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Episode 41: Ask the Vets: Essential Oils for Your Pets

In this episode Dr. Larry McCaskill and Dr. Jeanette Yamamoto sit down to discuss their top essential oil picks to help with the common challenges your cat or dog might face.


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doTERRA: Dr. MacAskill and Dr. Yamamoto I am so grateful to have you join me today to be able to talk about using essential oils as a veterinarian and with your pets at home. Dr. McCaskill, could you tell us a little bit about yourself—where you live and where your practice is and also your history of using essential oils with animals?

Dr. McCaskill: Well everyone. I am Dr. Larry McCaskill. I live here in Baton, Louisiana, which is 35 miles northwest of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But I have my integrated acupuncture and veterinarian medicine practice, which is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at Jefferson Animal Hospital. I've been a practicing veterinarian for over 38 years. I've had my specialty practice for the last 10 years. I've been using essential oils on my pet and with my patients for over two years. It's a real honor and pleasure to get the opportunity to talk with people today.

doTERRA: Thank you so much. And, Dr. Yamamoto, would you introduce yourself, the area you service and your history with essential oils and animals. 

Dr. Yamamoto: Yes, I am Jeannette Yamamoto. I am an Oklahoma State grad from the School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002 so I've been practicing a little over 17 years. I am currently located in a town called Castaic, California which is a suburb of Los Angeles about 30 miles north of Los Angeles. My background is initially emergency and critical care, and I still dabble in that, but the first 10 years of my career focused on that. And then the last seven years I have been in day practice. I have been a Wellness Advocate with doTERRA since December 2014 and have been incorporating doTERRA essential oils for the past three years, in both my practice as well as my own furry babies at home. I am continuing to grow and expand that as we further expand our hospice and palliative care to incorporate those for more patients in the near future.

doTERRA: Wow that is a lot that you've got on your plate! You've got a few different things going on. Dr. Yamamoto, what is it that made you start using essential oils with animals? What made you want to do that?

Dr. Yamamoto: Well, I had been utilizing the oils with my own family with myself friends and loved ones for two years and had been looking for alternative ways to support my patients, as many of my clients had come to me looking for alternative modalities to incorporate into traditional western medicine. So, it kind of got the wheels turning and I felt like it was just the right move seeing that I was getting a lot of success in home with my own animals as well as my children. I kind of look at them as the same, you know, small children and animals. So, I just felt it was a great next step, and started incorporating them very slowly at first and then as I saw more and more success incorporating additional oils as I went along. Meeting other veterinarians that were doing the same really helped me feel good about continuing to incorporate and grow them in my practice.

doTERRA: They really do have this incredible capability to not only help us as humans but also animals. And, they're just so versatile, which is incredible. Dr. McCaskill, there's a myth out there that people believe only veterinarians are qualified or capable of giving their pets essential oils. How would you answer that question?

Dr. McCaskill: The theory that I use, or the premise that I use, is that if I can take essential oils and get the response that I'm getting, why not share that with my pet, whether I was a veterinarian or not a veterinarian. The simplicity of the oils makes it really easy to use. Homeowners can learn how to use these oils very simply, very easily, if they follow the rules of the dos and don'ts, understand what oils they’re using, and make sure they have certified pure therapeutic oils, i.e. only use doTERRA. I will not use any other oil or even consider any other oil. They are safe for your pets. If they're safe for you, they'll be safe for your pets. You just need to have a little bit of knowledge, a little instruction of how to use them.

Using Essential Oils Safely on Pets

doTERRA: You mention the dos and don'ts of using these essential oils with your pets. If I were to go home today and want to use these essential oils on my dog, let's say, what are some things that I need to know about using them safely?

Dr. McCaskill: The big thing is, is what are you trying to do with what oil to help address your pet’s health issues? Are you looking to calm your animal? I'd use Lavender. You have to understand what goals you want the essential oils to help you with, regarding your pet’s health issues. Are you trying to actively help promote immune response, or different things to promote the general health of your pet?

