More natural treatments are becoming recognized by the scientific community for their health benefits. Tea tree oil is still often seen as a trend or healthcare fad in the United States but actually has long been a source of successfully relieving skin ailments in the Southeastern hemisphere. There are similar uses of tea tree oil for dogs and health benefits our pets can derive from it.
Tea tree oil for dogs can be toxic and poisonous
Tea tree oil (TTO) is derived from a plant called Melaleuca alternifolia which is indigenous to Australia and other tropical regions. A 2006 meta-review found that while evidence is still scarce, tea tree oil definitely has many antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits for different skin treatments, and can be a perfect alternative in this post-antibiotic era (Carson, et al. 2006). A 2004 double-blind study found TTO as an effective treatment for dogs with dermatitis and other skin conditions (Reichling, et al. 2004).
That said, while a completely natural substance, tea tree oil can also be toxic to both humans and pets. AVMA studies with 400+ dogs and cats have shown that when using a 100% TTO concentration on dogs without diluting it, within hours the dog will experience depression of the central nervous system, tremors, ataxia and paresis (Khan, et al. 2014). It's not fatal, but the side effects can last up to 3 days after exposure.
Always dilute tea tree oil before using it on dogs:
Potentially poisonous properties of the popular tea tree oil can easily be avoided when it's administered correctly. When diluted with water or another type of fatty oil good for dogs, such as olive or coconut oil, tea tree oil is commonly applied to the dog's skin to relieve blemishes, rashes, severely dry canine skin conditions, such as eczema or an itchy, sensitive scalp, as well as fungal infections in dogs.
While treatment with tea tree oil for dogs will help relieve itchiness and inflammation, and it serves as a natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory aid, precautionary measures should be taken as the tea tree oil is even more toxic if ingested and should always be diluted and other safety measures must be taken.
As additional precaution when using tea tree oil for dogs, put an Elizabethan collar on your pooch to ensure they aren’t licking the medicated area of skin. These come in all sizes and forms, with some even using an inflatable plastic or comfortable foam. You can keep the recovery cone on them whenever you’re unable to keep a watchful eye on the dog, such as at night when sleeping or during the day when you’re at work or school.
Here are the eight best uses and benefits of tea tree oil for dogs you should know.
8 Ways to Use Tea Tree Oil for Dogs
1. It's a Flea and Tick Treatment
Many pet owners rave about tea tree oil for dogs as a natural flea and tick remedy, and farmers have been using tea tree oil for centuries. A 2003-2004 study that included interviews with farmers in BC concluded that tea tree oil was one of the effective natural treatments for fleas and ticks among different animals (Lans, et al. 2008). Not only does a diluted dose of the oil keep fleas away, but it can kill any already calling your pet home.
In addition to its pungent smell, which makes your dog unappealing, and its ability to suffocate potential pests, diluted tea tree oil for dogs also relieves skin inflammation. Skin related conditions have been treated with TTO for centuries and only recently it started gaining attention among pet owners. This means with tea tree oil your pet can more quickly heal from uncomfortable bites as TTO reduces their redness and keeps itching at bay.
Flea and tick repellent with tea tree oil recipe:
- 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil
- 1 cup of water
Creating this natural flea and tick repellent is easy. All it requires is diluting the oil with water and pouring the mixture into a spray bottle. Spray your dog with the mixture once or twice a day until the pests subside. You may also choose to add another essential oil, such as lavender or eucalyptus, to give the mixture a more pleasant scent. As an alternative, you can try a mix of TTO with Samantha's 3 other flea/tick repellent recipes.
Note: Be careful when applying this homemade substance around your dog's eyes and nose; you may need to cover sensitive areas with your hand when spraying.
2. It Fights Ringworm Infections
An infectious, fungal infection, ringworm is not the result of any kind of worm. Ringworm is a colloquialism for a variety of fungal infections (tinea pedis, tinea corpus, tinea unguium) which is gained from its appearance – a red, circular (or ring) found on the skin. Ringworm in dogs may also look like a random bald patch or scaly, dry skin.
