Essential Oils and Animals
Animal’s systems, and the way that they are able to deal with and process essential oils, is different to that of humans and so when using any aromatic substances with animals we need to use different protocols, dosages, and methods of use. We may not be able to use all our essential oils with animals but, with care and attention to detail, we are able to help our pets with these gifts of nature.
Working with animals has developed into a discipline on its own. At this point in time, there are not that many people who have specialized in working with animals. One of the best known is Caroline Ingraham. Caroline believes in allowing animals to guide their own treatment using their own innate responses.
In the wild animals self-medicate, they instinctively know what they need, how much to take and when to stop. Just because they have been domesticated doesn’t mean that animals have lost their basic instincts. When animals are allowed to participate in the choice of their own remedies the results can be very profound. Keep in mind that essential oils are very potent substances and the way that animals metabolize aromatic substances is different to the way humans do. Therefore the method of application is very important. One should never force a remedy onto an animal and they should always have room to move away from a remedy if they need to. This makes topical application of aromatic substances tricky. Another factor to keep in mind is that essential oils components are more readily absorbed through the skin in hairy areas. As most animals have fur coats of one sort or another, this must be taken into consideration and the dosage must be very much lower than it would for a human.
Keep in mind that essential oils are very potent substances and the way that animals metabolize aromatic substances is different to the way humans do. Therefore the method of application is very important. One should never force a remedy onto an animal and they should always have room to move away from a remedy if they need to. This makes topical application of aromatic substances tricky. Another factor to keep in mind is that essential oils components are more readily absorbed through the skin in hairy areas. As most animals have fur coats of one sort or another, this must be taken into consideration and the dosage must be very much lower than it would for a human.
While the external application of extracts/oils is used, for the treatment of conditions such as wounds, sweet itch, mud fever etc. these will only be applied to very specific small areas of the body, in very low dilutions and over a limited period of time. Very little essential oil is applied. Most often these oils have been diluted in a water-based gel or perhaps a clay poultice.
Inhalation is often a much more effective method of application. The animal may choose to sniff or lick the remedy but they should always have room to move away from the remedy should they wish to. An animal’s sense of smell is vital to its survival. By flaring their nostrils they direct the air with all its odors right to their olfactory receptors. This, in turn, connects to both the cortex and the limbic regions of their brain thereby eliciting many responses.
In her book Aromatherapy for Animals, Caroline Ingraham says “Inhalations offer high absorption from a relatively small dose. The volatile nature of the essential oil allows the molecules to enter the nasal chamber where they interact with the chemical receptors sending information to the brain. As soon as an aroma is inhaled, the animal’s brain will define and select the correct remedy. The rich vasculature and large surface area of the nasal mucosa allow for swift drug absorption through the membrane, which now acknowledged, calls for certain drugs to be administered intra-nasally in conventional veterinary medicine. Since most essential oils are volatile lipophilic substances, access into the body through this route also allows for rapid absorption. Caution – never leave an inhalation strapped onto an animal for more than two minutes. Always supervise.”
In Animal Aromatics hydrosols, gels, vegetable, and macerated oils can all be used for healing. This can be with or without the addition of essential oils. Before deciding on what remedies to offer an animal one should first collect as much information on what is going on as possible. Don’t overtax the animal by presenting a whole lot of oils one after the other. No more than five or six should be offered in sequence. Then there should be a break for a few minutes before continuing if necessary. When treating a specific condition topically, the animal should be offered the remedy for approval before application. A sniff is usually all that is needed for the go-ahead but if the animal backs or draws away from the remedy it shouldn’t be used. When offering the oils for use by inhalation it is best to use single notes, not blends so that the animal is able to guide the application.
Caroline Ingraham suggests that one holds the open bottle firmly in your hand approximately 15 – 30 cm (6 – 12 inches) from the animal’s nose. Do not put the bottle immediately under their nostrils, but rather allow them to come closer to you if they want to. Carefully watch for any reactions. If the animal shows no interest take the oil away and offer something else. Positive reactions may vary depending on the animal, after sniffing, they may stand still for a while in thought or they may flare their nostrils as they take in the aroma. Watch for even the slightest flaring of the nostrils especially with dogs and cats. The nostrils will not flare if the aroma is not wanted. After a while, the animal may gradually come closer. If the animal turns away remove the bottle.
Working with animals in this way often requires time and patience as the animal must be allowed to move through the process at its own pace, however, I have found that using Caroline Ingraham’s suggested protocols can have extremely rewarding results.
Horses respond well to essential oils and aromatics. They are herbivores and normally eat plants containing essential oils. Therefore they do have the metabolic pathways the enable them to break down most essential oils. Horse will be inclined to take the essential oils by inhalation and licking. Dogs as carnivores seem more drawn to taking the oils through inhalation. Cats do not have metabolic pathways to break down essential oils. They are generally very sensitive to essential oils and the range of remedies they select is very small. A cat will only choose a plant for its medicinal value. They do not have the enzymes to readily metabolize and get rid of unwanted plant compounds, however, they are able to cope with the plant oils that they require. An unwanted essential oil can be relatively toxic to a cat so it is very important to watch their response to the aromas and not force any on them.
Caroline Ingraham, Aromatherapy for Animalsself-published ©2001
Caroline Ingraham, The Animal Aromatics Workbookself-published ©2006