Oils, diffusers oh my!

It seems the hot new thing is using a diffuser with various essential oils to take people away from their busy stress filled lives.  If you are thinking about one…consider your pets.  I have very nosey pets, so I do not even burn candles in my house but have considered a relaxing diffuser.  I have read some horror stories about animals losing their lives because of their pet parent using toxic oils.  I thought this topic deserved a deeper look.

The answer is not completely black and white.  As with many things; something in a large quantity can be dangerous but in a smaller quantity is perfectly safe.  We are often surprised when something natural can be toxic, but it absolutely can be.

I will first share with you the “PRO” side.  As I researched this topic there were two sources that I sourced for feedback.  The book  Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals and I interviewed Melissa Cash with “Young Living” who carries an animal specific line of oils.  Both sources provide some useful tips in how make the use of oils safe for your pets.  Before trying aromatherapy at home with your pets, keep these safety tips in mind—and be sure to check with your vet if you have any questions or concerns.

Dogs and cats are more sensitive to essential oils than we are, so even if you’re familiar with them for yourself, remember that it’s a different story with your pet.

  • Essential oils should always be diluted before use, even if just inhaling. Melissa says dilute, dilute, dilute!  Start small.
  • Do not add essential oils to your pet’s food or drinking water.
  • Avoid using essential oils with animals under 10 weeks of age.
  • Check with a holistic vet before using any essential oils on pregnant animals. Do not use stimulating oils (e.g. peppermint, rosemary, tea tree) on pregnant pets.
  • Do not use oils on animals with any history of epileptic symptoms. Some oils, such as rosemary, may trigger seizures (in humans too).
  • Do not use oils in or close to the eyes, in the ears, directly on or close to the nose, on mucous membranes, or in the anal or genital areas.
  • Also, never lock your animal in a room with the diffuser is going, it is important to allow your pet to move to another room if they are not enjoying the scent.
  • The Most important thing is to NEVER use low quality or adulterated/synthetic essential oils on or around animals (as it can be dangerous and toxic).

The five most common used oils with pets and the reported benefit:

  • Lavender:Universal oil, can use pure or diluted. Useful in conditioning patients to a safe space. May help allergies, burns, ulcers, insomnia, car ride anxiety and car sickness, to name a few.
  • Cardamom:Diuretic, anti-bacterial, normalizes appetite, colic, coughs, heartburn and nausea.
  • Chamomile:Anti-inflammatory, non-toxic, gentle and safe to use. Good for skin irritations, allergic reactions, burns.
  • Spearmint:Helps to reduce weight. Good for colic, diarrhea, nausea. Helps balance metabolism, stimulates gallbladder. Not for use with cats.
  • ThymePain relief, good for arthritis and rheumatism. Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral, excellent for infections and other skin issues.

Now let’s look at the cautionary side. The first resource I need to source is the ASPCA animal poison control info center and hotline.  This is their official advice on essential oils:

Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils, and effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Inhalation of the oils could lead to aspiration pneumonia. There are significant variations in toxicity among specific oils. Based on this, we would not recommend using essential oils in areas where your pets have access, unless pets are supervised, or the use of the oil is approved by your veterinarian. 

There are multiple vets that have authored info on this subject; we’ll look at a couple.  According to Dr. Wismer, “The most common symptoms for cats and dogs exposed to diffused essential oils are drooling, vomiting, coughing, and sneezing. Diffusing oils can be fatal to cats and dogs that have asthma or other respiratory issues.”

She said that any essential oil could be harmful to pets, depending on how much they’re exposed to and how. But the especially toxic oils, where pets are concerned, include wintergreen, d-limonene (citrus), pine, cinnamon, pennyroyal, eucalyptus, and tea tree.

It is important to note that some of the best natural grooming products contain tea tree oil. This is one of those instances when the amount of the ingredient makes a world of difference.  The amount used in well respected grooming products is completely safe.

Dr. Melissa Shelton, DVM is a multiple cat owner herself and does seem that there are even more reasons to be cautious around your cat.  She says; “Cats are well known for being deficient in a liver enzyme that most all other animals have which helps them process things efficiently (cytochrome p450). So, that means a cat’s liver doesn’t metabolize items in the same manner or efficiency as other animals or humans. This is true even for foods and traditional medicines…not just essential oils. Everything, synthetic and natural contains a therapeutic/toxic profile. This means that even good things in nature when taken in excess can be toxic.”