With that in mind then, what you’ve got to understand is “how do I apply these oils?” You know, aromatically, topically, internally—three great methods. That's what we recommend. But you also need to have knowledge that some oils you can't take internally. doTERRA Breathe® is a good example. You can use it aromatically and topically, but it's not to be taken internally. So, with that in mind, when you start using oils, and you use them for yourself, read the instructions, cautions, and warnings. Because they’re going to apply to your pet exactly the same way. There's a difference in the body size, so you have to be very careful, okay? There are different dilution rates. We're getting more information out there for you now. So, make sure that you exercise care. There are dos and don'ts. If you have any doubt, do not use any oils on your pets until you can consult with a veterinarian having knowledge about the use of essential oils. Essential oils are safe for pets. Use them! But there are dos and don'ts.

doTERRA: Dr. Yamamoto is there anything you would add to the dos and don'ts of using oils safely with your pets?

Dr. Yamamoto: I think the big thing to keep in mind is, as you use them on yourself you realize, “some work for me and some don’t, and some are not a smell that I particularly appreciate,” and others you are really drawn to. I would say the same thing will apply to our pets. I think we have to keep in mind that they may not like everything that we are trying, regardless of what the underlying issue is. So be aware that they are going to have some particular oils they are going to be drawn to. 

The other thing is that a slow introduction is going to be important. It's the same, whether it be for topical, oral, or diffusion. You want to start with a small amount. For example, even with cats when we're talking about adding something like Copaiba to the food, we want to add just the amount on the tip of a toothpick. That’s really what we want to talk about starting. We're not even adding in a full drop to start. So, you want to start slowly and look for any abnormalities as far as personality. If you're seeing them turn away, those are the kind of things. It's important to be aware of your pet’s normal behavior and normal reaction and just really keep an eye out for any issues that might indicate that that specific oil is not going to work for them. Really, less is more when we're starting. Another thing I like to recommend is if you're going to incorporate multiple oils, start one at a time just to make sure we don't have any adverse reactions. And then, if that seems to work over a couple few days you can add in additional oils. So that's something to keep in mind. Again, just like we would for ourselves.

Adverse Reactions

doTERRA: Dr. Yamamoto, how can I tell if my animal is having an adverse reaction? What are the signs that I can look for?

Dr. Yamamoto: There are a number of signs as far as with diffusion. If you are incorporating those into a water-based diffuser you want to look for signs like your animal is not wanting to be in a room or getting agitated and irritated. You want to ensure they have an area they can go to leave a room that a diffuser is in. Another potential reaction, and I've seen this with one of my friends when she diffuses certain oils her cats will actually throw up, even though it is a big open area. So vomiting and intestinal upset might be something to look for. 

But again, when it comes to diffusion, we have to remember that our pets, their nasal capacity far exceeds that of ours. You know as far as when we're talking about what we can smell. They can smell ten to one hundred thousand times stronger than we can. You just have to be aware if something is strong to you, it's going to be extremely strong to their nose. So, keep that in mind. 

As far as for topical issues, we have to remember that when we're talking about absorption, the oils are absorbed through our skin, through our hair follicles specifically, and with animals the amount of hair follicles covering their skin is significantly higher than ours. So, we're looking for irritation along the skin knowing that they may have the ability to absorb a lot more oil than you think, even with a single drop. So, you're looking for irritation, scratching, redness. The long-term topical issues can be the hair falling out. So, look for things of that nature. 

When it comes to oral ingestion, things to watch for—they may just not like it. It may be something that is off-putting, and you can actually cause food aversion if you're trying to add oils into their regular meals. So, a small amount is important because you may turn them off their regular food. Secondary effects in that regard might be upset stomach again, lethargy where they're just not feeling well. In severe cases, and again not something that we see very often, you might see some weakness, wobbliness as they’re walking around. But those are going to be more of a toxicity issue, rather than what we are doing as far as safe application and usage.

