How I became an Animal Aromatherapist
My love for animals has always guided my life, and it was because of them that I became an aromatherapist.
In 1997 I was living in the UK working as a horse trainer, specialising in rehabilitation of horses damaged by humans. A mutual friend introduced me to Caroline Ingraham and her work with animals, essential oils and zoopharmacognosy.
Caroline trained in aromatherapy with Robert Tisserand in the 1980s. Soon after qualifying, she had dramatic results using essential oils with her own animals, including saving her dog after a rattlesnake bite. These experiences inspired her to investigate further.
So, while living in California, she worked under guidance of a vet to see how essential oils could be used for animals. This led to the development of a system based on animal self-selection, known as Applied Zoopharmacognosy.
My First Experience with Essential Oils
After hearing about this, I experimented with a horse I had in for training. I grabbed a few essential oils I had in my bathroom and let him smell the bottles. He clearly favoured the Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), although he was so manic I wasn’t too sure how it would help.
What happened next was very dramatic. I watched this horse transform in a matter of minutes from a stressed out maniac who couldn’t stand still, to a calm, relaxed horse, head hanging over his stable, eyes soft. All because of a few sniffs of a little brown bottle.
I was hooked and went on to train with Caroline, gaining a certificate in Animal Aromatherapy and Touch for Health for Animals in 1998. And the rest is herstory, as they say.
Continued Professional Development
After that first qualification I found I wanted to learn more and more. I continued my studies of essential oils, traditional Chinese medicine and kinesiology with The Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy, the Institute of Traditional Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy, and the Institute of Balanced Health. And even started treating people!
What you can learn from animals
Still, my main focus has always been the animals and I have learned most of what I know from them. Today I would like to share with you some important things I have learned, that may enlighten your practice too.
1. Inhalation is enough
If an animal has a problem, I offer him a selection of essential oils that I think may help. The animal will smell each bottle showing different levels of interest. I then dilute the chosen oil in a carrier oil and allow the animal to interact with it as he chooses. The animal will indicate if he wants to inhale, lick or have the oil applied topically.
The deeper the problem the more likely an animal is just to inhale. You will see them going into a deep trance state, eyelids flickering as they process the neuro-chemical changes in their brain. Inhalation alone can transform physical and emotional problems, there is no need for topical or internal use of essential oils if the animal does not choose to take them that way.
2. Less is best
Often, after a few minutes of inhalation of a .05 % dilution you will see a significant improvement in the presenting problem. For example, dogs who are habitually aggressive towards other dogs becoming friendly; horses who are fearful gaining courage. Sometimes it will take a few sessions of inhalation, plus some reconditioning, for a full recovery, but a tiny amount is enough to trigger a radical change.
I once treated a cat who was refusing to eat. I diluted 1 drop of carrot seed (Daucus carota) in 25 ml of sunflower carrier oil and held the open bottle in my hand. The cat walked past the bottle, smelling quickly as he walked, went straight to his food bowl and started eating.
3. Essential oils are for short term use
Once the oil has done its work an animal will no longer wish to interact with it. One day you may see a dog falling on an essential oil as if it’s the most tasty hunk of steak, sniffing and licking enthusiastically. The next day they will look at you as if you are mad for thinking they may like it and never show any interest in the oil again.
The response changes from oil to oil and day to day. For this reason I never blend essential oils, so the animal can interact with each essential oil as he likes and for as long as he likes.
4. Topical application? Not so much
Although I do use essential oils topically for wounds, or flea repellent, I keep it to a minimum, and always let my animals guide me as to how much and which spot. If they don’t want topical application I do not apply.
Sometimes an animal will indicate that he wants the oil put onto a certain spot on his body. Very often this is an acupoint that relates the to problem/essential oil. Generally speaking a small dab of diluted oil on this spot enhances the healing, but if you try to put it elsewhere the animal will pull away.
All records of adverse effects of essential oils for animals are when they are applied topically, without the animal’s permission. This can lead to epidermal or respiratory distress. And in extreme cases liver damage, especially with cats.
Humans and zoopharmacognosy
For several years I worked with at risk teenagers, many of whom suffered from PTSD, leading to violent or self-harming behaviour. Because many of them had suffered sexual abuse massage was not an option. I found that allowing these kids to self-select essential oils, just like with animals, was powerfully transformative and gave them some sense of control of their behaviour.
When I work with a human animal, I work exactly as I do with any other species. I use Chinese medicine principles to understand which essential oils may best suit the problem, making a shortlist of about three to five essential oils. I then ask the person to smell each oil and gauge their reaction.
I observe how they smell the oil, waiting to find the one that they ‘drink’ through their nose (not literally!). Or that they don’t want to give back to me. Sometimes the initial reaction to the ‘right’ oil will be to pull away, or be uncertain if they like the smell, but they will return for another smell, and another.
Once we have found an oil the person responds to strongly I dilute it in a neutral base oil, such as sunflower or grapeseed. I dilute more highly for emotional problems, less for physical. Usual dilutions are 1-3 ml in 10 ml for emotional and 3-5 for physical, but it will depend on the sensitivity of the person as well.
I then tell them to keep the bottle of diluted oil with them at all times, to smell it whenever they need to, dab on pulse points if they feel moved to. At first they will remember to smell it frequently, but gradually this will reduce until days go by without them remembering. By this stage there will be a significant improvement in the presenting problem.
Using the principles of zoopharmacognosy is a great way for humans to reconnect with their instincts and learn how to listen to our bodywisdom, which knows what we need to heal. We are all animals when it comes down to it. The non-verbal, four-legged variety are still one with their instincts and have a very direct response to the healing molecules of essential oils. Traditionally humans have watched other animals to learn which plants heal and which hurt. Watching animals interact with essential oils has taught me that a small amount of highly diluted essential oil, used short term is an effective and safe way to benefit from their healing powers.
About the author: Nayana Morag is a qualified animal aromatherapist and author of the books Essential Oils for Animals:Your complete guide to aromatherapy for natural animal care and management, and The Aromatic Dog, Essential oils, hydrosols, and herbal oils for everyday dog care: A Practical Guide. For 20 years she has been learning and teaching about aromatic plants and natural animal care all over the world.
Nowadays she lives on a farm in Portugal with a herd of horses, various dogs and hillsides of aromatic plants. So, everyday she has the opportunity to see how her animals interact with aromatics in a natural setting. You can join her in Portugal to learn any time. Or join us for a certificate course in Animal PsychAromatica September 14th-25th or study online