Does Aromatherapy Work in Pets?

Whether you view it as New Age hooey or a modern miracle, aromatherapy is pervasive in both health and lifestyle forums.  The use of essential oils for scent therapy has now reached a new audience; the household pet.  Furry Footsteps LLC has looked into the topic to let you know the facts of the matter and whether it is worth pursuing for your pet. 


First in our investigation is how the use of essential oils in aromatherapy works in people so that we can examine if they are effective in pets.  The truth is that researchers are not completely sure.  Some believe it has to do with certain scents sending signals to our hippocampus and amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotion, which then signals the brain what to expect from that scent.  Some scents, like lavender, signal for you to relax based off previous experiences.  Other researchers believe the essential oil enters the body through inhalation or skin contact and interacts with the blood.   

After over 6,000 years of use in human civilization, however, scientists agree that the use of essential oils has a concrete effect on humans.  Lavender and chamomile have often been used to increase relaxation, peppermint has been proven to decrease nausea in pregnant women, and oil from the bitter orange tree has been clinically shown to decrease blood pressure and anxiety.  These are the results in humans, however, and you may be wondering what good it will do your furry friend.

In several clinical trials, you may be delighted to discover, the use of aromatherapy is proven to be effective with pets.  One essential oil you may be familiar with is catnip, with the active ingredient nepetalactone.  This affects only some adult cats (determined by genetics) to make them either go into a playful frenzy when smelling it or to become very relaxed when digesting the plant.  While not traditionally viewed as aromatherapy, catnip is a scent-bound mood modifier for Felix. 

As for dogs, there has been significant success with the use of Dog-Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), which is a synthetic version of the pheromone released by mother dogs when nursing puppies.  DAP increases feelings of relaxation in dogs, and in a small clinical trial the researchers found fewer symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs long-term boarding in a veterinary office. 

The most common ingredient in pet-oriented aromatherapy products, lavender, was also cautiously proven to be effective in overly excited dogs.  In a small study, dogs were walked to an owners’ car both with and without the scent of lavender present.  Dogs who were walked with the scent of lavender present were found to actually be calmer for the resulting car ride through less barking and physical movement.

After careful research and reviewing the facts of aromatherapy when used with pets, Furry Footsteps LLC is supportive of its use.  The fact is that pets do respond to scent signals with different behavior, which we as pet lovers can use to make them more relaxed.  Nevertheless, owners using oils need to keep in mind that our pets’ noses are much more sensitive than ours, and all oils should be significantly diluted (think one drop of therapeutic grade oil for every fifty drops dilution oil). 

Important to keep in mind, as well, is that not all scents are safe for pets.  Cats in particular are extremely sensitive to spicy oils such as cinnamon, oregano, clove, thyme and birch,which can cause adverse reactions.  Additionally, oils should never be applied to the skin or ear canal without consultation with a vet, as you can cause damage to pets’ ear canal or cause skin irritations.

If you are curious about ways to include aromatherapy into your furry family friends’ life to relieve anxiety or over excitement, please speak to the professionals at Furry Footsteps.  We are more than happy to include this aspect in our services.


Catnip in Cats:

The Chemical Behind Catnip’s Effect on Cats

Aromatherapy in Humans:

Aromatherapy in Pets:

DAP in clinical trials:

Lavender in dogs:



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