Preparing to say goodbye to a beloved dog or cat is never going to be easy, but essential oils are an effective way to alleviate the physical and emotional challenges of this difficult time, for both you and your animal.
As your dog or cat ages and nears the end of his life, your priorities may shift to ensuring his comfort about all else. At the same time, you’re preparing yourself for the day when you have to let him go. The challenges of having a pet in hospice care can be eased with essential oils, which when used safely and effectively will provide physical and emotional support for both of you.
A move towards hospice care
Today, many older dogs and cats are managed in a home hospice situation, as more animal parents favor nurturing their animals towards a natural passing rather than opting for premature euthanasia. Essential oils are ideal for animal parents who are caring for their companions in this way. Our dogs and cats are very sensitive to the impact of aromatherapy as they have many more nociceptors in their nasal passages than we do. Medicinal fragrances easily traverse through the sinuses directly to the amygdala, the brain’s control center for emotions.
Patients in hospice care can become very agitated and may need oils to provide calming and relaxation. Alternatively, depression is common and oils can be selected to raise mood. Elevating the spirit can improve appetite and even mobility.
Here are my top seven oils, along with two blends, that can help your animal and yourself through end-of-life challenges.
Lavender is the Swiss army knife of essential oils. It’s the one to reach for when it comes to its safety, potential to promote relaxation, soothe irritated skin and calm the mind, and for its antifungal and antibacterial properties. Lavendar can alleviate stress by lowering cortisol. Diffuse or apply lavender topically to senior and hospice patients who have dermatitis or secondary infections from lying in one place too long. It can also help you and your animal sleep better.
Valerian is stronger than lavender. It can be almost sedating and may relieve seizure activity when sprinkled into the mouth of a seizing animal. Valerian has been described as smelling like dirty socks, but its benefits can outweigh its odor.
Copaiba is sap from a tree in the Amazon. It is high in a natural anti-inflammatory chemical constituent called beta-caryophyllene. Senior pets and those challenged by end-of-life situations are often afflicted with inflammatory conditions; probably the most common is arthritis. You can use copaiba “neat” (or undiluted) and massage it onto affected joints and along the spine to support the musculoskeletal system. I call a good massage “petting with intent”. Copaiba has a very pleasant earthy scent you will both enjoy.
Cedarwood diffusion takes you right into the forest! It is oxygenating, opens the mind and creates a general sense of well-being. Oils from trees stimulate feelings of strength and grounding. Cedarwood is also anti-parasitic; many pests, such as fleas, like to take advantage of the old and weak. This oil can be diluted and sprayed on topically. Always remember, when diluting essential oils in water, to add an emulsifying healthy soap so the oil does not simply float on top of the water.
Proper digestive capabilities are often lost when an ill dog or cat is not eating well, too immobile and not defecating properly. Fennel may be used by itself, mixed in water and syringed into the mouth, or in combination with other oils to support good digestion. It can help relieve the discomfort of gas build-up and flatulence. Fennel smells like licorice and sometimes just the scent or a belly massage can make a tummy feel better.
Frankincense has long been revered as a spiritual oil to assist with a peaceful passing. It can provide tranquility when you are feeling overwhelmed. Additionally, some tree species are anti-inflammatory, and some have been shown in studies to have anti-cancer properties. This Biblical oil should be present at every euthanasia. It may be diffused or applied topically. Just an open bottle in the room can be useful.
Rose is touted as having the highest frequency of all oils. It is not surprising that it’s the most sought-after oil. Rose is very uplifting. One drop goes a long way. It can support healthy skin when utilized in an ointment. This oil is nice to put in a mister bottle and spritz in the room where you and your dog or cat spend your most challenging days together.
Two effective essential oil blends
1. Clove, wintergreen, helichrysum, peppermint
This blend is often used topically. I do not diffuse it. The oils contain constituents that can numb sore tissues, decrease redness and swelling, improve circulation and neurologic function, and improve mental acuity. A couple drops can be rubbed between your palms and then massaged along the spine and uncomfortable areas. It creates a warm-cool sensation and smells deliciously minty. It can be layered with copaiba.
2. Clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, lemon, rosemary
This blend can been diffused, used orally, and when combined with mild soap even used as a household cleaner! In a hospice situation, cleanliness is mandatory and the avoidance of toxic cleaners is vitally important. Diffuse this antiseptic blend to kill germs in the air. It can also be used to clean bowls, cages, towels, bedding, counters and floors. It kills microbes without contributing to dangerous bacterial resistance.
Oral health often becomes neglected as an animal ages because senior dogs and cats often object to dental care. I think brushing teeth and gums and battling bad breath are among the most important services a caregiver can offer. Your animal wants to be loved, kissed and cuddled right up until the last day, and good breath is necessary for this. Poor oral health also leads to more systemic disease. Clove will numb a sore mouth and is highly antimicrobial. Cinnamon and lemon smell wonderful and taste delicious. Eucalyptus opens congested sinus passages and airways. Combine this blend with coconut oil for a fabulous natural toothpaste. Apply with gauze to make it easy and effective.
If your pet is in hospice care, combine your knowledge of essential oils usage with prayer, petting with intent, and a strong positive outlook and you will be able to navigate his end-of-life journey with calm, compassion and confidence — and give him the strength he needs to live comfortably and pass peacefully.