Do you grow lavender at home? Do your dogs or cats love its fragrant smell?

Our 'old boy' Cosmo - (Min. Poodle sadly no longer with us) would often spend literally hours rolling in or brushing up against the rows of lavender bush in our back yard.

Cosmo was a very 'busy' dog. Always up to something. But after his 'lavender loving' sessions, he'd come inside covered in bits of purple flower, happy as anything then lay down and sleep for hours!

The Good!...
We know various aromas can affect people and help de-stress so we thought we'd check out what research had been done into pets and how various smells affect them, and sure enough... a study by Dr. Deborah Wells in Ireland looked at the effect of Lavender oil on dogs, in particular whether it could have a calming effect on dogs and reduce excitement.

Many dogs become excited when travelling in a car and this can be distracting and potentially dangerous. These dogs can show signs such as excessive barking, hyperventilation, and hyperactivity. Does this sound like your dog?

The dogs selected for the study had all shown previous excitement when travelling, she used a control group (not exposed to the essential oil) and the treatment group.

As we already know Lavender has been shown to have a calming effect and reduce anxiety in people. For this scientific trial, the oil was placed on towels in the car to produce the odour.

The study showed that dogs exposed to the lavender spent more time resting and sitting and less time moving and barking in the car.

So far no-one seems to have the answer as to how the odour affects the dogs but it does appear to have an effect.

It is also possible that lavender had some effect on people in the car and this may have also affected the dog's behaviour. The bottom line is that lavender may be beneficial for dogs that get over-excited in the car.

The Bad!...
Essential oils are potentially healing but can also be potentially lethal. There are reported toxicities in cats and dogs regarding the application of essential oils usually due to excessive doses. However in the hands of a professional practitioner they may be useful.

Skin burns, anorexia and elevated liver enzymes have also been reported in people, cats and dogs from the use of essential oils.

Cats are particularly vulnerable to poisonings since cats don't detoxify (glucuronidate) xenobiotics (foreign chemicals) such as the cyclic terpenes in tea tree oil or phenols in penny royal for example.

It may be safe in humans but it can very well be poisonous to cats especially as they groom anything off their skin and even in human aromatherapy and essential oil medicine, taking any of these by mouth (oral use) is not recommended unless under the care of a registered practitioner because of the risk.

So the bottom line is, if you are interested in aromatherapy and wondered how it might benefit - or harm your pets, make sure you speak with your veterinarian first for advice.

(Technical information for this story provided by Dr Barbara Fougere - BSc BVMS (Hons) GDBus MOD&T CVA (IVAS), CVHM, CVCP, ACNEM -