Tea tree oil has become increasingly popular over the past few years as a great tool to have in your dog’s health tool kit.
Tea tree oil has a reputation for having effective antibacterial and antifungal properties that make it very popular with dog owners who want to take the best possible car for their pets at home.
After all the trauma of a visit to the vets combined with the cost of a visit is something that none of us like to contemplate.
This powerful essential oil has a range of possible uses with our dogs.
From being used to kill fleas, to curing ear infections and easing itchy skin, tea tree oil seems to be an all in one first aid kit for our dogs.
Is tea tree oil one of those magic bullets?
Is it as simple as saying “I put tea tree oil on my dog” and then our dogs are instantly cured?
Read on to find out more…
What is tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil (and I’m going to shorten that to TTO because otherwise my fingers will fall off) comes from an Australian tree called Melaleuca alternifolia.
There is a photo of one right there
It’s beautiful isn’t it?
It has been used as an alternative medicine by Aborigines for over a century.
They inhale the oil from the leaves to treat coughs and colds and also dilute the oil to make an infusion to treat skin ailments.
Tea tree oil and humans
And there is scientific evidence to back these claims up.
A component within TTO, called terpinen-4-ol, seems to play a key role.
This trial found that tea tree oil was effective at killing a bacteria called MSSA (methicillin- susceptible Staphylococcus aureus which is frequently found on the skin of people and dogs.
Now this bacteria lives on the skin quite happily without causing any problems.
But once the skin is irritated this bacteria has a field day!
And this study found that TTO had effective and reliable antibacterial and antifungal properties.
The trouble is that none of these studies have involved a large number of people to scientifically back these historical claims up.
Tea tree oil and dogs
There have been a few studies of the use of TTO with dogs.
This study in 2002 showed that tea tree oil was effective at killing the fungus Malassezia when treating dogs with severe skin conditions.
It lasted for four weeks and the dogs had a TTO cream applied twice everyday. The cream had a 10% concentration of TTO in it.
Tea tree oil golden rules- how to use tea tree oil safely
Before I look at specific uses of TTO with your dog, I want to talk in broader terms about how to use tea tree oil safely.
Now TTO comes in many forms in the shops where we might buy it from.
Pet shampoos or human shampoos that contain it are very popular as are bottles of pure tea tree oil, labelled as “100% tea tree oil”.
The first golden rule with tea tree oil is that you should never use it without diluting it.
This research highlighted the cases of over four hundred dogs and cats that were poisoned when their owners applied neat TTO onto their dog’s skins or more shockingly made them drink it.
And what were the effects of the poisonings? Tremors, paralysis, stumbling and extreme lethargy.
And although a bottle of pure TTO is expensive, this dilution rule makes the small bottle go a long way.
And the dilution rates are very high.
Adding 1 drop of TTO to 100 drops of water is about perfect.
Some people even recommend 1 drop of TTO to 1000 drops of water.
But you needn’t mix tea tree oil with just water.
It might be best to mix it with olive oil which will probably help it to be applied more easily.
Making up the mix can be quite fiddly and dare I say it boring.
This is because you are using such small amounts and in order to make a safe mixture you need to stay very focused for a few minutes.
After all, using one of those eye drops can be a real strain!
And then you need to make sure that the mixture is thoroughly mixed together to make sure that it is evenly distributed.
And the second golden rule is that your dog should never ingest it.
Yes I know that Aborigines have a tradition of inhaling a weak solution of TTO to help fight a cold but don’t even contemplate trying to get your dog to swallow a solution of TTO for any reason.
Now that we have outlined a few global golden rules, it is time to start answering some specific questions.
Can I put tea tree oil on my dog for fleas?
On the surface of it, this seems quite sensible.
If it can kill fungus and bacteria then surely it would kill fleas on contact.
Which if you used a sufficiently strong concentration of it, I could imagine that TTO would make “mincemeat out of” fleas.
The concentration levels that you would need to obliterate fleas could do serious harm to your dog.
Another factor is that when you treat dogs for fleas you need to treat or cover the whole of their body, the amount of tea tree oil that ends up on their coat could be quite high.
A better home remedy for fleas would be diatomaceous earth.
This is a very fine powder, must like talcum powder that you can rub over your dog’s coat.
It covers any fleas and effectively dissolves them.
Just make sure that you buy the food grade variety of DE so that it is perfectly safe if your dog ingests a bit of it.
Can I put tea tree oil on my dog for itchy skin or hot spots?
As I have already mentioned, there is some evidence that tea tree oil can be used to successfully kill a fungus that is common in skin infections in dogs.
If you can safely create a dilute mixture of tea tree oil and olive oil then I would give this a go.
The difference between using TTO to treat itchy skin and using a TTO to treat fleas, is that itchy skin tends to be in smaller, isolated patches on your dog and so the total amount of dilute tea tree oil solution on your dog’s body is less.
To state the obvious, hot spots by definition are isolated patches!
Only use this solution to treat small patches of itchy skin or hot spots.
And give your treatment time to work- think weeks not days.
But importantly, if things deteriorate then phone your vet.
Larger patches of itchy skin or several smaller patches of itchy skin should only be treated by your vet.
Can I put tea tree oil on my dog’s collar?
Putting a diluted solution of tea tree oil on your dog’s collar would definitely be worth the try.
Remember to thoroughly stir the TTO and olive oil together and then to thoroughly rub it into your dog’s collar?
What I like about this “hack” is that there is no chance of your dog ingesting it.
Although you are placing TTO close to their eyes- so just make sure that you have mixed it well.
Can I put tea tree oil on my puppy?
The final question that I want to try and answer is about using tea tree oil on puppies.
And I say no.
I have already mentioned the research that highlighted the plight of the dogs and cats who had pure TTO used on them?
Well, part of the findings were that younger cats and smaller cats were more at risk than adult cats.
In fact not only would I say don’t even risk using a diluted solution of tea tree oil on a puppy- I wouldn’t even attempt to use a diluted solution of TTO on any dog if you have a puppy in the house.
Just in case the puppy is in the habit of licking or grooming the other dogs.
Can I treat my dog’s ear infections with tea tree oil?
This is a bit complicated and so I have devoted a whole article to answering this question, which you can read here.
But to cut a long story short, tea tree oil has been found to kill the yeast which is commonly found in dog’s ear infections.
And, as clever as they are, I have yet to meet a dog who can lick inside their ears.
But ear infections in dogs can deteriorate very quickly as well as causing a lot of pain.
For this reason alone I would recommend booking your dog to see their vet if you suspect them of having an ear infection.