings since cats don't detoxify (glucuronidate) xenobiotics (foreign chemicals) such as the cyclic terpenes in tea tree oil or phenols in penny royal for example. It may be safe in humans but it can very well be poisonous to cats especially as they groom anything off their skin and even in human aromatherapy and essential oil medicine, oral use is not recommended unless under the care of a registered practitioner because of the risk.
Carrier oils such as almond, corn, canola, soy, peanut or any of the other common fixed oils are not considered toxic to cats.
If in doubt ask your qualified practitioner for advice
Dr Barbara Fougere
BSc BVMS (Hons) GDBus MOD&T CVA (IVAS), CVHM, CVCP, ACNEM
Barbara started her studies in complementary medicine at university in 1986. Since then she has studied human and veterinary alternative and complementary medicine and is certified in veterinary herbal medicine, veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic and has studied Traditional Chinese Medicine, veterinary and human homeopathy as well as Reiki and several other therapies.
She is currently the president of the Australian Veterinary Acupuncture Association and President for the International Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association. She is the author of Healthy Dogs, A Handbook of Natural Therapies. She has lectured in Australia, New Zealand, USA, India and Sri Lanka and is currently involved in teaching veterinary herbal medicine.