Supporting Respiratory Health

doTERRA: Thank you so much, I feel like that is a good base for people to go forward and feel like they have a little more knowledge about using essential oils with their animals. I want to move now into some more specific questions and specific cases of what essential oils people can use in certain circumstances. So, Dr. McCaskill, what would you recommend if someone is looking to support their cat or their dog’s respiratory health. 

Dr. McCaskill: There are two oils that are my favorites that come to my mind right off the bat, and that's going to be Copaiba and Frankincense. These are really, really great oils to support the respiratory health of an animal. I personally recommend and like the daily ingestion of these oils. They affect the immune system, they affect the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, neurological system. They give that health support you need to be able to handle respiratory problems. 

The other thing that I really like, that I recommended, is diffusing. You need respiratory support? Then I like doTERRA Breathe. It's a great blend to support healthy, clear airways, and I really, really like it at night. Funny story is, I use doTERRA Breathe every night. My wife has a diffuser by the side of our bed. She's got doTERRA On Guard® and doTERRA Balance® on her side, and I have doTERRA Breathe over on my side, and the dog is on my side. We've found it pretty effective. doTERRA Breathe also helps calm the senses and promote healthy sleep. These are my “must” oils for me. I'll take Copaiba and Frankincense every day, and so does my dog. We diffuse doTERRA Breathe every night, and the dog and I sleep on the same side of the room. These are my favorites and I’ve found them to be very, very effective.

Giving Your Pet Essential Oils Internally

doTERRA: So, you recommend the daily ingestion for the Frankincense and the Copaiba. Is that just through the animal's food? Is there another way that they can get that, and about what is the dosage that you would recommend?

Dr. McCaskill: What I personally use for my personal dog, is that I use her food. She has a dry dog food dog diet that I’ve been using since she was a puppy. I'll take a drop of Copaiba and a drop of Frankincense. Normally it’s difficult for me to pour out just one drop, so normally they wind up getting two drops or so. I’ve also added a little Lemon oil into it just because of some other factors, but anyway, she'll get two drops of Copaiba, two drops of Frankincense in her food. She's a Labrador retriever. She does not eat to live. She lives to eat. Very, very simple for me to do. If the animal is refusing the food, and you're having trouble, then you can always diffuse these oils and you can use them topically.

Supporting Cellular Health

doTERRA: Dr. Yamamoto, one of the questions I have for you is, what can I use to help support my pet’s cellular health?

Dr. Yamamoto: Absolutely. I’ve got two favorite topics when it comes to oils and pets. Cellular health and stress are my two favorite things I like to talk about with animals in particular when we are adding in essential oils. I've done a fair amount of research when it comes to this because cellular health is such a key component for our animals, and obviously as well as people.

My two favorite oils, when it comes to supporting cellular health, are Frankincense and Copaiba. It kind of goes back to what Dr. McCaskill was saying, and incorporating those on a daily basis. When you think about how the body works and how these two oils work—we're talking about how the boswellic acid in Frankincense is really helpful because it helps promote healthy cells. Then you have the Copaiba which is coming in and really focusing on supporting so many of the body's systems, and as Dr. McCaskill mentioned—cardiovascular, immune, respiratory, digestive, and nervous system. So, when you can get those two combined, you're really looking at trying to promote these cells to do the best that they can and they're functioning at their best. It's so important to have those in there. One of the great things about Copaiba specifically is it provides a lot of antioxidant support, especially when it's ingested. And that's going to be super important when we're talking about cellular health. Our bodies, the homeostasis of our bodies, are so much happier, and that way we can function more appropriately and our patients, our dogs and our cats can function the way they're supposed to. Because you have to remember we can verbalize how we're feeling, but our dogs and cats don't do that as much. So we really have to focus on improving their livelihood, and supporting cellular health and minimizing inflammation in their body is such a huge, key component to helping them live longer, happier, healthier lives.

Oils for Small Pets

doTERRA: Wow. The benefits that you can just list off from these oils are so incredible. So, Dr. McCaskill talked about his dosage for his Labrador retriever, which is a bigger dog. If I was doing that same kind of routine, where you're suggesting daily ingestion for a cat, what would you recommend there?

