When used in conjunction with other therapies, essential oils such as Copaiba are very beneficial for dogs with arthritis and other joint problems.
In dogs, joint discomfort can present itself in many ways. A dog may have a hard time going to the bathroom or jumping into a vehicle. She might experience soreness after strenuous activity, or exhibit generally slow movements and difficulty doing things she was once easily able to do. Essential oils such as copaiba can be a wonderful way to enhance treatment for canines experiencing joint discomfort.
Essential oils have been used alongside all types of prescription medications, as well as herbs, supplements and other integrative therapies, in dogs with joint problems. We have only noted synergistic and beneficial responses when veterinary essential oils are added to current therapies. In many cases, the need for high drug dosages or additional traditional medications can be alleviated.
Essential oils for easing joint problems
Several essential oils shine when it comes to easing canine joint discomfort. Sometimes, those we least expect can impart great support for all sorts of inflammation and mobility issues.
Black Spruce, Balsam Fir, Peppermint, Bergamot, Lavender, Anise, German (Blue) Chamomile, Marjoram and Copaiba have all been used with dogs, and contain many beneficial anti-inflammatory properties, as shown in research studies. The art of Veterinary Aromatic Medicine lies in selecting the most “dog appropriate” oils, as well as using them at proper dilutions and ratios, and with the correct application methods.
A focus on Copaiba
In this article, we’ll focus on Copaiba, as it is one of the safest and most widely-used essential oils for the animal kingdom. In native medicine, Copaiba has been used for humans over many hundreds of years. Research indicates that this essential oil has many properties and pathways similar to those of the NSAIDs we currently use for joint discomfort in conventional veterinary medicine.
Copaiba can also enhance the effects of other medications, therefore providing adjunct support for your dog. It contains high levels of β-Caryophyllene, a chemical constituent also found within CBD or cannabis oil. A lot of research has been done on β-Caryophyllene, including in arthritis models. However, as Copaiba becomes more popular and is promoted for its cannabinoid-related properties, it’s important to keep in mind that essential oils are not regulated for quality or efficacy. Beware of products promoted for canine use that do not have clear veterinary data attached to them. Any company can make an essential oil product, so please do your homework when selecting oils to use with your dog.
There are currently two main forms of Copaiba on today’s aromatherapy market — Copaiba as an oleoresin (tapped directly from the tree), and Copaiba that has been steam-distilled. While we cannot cover the specifics within this article, the steam-distilled variety is most often selected for use within Veterinary Aromatic Medicine, and is higher in β-Caryophyllene than the oleoresin variety.
Copaiba is very mild, so it’s an ideal oil if you want to avoid overwhelming scents, or wish to lessen the scent or intensity of other oils. Adding small amounts of other oils to Copaiba, such as Black Spruce or Balsam Fir, can make a gorgeous blend for topical application, without the evergreen notes being too overwhelming. Be sure to dilute the blend for topical use, as described below.
Copaiba can also be administered orally in food to help with joint discomfort. In general, for each 50 pounds of dog, approximately one drop is given twice a day. While there are currently no published studies on this use, this method has been used clinically with thousands of dogs, and with long-term use (five years and more). Many of these dogs were able to reduce or eliminate the need for traditional medications, while experiencing improved mobility and general health (especially in the liver). When adding essential oils to foods, it is best to dilute them first within a fatty carrier oil such as coconut oil. This enhances absorption into the body, while providing additional safety margins.
A growing number of integrative and holistic veterinarians are practicing Veterinary Aromatic Medicine, so our ability to safely use essential oils such as Copaiba to manage joint discomfort in dogs will hopefully become increasingly mainstream.
Administering essential oils
For initial use, topically-applied essential oil blends should typically be diluted to between a 3% to 5% concentration. Fractionated coconut oil remains one of my favorite carrier (or fatty) oils in which to dilute essential oils for use with dogs. It handles well in the hair coat, does not tend to leave residue on furniture or bedding, is edible, and eliminates most allergy concerns for humans coming (it appears that fractionated coconut oil does not contain the proteins and molecules that cause coconut allergies in most humans). In general, five to ten drops of this diluted mix can be applied to the dog, up to multiple times a day, as dictated by the dog’s response and duration of response. Put the drops into your hands, rub them together to obtain a light coating, and pet over the area in need. This method can also be incorporated into canine massage or acupressure.
Although sometimes controversial in nature, essential oils have been used quite successfully by many veterinarians. In our experience, we often find that essential oils provide comfort, while also supporting the body in health. Many of the NSAIDs we use in veterinary medicine can be damaging to the liver, but essential oils can be anti-inflammatory while also hepatoprotective.
In many situations, when using blends specifically designed for the purpose, oral use of essential oils is providing additional support to animals with joint discomfort. Before taking this approach, however, it’s very important to work with a veterinarian or other practitioner who is well-versed in the oral administration of essential oils. Use oral protocols only with products that are directly and specifically intended for animal ingestion (not just human ingestion).
Safety is paramount
My preference for most essential oils is that they be combined within blends, as this appears to increase their safety when used by the general public. Essential oils are commonly used by the population at large, and usually without direct guidance from a veterinarian or someone trained in animal physiology, medicine, pharmacology or Veterinary Aromatic Medicine (aromatherapy or essential oils).
It’s a good idea to be cautious of essential oil companies that promote the use of their products with animals if they do not have direct affiliations with veterinary specialists formulating the products and evaluating safety data. It’s also a good idea to consult with an integrative/holistic veterinarian or other essential oil professional before using any oils on your dog.
Veterinarian Dr. Melissa Shelton earned her veterinary degree from the University of Minnesota in 1999, and has owned Crow River Animal Hospital in Minnesota since 2001. Essential oils became a passion for her in 2008, and she is dedicated to providing accurate information regarding oil use in the animal kingdom. Dr. Shelton is also the creator of animalEO Essential Oils for Animals (animalEO.info), a line of pre-screened and expertly formulated blends specifically designed for all animal species.