The Aromatic Pet

In Elizabethan times, the best perfumes would make one smell ‘as sweet as any lady’s dog’. Contrary to what you may be thinking, this was never said in jest. Indeed, the animal would have costly aromatics rubbed into its coat before being carried around by its owner when making social calls. Judging by the soporific scents used, which included labdanum, benzoin and ambergris, the poor creature must have been stupefied.

Similarly, the unsupervised use of aromatic oils for veterinary purposes is potentially harmful. Even though essential oils are wonderful healing agents, they can be toxic if misused, for example, if administered without a clear understanding of the underlying nature of the presenting symptoms and with scant knowledge regarding the pharmacological effects of the oils used. It also takes great skill to ascertain exactly how much essential oil to administer for individual animals within a given species. The physiology of a parrot, for example, is very different from that of a cat. And while the physiology or a cat is somewhat different from that or a dog, a horse presents yet another variation on the mammalian theme, and so it goes on.

Yet there is a growing number of popular aromatherapy books promoting the home use of essential oils for pet care, including the treatment or chronic conditions such as anemia, emphysema, severe eczema and mange. Some authors do not even balk at advocating oral dosage. True, essential oils have proved efficacious in many serious cases, but they should always be administered under the supervision of a qualified holistic vet. As well as offering nutritional advice, most holistic vets employ a variety of therapeutic measures which may include homoeopathy, essential oils and conventional drugs if need be.

Despite the above cautions about the unsupervised use of plant essences for animals, there are a few ailments in cats and dogs which can be helped at home using simple aromatic remedies. Since my own experience of the veterinary uses of plant essences is somewhat limited, nearly all of the following aromatic treatments (excepting the flea collar recipes) have been contributed by Tim Couzens, an holistic veterinary practitioner who runs a busy practice in Sussex (England).

Important: Some of Tim’s formulas are much more concentrated than I would normally recommend. There are great differences in human skin which is 6-8 cells thick, and that of most other animals, which is 2-3 cells thick. There are also differences between absorption, metabolism and elimination of essential oils in animals. Therefore, such functions cannot be compared with those of humans. My advice regarding the veterinary use of essential oils is to use them with great care, taking note of the cautions and procedures given with the recipes.

Arthritis Oil

To ease arthritic joints in dogs, the following combination has proved very successful. However, if the joint is swollen or inflamed (which can occur periodically with arthritis) do not apply firm massage as this will cause further pain and tissue damage; you may even get a nasty bite from your dog! Do not use this formula continuously for more than six weeks without a three-week break before resuming. Treatment for arthritis needs to be supported with good nutrition and perhaps also homoeopathic remedies, but do seek professional advice.

9 ml grapeseed oil

1 ml sesame oil

5 drops lavender

2 drops rosemary

1 drop German chamomile

1 drop ginger

Mix the grapeseed oil and sesame oil together well. Then add the essential oils. Using your fingertips, gently massage 1 or 2 drops of the blend into the joint until all the oil seems to have disappeared. Part the animal’s hair if necessary to ensure that the oil reaches the skin and can penetrate into the joint.

Other helpful essences include black pepper, cajeput, coriander, eucalyptus, juniper, marjoram and vetiver.


Fleas are a continual problem, but you can use essential oils to help make dogs and cats less acceptable as hosts. Fleas definitely do not like aromatic oils! Moreover, dried aromatic herbs packed into small cotton sachets (perhaps made from a folded handkerchief sewn up each side and across the top) can help repel fleas from pet bedding. Try mixing together any combination of the following herbs: feverfew, lavender, rosemary, rue, sage, southernwood, tansy, wormwood.

Vegetable Oil Flea Repellent

10 ml sweet almond oil

10 drops lavender

5 drops cedar wood

Mix together the almond oil and essential oils. Use the oil sparingly, massaging a drop or two over the coat and into the skin twice weekly, more often if fleas are a real problem. You can replace the cedarwood with geranium if you wish.

Skin Cream

The following cream is useful for treating minor rashes, sores and wounds. However, severe skin problems like widespread eczema, scabies, mange and suppurating wounds must be treated by a qualified vet. In all cases, if there is no improvement after two or three weeks of home treatment, do seek professional advice.

100 g unperfumed base cream

20 drops lavender

10 drops geranium

20 drops chamomile (Roman)

1/2 teaspoonful calendular tincture (optional)

To the unperfumed base cream (available from most essential oil suppliers), add the lavender, geranium and Roman chamomile. You could also add 1/2 teaspoonful of calendula tincture (available from herbal suppliers). Other oils can be used instead of chamomile, for instance 10 drops of cedarwood if the skin is greasy, or frankincense if there are weepy or sticky areas. Mix the base cream and essential oils well with the handle of a teaspoon and store in a suitable dark glass, airtight jar. Apply the cream twice daily.

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