How to Safely Use Essential Oils in Your Grooming Practice typography
by Malissa Conti-Diener

For thousands of years, people have been harvesting and using the healing properties of essential oils. We know through research that the use of essential oils is listed in ancient texts and scrolls. As we gained medical knowledge over the ages, we moved away from the natural uses for essential oils to using synthetics for medicines, cleaning products and personal use. With more people taking on a natural approach to eating and living, essential oils have made a resurgence into our mainstream shopping staples like the grocery store and even the pet retailers. So, how do you use them in your grooming practice?

There is so much conflicting information out there. Essential oils are gaining popularity and are becoming topics of conversation between pet professionals. We all want to add these awesome little bottles of oil to our spa services menu, but how?

Let’s start with the basics…

What is an Essential Oil?
Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants which capture the plant’s scent and flavor, also called its “essence.” Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence. Essential oils are obtained through distillation (via steam and/or water) or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing. Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil or bottled “neat” without a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready for use.

The way the oils are made has a lot to do with how effective they will be. You should ask your oil sourcing company how the plants are grown and harvested, what additives—if any—are added, what their policy is on pesticides, and if they offer any reports on independent studies of their essential oils. These are very important questions to ask, as essential oils obtained through chemical distillation processes (those that are already diluted with carrier agents) are not considered true essential oils. You want to purchase only the highest grade with the least amount of chemical processing, including their farming (Organic) practices while being grown.

Fragrance oils are not the same as essential oils. Also, therapeutic grade is a marketing term and does not substantiate the validity or quality of an essential oil.

How do Essential Oils Work?

Essential oils are most commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy. They are either inhaled or diluted with a carrier oil or agent, then rubbed on the skin. You can also add them to natural cleansers and other products to reap their benefits. Essential oils are not meant to be ingested, unless under the supervision and advice of a licensed holistic physician/veterinarian or certified holistic professional. The chemicals in essential oils interact with your body in a number of ways and not everyone’s body responds the same way to essential oils.

Fig. 1

Animal Aromatherapy Dilution Chart showing the dilution percentage for different animal species
Pets are especially receptive to essential oils’ essence. With millions of smell receptors on their nose, you don’t even have to open the bottle for an animal to pick up the essential oil’s smell. Animals can determine if they need that particular essential oil for themselves. Always offer the animal the oil bottle closed and gauge their reaction. Turning away, walking away or other negative responses mean they do not want that particular essential oil. Positive reactions that let you know they need that particular oil include tail-wagging, nudging or nosing the closed bottle, touching the bottle with a paw or rubbing against the bottle.

When applied to the skin (topical application), the chemicals from the plants are absorbed through the skin and into the blood stream. Research has shown that most essential oils reach the blood stream within seconds from the time of topical application. It’s thought that certain methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body. This demonstrates that these essential oil compounds do not remain in the bloodstream for long and are readily metabolized by the body. They are medicinal in value and volatile if not used properly. Many oils are phototoxic and can cause skin burns if exposed to sunlight or other UV lights. Education is the key to using essential oils correctly.

Inhaling the aromas from essential oils (inhalation methods) can stimulate areas of the limbic system, which is a part of the brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviors, sense of smell and long-term memory. The limbic system is heavily involved in forming memories. This can partly explain why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions. Essential oils work the same way; by inhaling, you are still giving the body the essential working parts of the oil. The limbic system also plays a role in controlling some unconscious physiological functions such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Aromatherapists, Naturopaths and others understand that essential oils can exert a physical effect on the body in this way.

These same basic principals apply to humans and animals alike; however, when using essential oils, you must be aware that not all animals can tolerate essential oils either topically or inhaled. So, what’s the safest way to use them on and around pets?

Let’s dive a little deeper into using essential oils safely with pets in your grooming practice…

Essential Oils and Pets

Felines do not tolerate high phenol content oils. Think of the distinctive smell of peppermint or the crisp scent of cloves; both are essential oils that are high in phenols and are just two of the many essential oils not safe for use around felines. Cats actually lack the liver enzymes to break down the phenols in some essential oils. Do not use essential oils directly (topically) on any feline. Instead, just diffuse through a diffuser. You can diffuse essential oils around cats safely as long as there’s good ventilation. And, only diffuse small amounts for limited periods of time while allowing the cat to have the freedom to leave the room if it wants. A few parts per million of aromatic vapor in the air is not likely to be harmful, but be careful to avoid build-up of vapors over many hours.

