Quite possibly, I have answered this question over a thousand times! No matter how many times I answer it, tomorrow it will be presented yet again! It is time to document my "long answer" in a newsletter!
"Which oils are safe to use around (insert my cat, dog, bird, etc...) and which oils are not?"
The awful truth? You may not know until you use them! I know, that is not the answer you would like to get. You want a cut and dried, "use this oil, but not this oil" sort of scenario. But, it is just not accurate. When the question is posted in our Facebook Group - animalEO - many well intending people will respond:
So many responses, and rarely does anyone ask which oils the people are using! That is my first question - hands down. If someone wants to know if an oil can be used in a household with cats - the most important question I can ask, is "Which oil you are using, and where did you get it?" To me, this question quickly helps me determine if they are using a higher quality oil (hopefully) or if they have bought a really cheap essential oil from a grocery store. The next question should be "How are you using the oil?"
- "I have heard Melaleuca or tea tree oil is toxic to cats"
- "I have also heard to be cautious with Purification"
- "Eucalyptus should be kept away as well"
While I have not found it to hold true 100% of the time, some companies will strive to carry higher quality oils than others. And some companies are about obtaining cheap enough supplies to guarantee profit margins, instead of which oils are the "best on the market." Many times brand or even the country of origin of the oil, can give me a clue as to the quality level of the essential oil.
When considering the grades of essential oils, it is important to recognize that many of them are created for the "scent and flavor" industry; whether flavoring agents in foods, fragrances in toilet bowl cleaners and the like, or ingredients in perfumery. Would you spray your cat with perfume, and suspect it is safe? Most of us would agree, that is likely not a very safe or healthy thing to do. But, using some of the essential oils on the market, may be very similar to spraying your animal with a perfume.
That can be why an oil like Eucalyptus can carry many cautionary statements with it. It is an oil that is very likely to be synthetically created for the floral industry. The scent of potpourri or a dried flower arrangement is certainly NOT created by high quality essential oils, and the essential oils used for this purpose often have to be extended or modified, so that the scent lingers and is exaggerated to please humans. This would be the same with candles and other fragrance items, like air fresheners. Real high quality essential oils, may not retain a high fragrance load for a very long period of time.
It is also important to recognize, that even high quality suppliers of essential oils, often carry multiple grades of essential oils with multiple purposes in mind. Take for example this list of offerings of "Lavender" alone. There are 11 varieties to choose from. Varying from various Lavandin species, Lavandula officinalis (angustifolia), to Spike Lavender. Is this a bad supplier? Not necessarily. Their job is to import and supply many types of essential oil products and sell them, for many parts of the industry. If you are a "buyer" for a company needing Lavender oil to sell in the grocery store...do you necessarily know which one to select, or which essential oil would be best to use around animals? Chances are...no. You will make a selection based on costs and aesthetics - because that is your job and your purpose. Your market may want an oil that "smells nice like lavender", more so than they want something safe to use around their cat or bird. So a synthetic or altered Lavender is likely to sell more and be more appreciated by the general public. Real high grade Lavender, is not all that attractive smelling to the vast majority of people!
My job is to be a veterinarian, and promoter of things that are healthy and helpful to animals. My goal in life is not to sell essential oils as my only business or to have them in every animal home in the world, but to help animals and their people to learn and experience things that I have found helpful in my career.
It just so happened, that life guided me (or sometimes I think pushed strongly!) toward supplying safe essential oils for use with animals. Trust me, I declined this chapter of my life for several years! I knew that creating and supplying pre-made essential oil blends and products for animals would be a huge time commitment, and although I always had many, many requests to purchase the "recipes" I taught about, it had not been the right time to venture into that endeavor. 2014 ended up being that right time - and I am so thrilled, words cannot even express it!
It is not that I wouldn't love to be able to tell you - "order from here, or see a Gas Chromatograph that 'says this' and that will be a safe oil for your animals." I've tried to define those guidelines for several years, but they just aren't accurate.
