Aromatherapy, by general definition, encompasses essential oils & hydrosols, or any plant-derived scents used for therapeutic or curative purposes. The end product may be from any part of the plant, with essential oils being the primary, concentrated extract, and hydrosols being classed as a largely water soluble, diluted byproduct of that extract process. Essential oils are more stable and boast a much longer shelf life (virtually infinite for many) than hydrosols. These extracts are used to achieve an emotional or physical response.
I personally approached aromatherapy with cautious optimism. I am always somewhat skeptical of the true effect of many holistic remedies, treatments and complimentary therapy, which serves me well in forming an opinion that isn't based on 'mind over matter'. Beginning with synthetic scents off the shelf was enough to make me dismiss aromatherapy for a very long time. It wasn't until I read about the importance of using real, high quality essential oils that I decided to give aromatherapy another try. I continue to be truly surprised at the life-enhancing impact essential oils can have.
My experience sparked an interest that resulted in extensive research into the use of aromatherapy, and it's effects on both humans and animals. Months of sourcing studies, speaking with Veterinarians and pet parents, as well as reviewing publications on the topic, has me thoroughly convinced. Before I share what I've learned, however, I will caution you to never act solely on what you read on any website, including this one. Always research thoroughly and run the plan by a Veterinarian (traditional or alternative) before treating your pet. It is also imperative that you have a positive diagnosis on which to base your holistic plan.
While the term 'aromatherapy' naturally leads us to conclude that the therapy is based on aroma, it is actually the composition of the plant that provides the benefits. The smell of synthetic lavender, for example, is useless in truly calming the nervous system. The chemical composition of real lavender is what treats the senses to a soothing stress release. Many products marketed as aromatherapy items aren't made with real essential oils, resulting in little more than a pretty smell. It is crucial that real oils are used and furthermore, they must be high quality oils. Our favorite oils are from the reputable Escents Aromatherapy. We like them because their products are not only premium quality offered by an established company, but they are also made in Canada. We also order from Starwest Botanicals in the USA.
When we think of aromatherapy, we often conjure up images of candles or incense. In therapeutic aromatherapy, we would instead use a diffuser to avoid heat, which may compromise the effectiveness of essential oils. Escents Aromatherapy writes, "Ultrasonic Diffusers emit natural aromas and build healthy and pure living environments using advanced air technologies that sterilize, purify and deodorize the air. Oils are broken up into extremely fine micro-particles and dissolved in water without the use of heat, maximizing the extraction of the beneficial ingredients from the essential oils."
Alternatively, we can create a solution using alcohol that can be sprayed in a mist. This is commonly used in veterinarian offices. Aromatherapy for pets may also be part of a massage product, grooming product, heat/cooling pad, or mixed with natural topical treatments.
An animal's olfactory system is a fine-tuned machine and it is used on a far more instinctive level than in humans. It is wired directly to the brain where its processed without question, hesitation, or human emotional responses (such as the memories a certain scent can conjure up). This alone makes it obvious that aromatherapy will be even more effective on animals than it is with us humans. It also tells us that it will take far less to accomplish the same goal, which is one reason why oils should be well-diluted when used on animals. This makes aromatherapy a very economical and effective part of holistic pet care. It was, in fact, dogs and horses who were the original test subjects when chemist Rene Gattefosse first started researching the effects on people, due to the animals' physiological similarity to humans.
As is often the case with pet information, the use of aromatherapy and essential oils is most often discussed in regards to dogs and cats. However, this effective part of holistic pet care may also be used for rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and other small mammals. Obviously this calls for minute amounts. Even pet fish are essential oil fans, albeit not aromatherapy but an environmental treatment of a different sort (such as Tea Tree Oil products). Horses and cattle will also respond well to aromatherapy.
The most commonly seen proof of the effect that true scents can have on animals, is catnip (Nepeta cataria). On the surface, the effects of catnip should come from direct contact with it. However, the scent of catnip also inspires changes in the cat's behaviour. I observed our SPCA kitty with her toys that are stuffed with catnip. These would naturally attract her, but playing with them also brings about the same 'high' that she gets from contact with the herb (if to a somewhat lesser degree). If you ever want to encourage your cat to get more exercise, the simple scent of Catnip in the air will often do the trick.