The bottom line is, do not diffuse for long periods of time around felines. I have diffused around felines for many years in my practice following this simple rule: short diffusion times and highly diluted oils in my diffuser. Birds are also very sensitive to essential oils, so use the same rule of thumb for them. Cleaning the diffuser in between uses is also important so that you are never diffusing residual oils left behind in a dirty machine.

Cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds, amphibians and reptiles respond better to hydrosols. Essential oils and hydrosols share many similar properties; however, the distillation process causes hydrosols to be much milder than the corresponding essential oil. The significantly diluted hydrosol is better suited for smaller dogs, cats and small companion animals whose systems are unable to process the heaviness of essential oil. Sometimes called “hydrolat” or “floral water,” these are a safer, gentler cousin to essential oils. I always suggest using hydrosols first until you are more familiar with essential oils.

Tea Tree is a very strong oil with many medicinal properties; however, it can be an accelerant to many different reactions from mild to severe when used around small animals. I love to use tea tree oil as a disinfectant to clean my clipper blades, sanitize laundry, wipe down my shears, and clean my tabletops and tubs. I dilute a few drops of the tea tree oil with a carrier agent, which is either a natural soap, botanical cleanser or grain alcohol, but I never diffuse or use it topically on or around the pets.

Be sure to follow the dilution charts (Fig 1). There are literally thousands of different graphics out there on the web with essential oils and pets in mind. Always dilute with the highest dilution when first planning on diffusing around pets. Keep a close watch for sneezing, head-shaking, pawing at the face or wanting to get away from the smell. Stop diffusing immediately if a pet exhibits any abnormal behaviors once you begin or after you have been diffusing.

The placement of your diffuser is also very important. This machine breaks the water and oil particles down into microscopic droplets that look like a fine mist coming from the diffuser. There are literally billions of these oil and water particles floating in the air. Never have your diffuser where it will be depositing those droplets directly on any animals. Your diffuser should be up on a shelf or high table/counter. In small spaces, like a mobile grooming area, I suggest diffusing in between clients while you are driving, allowing the diffused oils to dissipate and lessen their strength when the pet is in your care.

Diluting and short periods of diffusion should be done to maintain all safety precautions—no matter how large or small the space. Diffusers come with instructions and also give you an approximate amount of square footage coverage for that particular machine. Pay close attention to these. You do not need several diffusers going at the same time, even if they are at opposite ends of the salon. Less is more when it comes to working with essential oils.

Do your research. Read, join social media groups, and reach out to pet aromatherapists to ask for advice and let them know you are at the beginning of your journey with aromatherapy. Be informed, be cautious and be educated. These little bottles of oil are very potent, they deserve respect and are much more than an air freshener.

DIY Lavender Chamomile Exfoliation Skin & Fur Scrub typography
DIY Lavender Chamomile Exfoliation Skin & Fur Scrub typography
Ingredients typography
  • Organic Avocado Oil
  • Pink Himalayan Salt ground fine
  • Kaolin Clay
  • Dried Herbs
  • Lavender Essential oil or Hydrosol
  • Chamomile Essential oil or Hydrosol
  1. Pour your salt, clay and any fine-ground herbs into a glass or plastic bowl. Mix all your dried ingredients together.
  2. Slowly add your Avocado oil and the appropriate amount of essential oils or hydrosols. Mix together with the dry ingredients until you have a paste of medium thickness. You should be able to scoop it out of the bowl with your hands.
  3. Spread it over the pet’s body, avoiding the eyes, ears, mouth and private parts.
  4. Slowly massage it into the coat, gently working it down to the skin. You do not need to scrub hard. Using the tips of your fingers (no fingernails), work in small circular motions down the spine, around the ribs, and down each leg and foot.
  5. Then rinse it all out until your water runs clear.

You can shampoo prior and use the scrub in place of the conditioner. If your pet still feels oily after the scrub, shampoo it again with a gentle shampoo to remove residual oils.