Dr. Yamamoto: Sure. So, both Frankincense and Copaiba can be utilized in cats. Copaiba, again kind of going back to what I mentioned earlier, if we're going to incorporate Copaiba or even Frankincense orally into our kitty’s diet it's going to be best to start out with a toothpick of each, and mix it into ideally a soft food of sorts. Just in hopes of covering up that smell. Copaiba luckily is not too off-putting when administered orally. So if you have a cat that's really an easy kitty, and there’s probably not as many out there as our more difficult kitties, you can even take that small little pinpoint amount and swipe it inside the cheek and that's actually going to be more absorbed versus ingested. The body will still get benefits from that. You can do the same thing with Frankincense. I find Copaiba is easier to administer to kitties than Frankincense, just because Frankincense is a little bit stronger. 

Ideally, for smaller dogs, for example, I have a Yorkie mix, and for her I try to actually find small veggie capsules. The doTERRA veggie capsules are great to put diluted oils or straight oil drops into the veggie caps for medium to larger dogs. I find that veggie cap is a little bit large for my 10-pound Yorkie mix. You can actually find veggie caps that are smaller, and that's a way to incorporate that. I don't recommend veggie caps as much for cats because to try and get that down the cat it's kind of a battle. And you definitely don't want to have your kitty run from you as soon as they see you walking up. So, if you can incorporate it into soft food that's going to be ideal. But then, as Dr. McCaskill is saying, even if you can diffuse those that's going to be great.

Another thing with cats is a small drop, or a diluted drop, of either Frankincense and/or Copaiba mixed in with a carrier oil can be diluted out, and you can rub that over the spine. And, they can ingest that as well. The amount is much smaller, which is perfect, but we find they ingest that by grooming themselves. That’s another modality that cats can incorporate oil orally versus topical benefit. So, in doing that on the hair coat you're going to get potentially some topical, if they don't lick it off beforehand, but definitely oral benefit from both oils.

Oils for Stress and Nervousness 

doTERRA: Well that's definitely one that I would not have thought of for cats, but they are grooming themselves throughout the day every day. That’s definitely an ingenious method to get it in them without them maybe noticing quite as much. I like that one a lot. Dr. McCaskill what would you recommend to someone who is wanting to help their pet who might get nervous during storms and has some stress associated with that?

Dr. McCaskill: Well, I’ve got my two favorite oils for that particular situation. I see a lot of that in my integrative medicine practice, where they're able to detect that the storms are coming fairly early. Sometimes you'll see that they get pretty nervous and they go through a litany of different behavior signs. It disturbs the owners also because they’re watching all this happen. So, my two favorite oils for nervousness are Lavender and Frankincense. If possible, at least 30 minutes before bad weather arrives, and if you can even get an hour before, I recommend diffusing these oils. You can diffuse both together, and you could use both of them topically. I’ll dilute sometimes. Depending on the size of the dog, sometimes I do not dilute. The bigger the dog the less dilution, the smaller the dog the more dilution. I'll put it on the pads of their feet. The thing I like is that Lavender works really quick. I’ve been so impressed. I use it almost every day in my practice at Jefferson Animal Hospital, because I have a lot of animals come in and they've got a lot of difficult problems and some are quite nervous. It's been really, really helpful, plus with my veterinarian acupuncture techniques we make a pretty calm animal pretty quick. So, Lavender for the immediate effect, and I like to add Frankincense to give it a little bit longer-term effect, because it potentiates the Lavender and has some calming very good calming properties also. In conjunction with that, if that's not getting the job done to your satisfaction, we have some other oils that we've talked about: Copaiba, doTERRA Balance, doTERRA Breathe, all these have calming effects so you can substitute oils in, replace oils, and kind of work on what works the best for your pet.

doTERRA: Dr. Yamamoto along that same vein there are some cats and dogs who are, in general, a little more stressed out than others. How do you treat that and how do you help those animals?

