Q: Recently, I bought some essential oils for myself and I read that they have various uses for dogs too. I understand not all of them are safe for dogs and that they have to be diluted before use. Which would you recommend, and for what purposes?

A: There are some basic golden rules to follow that can make essential oils very safe to use in dogs. First and foremost is the actual purity and quality of the oil itself. Price is often an indicator; there are many cheaper oils on the market that use synthetic fragrances, chemical solvents and diluents that can all be irritants to the skin, and even more so if ingested. Always assume with any pet that what you apply to their skin will have a very high chance of ending up in their mouth too, as both dogs and cats will self-groom after application of any topical product, including essential oils, which may be toxic if ingested.

Another basic rule of thumb is dilution. If you use a carrier base oil, say coconut oil (in warm climates it remains in the oil state), then you can use 20ml of oil, and add 7 to 10 drops of the essentials oil(s) to that base, and make a safe topical blend. To apply, add a few drops to your hands, rub them together, and then gently run your hands through your dogs fur, adding some massage if you wish. Some oils like frankincense, tsuga, and lemongrass, have proven anti-cancer activity, and can be applied directly to skin tumours.

One of my favourite oils is lemongrass. It has so many beneficial properties, such as antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer. I include it in an ear wash to assist with clearing stubborn ear infections, and in a skin spray (combined with apple cider vinegar and colloidal silver) for inflamed/infected/yeasty skin issues.

Another very useful oil is cedarwood oil, as it is a highly effective flea killer. Just add a few drops to a regular shampoo base to make a natural topical anti-parasite wash. Other safe and effective oils include thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram, wintergreen and cypress—one drop of each into 20ml of base oil works as a good general tonic. Lavender is a great calming oil for easily distressed pets, before vet clinic visits, and on insect bites.