Tea tree oil for dogs has antifungal properties, and it may also kill ringworm fungi. While there's no clear evidence one way or the other due to lack of studies, there's some low quality proof that ringworm in dogs may be treated with TTO. A 2004 review of seven clinical trials found that it's a promising treatment for ringworm. More specifically, 70% success rate was found in a 2002 study, while an older 1992 study showed how using tea tree oil versus placebo significantly improves the fungal conditions.
Tea tree oil for dogs ringworm treatment recipe:
- 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil
- 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- ¾ cups of water
Applying a diluted concoction of tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, and water twice a day for seven days may help clear up your dog’s ringworm infection naturally. Spray the infected site with this recipe or for a more controlled application, moisten a cloth with it and dab the area. Additionally, you can pour this mixture into your dog’s bath.
3. It Helps with Hot Spots
Hot spots have a number of causes: allergies, lack of grooming or over-grooming, result of pest bites, as well as boredom which causes the dog to create hot spots with excessive biting and licking on their own skin. The discomfort that comes with dry, itchy skin is enough to drive a dog mad, sometimes even causing them to itch, bite, and gnaw at the area to the point of breaking skin and potentially causing infection.
Although tea tree oil for dogs has no medicinal pain-relieving properties related to hot spots and there's no current research specifically on using tea tree oil for dogs' hot spots, given that it's a natural anti-inflammatory, it may ease and relieve itchiness in dogs. Not only that, but TTO's pungent scent is typically enough to deter your pet from wanting to lick or bite their hot spots. Additionally, coconut oil used in the below recipe hydrates dry skin so it's likely to ease discomfort and itching.
Natural hot spots treatment with tea tree oil recipe:
- 2-4 drops of tea tree oil
- 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil
For this recipe, use the same concepts mentioned above for mixing TTO with other oils. Application should occur no more than twice a day.
4. It May Fix Canine Acne
Just as tea tree oil can treat acne in humans – according to many studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) – it’s also beneficial the same way for treating dog acne. While rare and not especially threatening to their health, some dogs can experience severe acne. These bumps and pustules are typically found on or around the snout or face of the dog yet don’t typically cause discomfort for your pooch.
In addition to using tea tree oil for dogs with acne, witch hazel (another naturally derived substance) is the best recommended dilatant to mix with TTO, and it also has its own anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to treating acne in dogs.
Tea tree oil for dogs with acne home remedy recipe:
- 2 drops of tea tree oil
- 2 drops of witch hazel
- 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
Before applying this homemade tea tree oil dog acne cream treatment, ensure none of the pimples are open as the oils can sting as well as cause toxicity if entering the dog's blood stream from an open wound. You may gently rinse or wash and pat the acne-prone area dry and then apply a conservative amount of homemade cream.
Note: This treatment is not recommended for dogs experiencing acne around their mouth or eyes. Always consult your veterinarian before attempting to treat issues yourself, particularly if they concern your dog’s face.
5. It Treats Ear Infections and Aches
Your pet may have an ear infection if they excessively scratch at their ears, frequently shake their head to will their ears to flop around or attempt to rub the insides of their ears on furniture, your hand, or the carpet. Additionally, the dog's ear may be exceptionally smelly or have ear wax that is dark brown or pink in color.
Several studies have looked into using tea tree oil for dogs with ear problems. A 2016 meta-review have found some evidence for the effectiveness of TTO for different ear infections and aches in dogs. Other studies of lesser quality have also found correlation between the use of tea tree oil for dogs, rats and other animals and subsiding ear aches, decrease in infection and more (this, this and this).
Tea tree oil for dogs with ear problems home treatment:
- 1-2 drops of tea tree oil
- 2-4 drops of warmed olive oil
Before treating your dog's ears with this recipe, gently clean his ears with a cotton swab or ear wipe specifically designed for animal care, which you can find online, at the vet’s office, or at your local pet supply store (see this ear cleaning guide). After cleaning, drop one to two petite-sized drops at the base of the dog's ear but not directly into the ear canal as this would prove very uncomfortable to your dog. They’re likely to shake their head in order to rid of the strange sensation. Don’t fret though, as this is to be expected and actually helps spread and distribute the oil around the pet's ear.
6. It Helps with Respiratory Infections
Similar to other (essential) oils, tea tree oil can be used as part of aromatherapy for helping to deal with a number of respiratory issues in dogs. However, any issues with the respiratory system in dogs should result in an immediate trip to the veterinarian without hesitation. Do not attempt to treat any such health problems by yourself without consulting with a vet, since they can be fatal.
