Aromatherapy for dogs?
Does the concept of aromatherapy for dogs conjure up images of poodles in beauty parlours, relaxing to soothing music and having a facial? Because aromatherapy has been so over-marketed as a ‘beauty aid’ in this country the idea of using essential oils to heal dogs can seem very strange. Actually, it is one of the most logical and sensible ways to help our pets be healthy and happy; it is also easy to learn the basic principles of Essential Oil Therapy for Animals so you can use it safely on your own dogs.
Why use essential oils for dogs?
Dogs benefit from essential oils because they are a natural solution for many common physical or behavioural problems. Many plants contain essential oils, they are the fragrant messengers that, among other things, attract or repel insects, help the plant to heal cuts, or repel fungi and bacteria. Just as essential oils can disinfect a cut in a tree, so they can help us heal our dog's wounds; essential oils that contain phyto-hormones, such as rose, effect a dog's hormonal balance, helping to ease cyclical moodiness, regularize the cycle or control an excess of hormones as in spontaneous lactation.
When a dog smells an essential oil the molecules pass via his olfactory system to the limbic area of the brain, the area that deals with emotion, instinct and regulation of many of the bodies systems, for instance the anti-inflammatory response. In the world of holistic medicine it is recognised that mind and body are one unit and the mind has a large influence on the health of the body. Recent science agrees that inhalation can be a direct and effective way of delivering medication to the body, also much study has been made on the effect of fragrance on the psyche.
Essential oils reduce stress
Essential oils work on your dog's body and mind together, reducing stress, which is one of the biggest triggers for disease, at the same time delivering tiny amounts of healing compounds into the system. When using essential oils with dogs we do not apply them topically except in very specific circumstances. There are obvious logistical problems in covering a furry house pet in oil, (the mess on the carpets doesn’t bare thinking about!), but the main reason is that the animals have shown us it is unnecessary. I have seen dogs let go of inappropriate behaviours after just smelling an essential oil for a few minutes. I was once giving a talk and a very shy dog had been brought in as the ‘guinea dog’. She spent the time hiding under her person’s chair and all we had seen of her was her nose. I offered her diluted geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) to smell and within minutes, as I continued my talk, she came out and greeted everybody on the front row. Usually it will be a few days before you see a change and often it can take weeks and a changing array of essential oils until we work our way to the root of the problem.
Dogs self-medicate in the wild
Given the freedom to roam animals will self-medicate. I’m sure most of you have seen your dogs eating grass from time to time, if you watch carefully you will see they are picking very specific grasses. Rough grasses with serrated edges ball together in the intestine to scrape worms out; soft, bitter grasses cleanse the stomach when regurgitated. Eating dirt and faeces are also ways of self-medicating. Clay is an excellent de-toxicant and wild animals will travel miles to clay deposits in order to cleanse their livers; the faeces of herbivores is full of enzymes and half digested protein, very useful for a carnivore’s digestive system.
Dogs can choose, naturally
In Essential Oil Therapy we utilise the animal’s innate ability to know what it needs (known scientifically as zoopharmacognosy) and after choosing possible essential oils and diluting them in base oil they are offered to the ‘patient’ to smell. We then allow the dog to guide us in the use of the essential oils. Sometimes dogs just want to smell the essential oil, often going into a trance like state, sometimes they want to lick them, and occasionally they will indicate they want them dabbed on a specific point on their body, either by moving into your hand or pointing with their nose. Each essential oil is offered separately and the dog will usually have a different response to each oil. It is fascinating to watch the precise reaction to each oil and how it changes from day to day until, in most cases, they show no further interest.
Side effects of essential oils
If a dog is allowed to choose its own essential oils it is highly unlikely that there will be any side effects, as long as the essential oil is well diluted. One of the only side effects of this method of using essential oils is the increase in trust and communication between dog and person. With the best intentions in the world we deny our animals autonomy in their lives, by offering them choice we give them a new level of respect and it increases a dog’s feelings of trust in you. This is especially beneficial in dogs who have experienced abuse or trauma in their lives. The experience of being listened to is empowering and very healing in itself.
Essential oils help many conditions
Essential oils can help a wide range of ailments such as arthritis, itchy skin, allergies, digestive problems, weak bladders, inflammation, colitis…. the list is endless. My own major area of interest is behaviour and training problems and I have had great success using essential oils and other aromatic substances for many common problems such as: noise sensitivity, phobias, aggression, stereo-typical behaviours, stress-related illness, hyperactivity and fear. It is important to look at the whole picture in these cases as there are often other factors to consider as well. Diet, management, the owner’s emotional state, can all contribute to behavior problems, and these need to be addressed before lasting changes can be seen. However using essential oils is like opening a door into the dogs heart and mind allowing it to relax, move on from bad experiences and re-set brain impulses that have closed down due to long-term stress or a traumatic incident.
Kinesiology for balanced health
The other tool I use in working with dogs is kinesiology. This is a system developed by an American chiropractor to test the body for emotional, physical, chemical and energetic imbalances, in other words anything that might be causing physical or behavioural problems. Kinesiology allows me to get the root of a problem very quickly instead of treating symptoms, it also allows me to assess which essential oils a dog needs without actually visiting it. All sorts of things can cause our bio-systems to be thrown out of whack -injury, shock, diet, emotional upset -, regular kinesiology check-ups can prevent problems developing by keeping the body balanced and flowing.
Use essential oils with respect
Although essential oils are natural they should be used with respect and knowledge and the permission of your pets. It is important to dilute essential oils well before offering them to dogs and always allow your dog to guide you in their application. This means you must be patient and resist the impulse to think you know best. A dog’s sense of smell is at least 10 times better than ours, and recent research suggests it could be as much as 100 times as good as our own. Imagine how distressing it is to be covered in a fragrance you hate (fox poo for example!), then multiply it by 100, and you start to get an idea about why choice is so important.
The basic principles of Essential Oil Therapy for Animals are easy to learn; they add a new dimension to your life and a new level of communication between you and your dogs and other pets. If you follow the principle of allowing choice and know a little about what essential oils can do they are a safe and effective way of helping your animals.
I might be biased but, personally, I don’t know how anyone lives without essential oils!