According the one of our favorite books, Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats: Your A-Z Guide to Over 200 Conditions, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements, pet aromatherapy is often used for:
The calming effects are one of the most valuable uses of aromatherapy for animals. From nervous habits to travel anxiety, scents can be used to relax and soothe an animal's nerves. I have a friend who swears by the calming effects of aromatherapy on her Collie's storm anxiety, which she inadvertently discovered while using essential oil candles to help calm her child during power outages from lightening storms. Stress compromises the immune system, inviting illness, parasites and muscular maladies. It also puts nervous habits into high gear, such as licking and chewing. Stress reduction is therefore a crucial aspect of holistic animal care. Aromatherapy is so effective at calming the nervous system, it is used in many veterinary offices. Calming oils include Lavandula angustifolia, Valeriana officinalis, Anthemis nobilis, Ocimum basilicum, Origanum marjorana, Salvia sclarea, Vetivera zizanoides, Citrus aurantium, Citrus sinensis, Citrus bergamia, and Citrus odorata.
While we don't give much thought to it when buying aromatherapy products for humans, the higher sensitivity and size of animals makes it absolutely crucial that we be aware of potential danger. Treatments can impact animals differently than they do humans, and there are variable tolerance levels amongst species as well. When using these highly concentrated, pure essential oils topically, we must research the possible safety issues. Misused oils can be toxic or fatal, and should always be administered with the guidance of a professional.
Phenols (a chemical group in oils such as those derived from Thyme & Oregano), Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (such as Pine), Phenylpropanes (such as Basil & Cinnamon), and many essential oils in the Ketone group (such as Pennyroyal and Wormwood), should be avoided all together when treating animals. We must also consider age, illness (such as epilepsy) and pregnancy.
Kristen Leigh Bell wrote a book called Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals that I couldn't recommend more highly. In it she advises us to watch for these warning signs that our pet isn't responding well to treatment, or may need a more diluted, less frequent dose.
Kristen also shares a list of essential oils to avoid:
It is also important to keep in mind that many oils that are fine for dogs and horses, are not good for cats (such as Citrus and Pine) or birds. Based on the expert information I've read, I don't recommend the amateur use of oils for cats or birds. There are high quality hydrosols that are safer for non-professionals to use on cats and very small mammals. Extreme caution should also be used when infusing the air for them using oil based aromatherapy diffusers, candles, etc. Closely observe these sensitive pets for signs of a negative reaction, use miniscule doses, and use only for a few minutes at a time.
We recommend beginning with environmental treatments (traditional aromatherapy with diffusers, etc) as it is the safest method of testing the effects of essential oils or hydrosols. When you are convinced that aromatherapy will indeed have the effect on your pet that you are seeking, you can explore the other methods. I would not use this form of treatment with birds in the home, and very limited exposure for cats and small mammals. Less is more for all pets.
If you enjoy making things, you can easily make your own soap and other products using essential oil. We strongly encourage you to do extensive research before deciding how much oil to add. Please run the plan by a veterinarian before using. I again refer you to Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals for recipes that have been well-researched and tested, from soap to 'Boo Boo Wipes'! You will also find recipes and invaluable information in Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy by highly respected expert, Suzanne Catty. World renowned expert Catherine Bird will expertly guide you in regards to horses and aromatherapy, as well as numerous other natural treatments in her book, A Healthy Horse the Natural Way: A Horse Owner's Guide to Using Herbs, Massage, Homeopathy, and Other Natural Therapies.
This article is intended as an introduction to the world of aromatherapy for pets. Once again, please act under the guidance of a professional. For more detailed information, please check out the sources below. Our thanks to them for the fantastic information they have shared about this beneficial aspect of holistic pet care!
© Melody McKinnon, AllNaturalPetCare.com - All rights reserved.
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