You’ll know if your dogs are suffering from respiratory problems and diseases if they show some or these or all the symptoms below:
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of appetite
- Coughing or sneezing
- Nasal congestion or colored discharge
- Disinterest in play or activity
While your vet will be equipped to run tests and pinpoint what is ailing your dog as well as develop a treatment plan, you may incorporate the benefits of tea tree oil for dogs in addition to following their recommended instructions.
An oil diffuser with a few drops of tea tree oil is an aromatherapy resource that will help fight off internal infection as well as soothe inflammation in the nasal cavities. Additionally, other essential oils work well with tea tree oil for dogs, such as eucalyptus and peppermint which help to open and clear out the nasal canals with their bright, herbal scent and provide relief for the dog.
7. It's a Proven Mange Mites Treatment
Dog ear mites are related to the species class that ticks are also in. However, unlike ticks, mites actually live at a manageable, small population level on all dog’s skin. These microscopic critters are harmless unless an animal’s immune system is compromised, leading them to overtake the skin and cause more serious cases of skin problems in dogs, such as types of mange. Extreme cases of mange will lead to excessive shedding and may even lead to permanent baldness as scar tissue damages hair follicles.
Mange on dogs is a serious health condition as it represents underlying issues with the pet's immune system, so an appointment with your veterinarian is highly recommended. The vet is likely to prescribe additional medications to help with the weakened immune system as well as recommended medicated shampoos. Additionally, mange comes in different forms, some of which are contagious, so it’s important to talk to a vet before attempting to treat mange yourself. Gaining an official diagnosis and prognosis will enable you to treat your pet at home more effectively.
There are some studies showing that using tea tree oil for dogs with mange can be effective. For example, while Demodex mites are resistant to many treatments, TTO scrubs and tea tree oil baths were effective in treating these mites in a 2005 study. In addition, two 2007 studies (this and this) saw that when combining baby shampoos with tea tree oil, their effectiveness of treating mange mites increases significantly. Based on these studies, it takes about 4 weeks of treatment on average to see the results.
Tea tree oil for dogs with mange mites home remedy recipe:
- ¾ cup of distilled or filtered water
- 3 drops of lavender oil
- 3 drops of tea tree oil
An effective recipe for mange can be treated as a topical spray as well as an addition to your dog’s shampoo. Lavender essential oil, if you happen to have it, is a beneficial addition to this home mange treatment recipe as it also has disinfectant qualities, a pleasing scent, and is naturally soothing.
Dogs have naturally occurring, non-harmful microbes living on and in their bodies, which act as a defensive line as if part of the immune system. If you’ve ever gotten a whiff of your puppy’s paws, then it’s likely you’ve noticed their corn-chip scent (frito feet). This smell is no cause for alarm as it’s the sign of thousands of microscopic microbes living in your pet’s paws. These bacterium act like invisible socks, protecting and shielding the paws from all the foreign bodies they encounter daily.
You may have thought about making your dog smell better (and there are many ways to do it). But while a tea tree oil mixture could lessen a dog’s natural scent, it could also interfere with the beneficial microbes that are busy promoting your pet’s ability to fight off infection and stay healthy.
That said, the warm, dark crevices on a paw are the perfect spot for fungus to call home too, and yeast infections are prone to developing here. For a preventative measure, you may add a few to several drops of tea tree oil to your dog’s bath water, depending on their height. Just be sure all four paws are submerged with the water not coming past their belly or chest. While they’re scrubbed and rinsed, their paws will be immersed in the natural antibiotic, tea tree oil mixture acting as a medicated soak.
Over-bathing your dog can be a serious problem. This is especially true when using tea tree for dogs and treatment of certain conditions. In general, bathing should only occur at most once a month to once every three months, although that is dependent on both the lifestyle of the dog as well as their coat length.
The general rule is as follows: the longer the dog's coat length the less frequently bathing is needed, although brushing may be needed daily. Frequently bathing dogs strips them of natural oils they produce which keep their coat clean, healthy and hydrated. Thus, utilizing the tea tree oil for dogs only at bath time will ensure your dog’s paws are not overtreated and instead protected.