And unfortunately "Certified", "Therapeutic", or "this or that grade" oils are just hype and a label. Even mine! Yep, that's right. I am honest and forthcoming on what "Veterinary Grade" oils are. It is a description I made up, to let you know that "I" deem the oils to be what I consider high enough quality to use in my veterinary hospital and with veterinary patients. Period. No real magic. Just me. It does not matter to me which Dr. So-and-So or Mr. PhD Degree said an oil is of high quality - unless I know and trust them 100%. A certification or "stamp of approval" is only as good as the person who issues it. And you have to decide for yourself if you want to trust that person or not.
For me, my name, reputation, as well as the well being of my own animals and veterinary patients - is on the line if I recommend an oil that is not "good for animals." If you trust me to select what is in the best interest of an animal - then you would feel comfortable using the oils I select. I personally do not feel comfortable with others determining what quality animals need to have, when they do not have an animal background or extensive experience with oils and animals. Anyone approaching the animal market with sales in mind, more than with helping animals, is usually destined for a poor outcome. And, that is what many essential oil companies are doing now. Jumping on the band wagon to supply essential oils to the "animal lovers" in the world. Expanding their sales market, without the knowledge needed to go behind it.
I don't want people to become afraid of using essential oils - but educated enough to make proper decisions about their use. If you have not smelled or experienced multiple sources of essential oils, it is unlikely that you will have a varied enough reference to evaluate quality levels. Just like eating out at a restaurant, it might be hard to tell how good a restaurant is if you have only ever visited one!
If I would have to instruct a veterinarian (or anyone) on how to start the evaluation process - I would have this advice.
- Evaluate A LOT of oils! Develop a reference base of which oils smell "perfumey" to you, or maybe give you a slight headache. Do you get an odd taste in your mouth from smelling the oil? Do your nostrils dilate or feel differently after smelling? (Smell with your right nostril, and left nostril - they do different things.) All of these characteristics will fine tune your selection process.
- Select companies that treat their oils with respect - tamper evident seals, good labels, etc...
- Ask questions and see what responses you get back. You'll often be able to tell the educated from the "marketers."
- USE the oils for yourself first, then your on own animals - before offering to others.
- MONITOR, MONITOR, MONITOR.
The next question of importance, is how the oil is going to be used, and with which species. Diffusion can mean so many different things; some people think a candle "burner" is diffusion, some have an "air-style" diffuser, and others may have a water-based diffuser. It is of the utmost importance for me to ask more questions, and draw out the important answers to be able to determine if an oil you plan to use, might be being used in a safe way. So this factor should always play into whether an oils is "safe" or not.
The most high quality essential oil, even an animalEO blend or single, could be used incorrectly and become "harmful" to an animal. It is all within user skill or "user error." The "how" of using essential oils can create a beneficial situation or a harmful situation. And, the kicker is, there is always individual variations.
I create our products based on what the majority of animals respond well to. This means the concentrations and methods of application that are recommended - are usually great for about 95% of the animals using them. This in turn, does not mean you may not have a "5 percenter"! If you have that "gut feeling" that your animal has always just been more delicate or sensitive to EVERYTHING in this world - you likely should start your essential oil experiences with an even lighter touch than what I recommend for the product.
It needs to be addressed if there are oils to completely avoid or not. Although I would say I do not "freak out" if someone uses a high quality Melaleuca (Tea Tree) oil around their cat, I also feel that it is largely unnecessary. It is also true that not many cats "enjoy" the oil of Tea Tree - so it is not top on my list for what I would pick for a cat. There are so many other oils, without any sort of toxicity concern, and with wide safety profiles - that I honestly rarely need to select this oil for use, and can easily pick something different.