Everybody agrees on one thing…caution is completely necessary.  If you decide to try a diffuser in your home or any use of essential oils be very aware of your pet.  What might be relaxing for you could be deadly for your pet.  Watch for absolutely any change in behavior and consult with your vet.

Symptoms of essential oil poisoning have included:

  • Muscle tremors
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Low body temperature
  • Excessive salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive pawing at mouth or face
  • Drooling

Do you use oils for yourself?  Have you used them around your pets?

 

Ingredient Source…is it important?

This is a very broad question.   It seems like there are more things to think about when you are shopping for the best pet food these days.  Everybody tries to pay close attention to the ingredients on their pet food bag.  People have been trained to compare the percentage of protein and fat, they wonder is it supposed to be “whole chicken” or “chicken meal”.  Should it be grain free, gluten free…vegetarian?  If you as a consumer have to worry about where those ingredients come from that is another layer of complexity.

The source of the ingredients in your pet’s food can be important in some cases.  Let’s look at the main ingredient groups:

Vegetables, grains and fruits:  There is a marked divide between Americans and Europeans when it comes to the cultivation and regulation of genetically modified (GM) foods? In general, American farmers are more reliant on herbicides than Europeans, in part because Americans have moved away from the traditional practice of tilling etc.   But there are other countries (besides the US) where GMO crops are commonly grown, they include Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Bolivia, Philippines, Spain, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Colombia, Honduras, Chile, Sudan, Slovakia, Costa Rica, China, India, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Mexico, Portugal, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Myanmar.

GMO map

If GMO free is important to you identifying the source may be important you.  Ingredients sourced from countries that commonly use GMO’s doesn’t mean it will be genetically modified, but it certainly means you need to ask.  Need to learn more about GMO’s? Take a look back at our article on this subject in November of 2015.

Proteins: Animal based protein is what you will most commonly find in pet food.  A vegetarian diet is not recommended for cats and dogs.  So regardless of what protein source you choose…chicken, lamb or salmon.  These days maybe even exotic protein source such as kangaroo or alligator!  The question is should you wonder where your kangaroo comes from?  The goal is to choose the highest quality ingredient possible, regardless of which protein you feed.  These considerations about protein are important regardless of the type of pet food you choose.  Meaning there are good and inferior quality proteins whether you are feeding raw vs kibble or whole protein vs meal.  While learning the source alone will not tell you this; it might give you an indication as to how important quality is to the producer.  A couple of basic questions that might give you insight to protein quality are ash percentage and digestibility.  Normal ash ranges are generally between 5%-12%.  Elevated levels of ash can be an indicator that there was more bone contained in the protein source.  A low digestibility percentage can be another red flag that poor quality proteins were used.  Assuming you feel good about the quality of the protein further knowledge of the source can be important for other reasons such as the presence of disease in certain animals around the world.  For instance, bovine animal sources should be free from scrapie (an illness similar to mad cow disease).   So, if you were feeding a lamb-based product this map would give you an idea of the best sources to avoid diseased animals.

scrapie map

Another sourcing issue important to some people is “Ethical Sourcing”.  This term relates less to the quality of the ingredients.  This term lets you know products are obtained in a responsible and sustainable way, that the workers involved in making them are safe and treated fairly and that environmental and social impacts are taken into consideration during the sourcing process.  This is something you as a consumer looks for if you care about the planet and the conditions of the people working in it.

Now that you have this additional information to consider you might be looking on that dog food bag to find this information.  The FDA is responsible for ensuring that pet foods are properly identified on their packaging, have a net quantity statement, have the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, and have ingredients listed from heaviest total weight to lightest.  Additionally, states may outline their own labeling requirements based on the recommendations of the AAFCO. These regulations govern the product name, the guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements. Obviously, these requirements leave an awful lot of the details out.  If you want any detail about your pet food that you cannot find out on the label or on the manufacturers web site email them and ask.  Generally, they will provide sourcing information and digestibility percentages (if they have done trials).

Is sourcing important to you?