Dr. Yamamoto: What Dr. McCaskill is saying is right on par with what I like to do as far as incorporating those types. One of the great things that happened at convention this year was doTERRA came out with a great diffusing collar for dogs. My little 10-pound Yorkie mix I was mentioning earlier, I came home put that on her, she's kind of a nervous Nellie, and the little patch where you can put a single drop or two on the little diffusion patch on there. I incorporate that on her multiple times a day. On that patch I like to utilize doTERRA Balance, the grounding blend, as well as doTERRA Serenity®. I incorporate both of those. That's not for her to ingest. That's more for it to stay around her face and diffuse. And I have to tell you, as soon as I started doing that she would sit and get this very calm look in her eyes and just kind of you could tell it just brought her down a notch or two. Because she is the one that if she hears any little noise she's going to bark and carry on and get kind of grumbly and nervous. And it's just more fear. She's not an aggressive little creature she's just fearful. So, I really like to utilize that. There are other items that other companies have put out, same kind of thing, where you can attach a diffusing charm and do the same kind of thing where you're incorporating a drop or two of your favorite oils whatever they like. So that's going to be one way to use that.

I think, like Dr. McCaskill is saying, diffusing is a very important thing. And really what I find when you have nervous animals, a lot of it is kind of training your clients how to deal with those animals. If you have a new person coming into your household and you have a nervous dog with people that come into your home, you want to start diffusing a day or so prior to. If there is bedding that your dog lays on you want to utilize some of these oils, whether it be in distilled water dilution, so a spray. You can incorporate 10 to 15 drops in say a one- or two-ounce bottle with distilled water and spray that on the bedding, spray that on blankets. You can even utilize that on their hair coat. You're just trying to allow them to be calm. And then when that person comes into your house, really, the key is to tell them to ignore your dog. We don't need to go up and frighten an already frightened animal. And then maybe even consider spraying that person down with those same calming oils in that distilled water so when your dog smells it, they're going to think, “oh those are oils that I enjoy.” So just things like that, if your friend’s open to being sprayed with some oils, it's going to calm everybody, including your dog when they come into the house. 

Other oils to add onto what Dr. McCaskill is saying, I think that Vetiver is a great one to add in, Cedarwood—those are great ones when we're talking about diffusing. And then one of the new oils, Black Spruce is also very balancing and grounding. That's a great one to add into diffusers and even spraying blankets and bedding. Magnolia can be added in. As far as some of our blends, you can use the comforting blend and reassuring blend, so doTERRA Console® and doTERRA Peace®, are other ones that can be diffused and applied to blankets and bedding. Lots of really cool things can be incorporated because, again, we have to remember every animal is going to react differently to any sort of oil or blend that we're using. So just find what works best for your dog or cat.

Oils for Restful Sleep

doTERRA: I love your tips about having new people over that your dog might not be familiar with, or your cat might not be familiar with. I think that is a situation that causes a lot of stress for pets and for pet owners. Having those tips is incredible to just add a little bit of calm to the whole situation. The final situation I wanted to get advice about, Dr. McCaskill, and you mentioned this a little bit before with your dog sleeping next to your bed, is what can someone do to help their cat or their dog sleep through the night?

Dr. McCaskill: Well, it's a two-way street. It helps me, plus it helps the dog. My favorite technique is to apply Lavender topically on the pads of the feet. That will induce immediate calming effects. I love to diffuse doTERRA Balance and doTERRA Breathe throughout the night. Both of those will promote restful sleep. If you will employ these two particular techniques, I'll be extremely surprised if you don't get really very good results.

The other part is, if you wake up during the night and the animal is stressing out again, just reapply the Lavender. Remember that the oils absorb very, very quickly. So, if you have to get up and maybe you do it once or twice during the night, it works just as well. It will give it that extra boost you need. But most of the time once my dog goes down, she's down until I move the next morning. But anyway, I found that Lavender and diffusing doTERRA Balance and doTERRA Breathe works great.

doTERRA: That is wonderful. Well I want to thank you both so much for joining me today, for sharing your expertise, for helping people get a little bit more knowledge about using essential oils with their pets. And we hope to have you on again soon!

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