I believe Melaleuca got its bad rap, from what I would call "popularity quality decline." Years back, it became the "it" oil. It was in everything; laundry soap, toothpaste, dog shampoo...and an entire company was named after it. What happens when an essential oil becomes popular? Demand goes up, supply goes down...and everyone wants to claim a piece of the "sales pie." People who have no business buying, selling, or making products with essential oils in them - start to do it. Then, we are certain to see larger and larger sales of poor quality oils, and larger and larger amounts of issues caused when poor quality oils are strewn into the general public. With over 60% of homes being shared with animals - that can be a huge potential for problems.
When animals have seizure conditions, are pregnant, or are on medications - I also get questions as to which oils can or can't be used. And again, I would have to say it will all depend on the oil you select, the quality of that oil, and how you plan to use it. We have certainly documented almost every "contraindicated" essential oil to have been safely used with cats, birds, epileptics, animals on all sorts of medications, pregnant females, and with all sorts of situations you might use caution with. The alternate is also true, that I have seen oils which are highly indicated for use WITH seizure disorders, actually seem to bring them on. Because we may often not have a true understanding of a condition or a 100% accurate diagnosis - even when working with a veterinarian - it is important to recognize that yes, ANYTHING could bring out an undesirable response for an individual animal. This scenario might be easiest to understand if you consider diet. Some food items may be really good for one animal or person, but cause anaphylactic shock in another! It is not that the food is bad, but that person is just not a match for it. We need to use caution when we create a "blanket statement" that a certain essential oil is "all bad" with nothing good to offer.
The real and best advice? Use what has been demonstrated to be safe, and use it in ways that are logical and that have been used successfully with a large number of the species you wish to use it on.
The products from animalEO will automatically be formulated with all of these concerns in mind. I would never select to add an oil to a blend created for cats, that I did not feel comfortable with a cat using! I also USE every single oil and product from animalEO in my animal rich home, every single day, and in every single way. That means we diffuse Open-Air right next to my bird, gerbils, rats, and fish tanks; sometimes 24 hours a day, and at varying concentrations and with various methods. It means my cats get a KittyBoost - sometimes three or more times a day, and that newborn kittens are exposed to oils in all of the ways you may need to use them "in the real world." Not only that, but we routinely run blood work and urinalysis tests to monitor for any changes due to long term oil use and exposure.
I can honestly say that I have been appalled at some of the recommendations for essential oil use with animals, by people with absolutely no experience what-so-ever. Somewhere along the way, it became more important to collect a "sale" than it was to look out for the best interest of an animal. Consider when getting advice about what to use for your animal - if that person actually has to be held accountable for their recommendation. If you might never speak to that person again, or they are just a contact on Facebook that you have no reference about - be wary. They don't have to answer to you if your animal becomes sick from their recommendation. It may seem attractive to take their advice, and some people are highly convincing about what hope their "protocol" may offer. But in the end, they could just be some crazy person typing away on a keyboard, dressed up in a Halloween costume, and driving around with a skeleton in their passenger seat... (Oh wait, that's me...)
Happy Halloween! Stay safe and keep the candy away from Fido!
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Please visit www.animalEO.info - and read more about our products, order a few to try out, and come back often for new information, products, and educational experiences! Make sure you are on our mailing list to be updated on all the new happenings.
You can also visit my website www.OilyVet.com for information on classes, links to past newsletters, to purchase books on using Essential Oils in animals, to view You Tube Videos, and more!
And remember, I only recommend the use of what I term, "veterinary grade essential oils" for use with animals (or humans for that matter). The use of essential oils that have not been evaluated and proven safe for use in animals, is not recommended, and may prove dangerous for your animals. Through research, case studies, and retrospective studies - I am documenting the difference in qualities of essential oils in my veterinary hospital - and we are continually striving to provide more information to everyone who desires to use essential oils for their animals.
Until Next Time!
Melissa Shelton DVM
Disclaimer: This information was provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat any illness. If you or your animal have a health concern, you are encouraged to seek the counsel of a health care professional who is knowledgeable in your area of interest.