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updated 12/10/01
Aromatherapy for animals

Aromatic plants and oils have been used for thousands of years, as incense, perfumes and cosmetics and for their medical and culinary applications.

The term "aromatherapy" was first used in 1928 by a French chemist who found that lavender helped heal a burn on his hand quickly and helped prevent scaring. But aromatherapy is not just about sense of smell. Each essential oil has an individual combination of constituents that interact with the body's chemistry in a direct manner, which in turn affects certain organs or systems as a whole. By massaging the oils into the skin they are absorbed by the skin and taken into the body.

For example, if you massage garlic into your foot you may well find that your breath will smell of garlic a few hours later.

We at Naturallypaws decided it was time we learnt a little more about how aromatherapy works with animals and we booked ourselves in for a weekend course with Nayana Morag. This was a weekend of quite intense learning. As well as learning about the oils we learnt about Kinesiology which is a system that is often used with aromatherapy. Gentle pressure is applied to a muscle and the response monitored. It works with the meridian system and tests the energy flow for imbalances. There were some surprising results.


There were a mixed group of people on the course, all with the common aim of trying to keep our animals healthy naturally. Lunch conversation was extremely interesting and the topics ranged from how the herds woman used homoeopathic remedies and why she was looking to use aromatherapy, to the problems of a couple of arab horses the international breeders had to a lady's cat and dog problems.

If you wish to know more about the courses they are listed on the Naturallypaws website under "Courses" or give us a ring here at Naturallypaws.

We were sure other people would like to know more about aromatherapy for animals so Nayana wrote this article for us.

The use of Essential Oil Therapy for animals has many benefits for both pets and carers.

Oils are a highly useful tool for those who wish to care for their pets naturally and holistically and it is easy for animal owners to learn the basics needed to use essential oils safely and effectively. Essential oils are extracted from healing plants and contain ingredients that animals would routinely select for the maintenance of their own well being if they were in the wild. Fragrance has always been the messenger plants use to communicate across the species, triggering responses such as attraction or repulsion so it makes sense that animals understand their messages. In the application of essential oils for animals this natural synthesis is exploited as I will explain later.

Because of the volatile nature of the oils when we smell them we absorb their chemical constituents into the brain via the olfactory system. The sense of smell is connected to the limbic system of the brain where emotions, memory and certain regulatory functions are situated, so when the oils are inhaled they trigger neurotransmitters which in their turn act to reduce pain, sedate, stimulate, calm or whatever their function is.

It is widely accepted these days that our emotional state influences our physical state, stress suppresses the immune system and there is nothing as healing as laughter. Essential oils work simultaneously on the emotional and physical level - e.g. oils that calm angry inflations of the skin also calm the nerves- and it is often apparent that as a physical condition clears there is a change in an animal's disposition.

So how are they used in animals? In traditional aromatherapy, oils are blended and then massaged into the skin, this obviously has its draw backs when you are presented with a fur covered mammal. The method that has been developed in the past decade by aromatherapists and vets working together, uses the fact that animals know what they need to heal.

Oils are selected based on a detailed history of the animal and an analysis of its character and habits. Kinesiology is also used to help choose the oils. Each oil is then offered individually to the animal to smell, not more than five oils at a time for horses and three oils for dogs and cats. The bottle of oil is held firmly and at a distance of at least six inches from the animal's nose. If the animal needs the oil it will either smell it intently for a few minutes often going into a trance like state, or show signs of wanting to lick the oil bottle, or indicate in some way that topical application is required. Dogs often roll on their backs, horses will shake their head pointing at the sore point or stamp one foot or another, cats will rub themselves against you.

This procedure is then repeated once or twice a day depending on the degree of interest the animal shows, ceasing once the animal turns away from the offered oil which can take anywhere from one day to (rarely) several months. The average length of time that the oils are usually taken is three days to a week. If an oil has been rejected it should be offered again for two more days, it often happens that as interest in one oil wanes they will want to take an oil that was initially rejected.


Once the oils have been selected they are diluted to a 1% solution in a base of vegetable or infused herb oil. If the animal has shown signs of wanting to lick the bottle a tiny amount of oil is dabbed on the hand and the animal is allowed to lick it off. Cats are particularly sensitive to the oil and a small amount is often enough to trigger healing. Also with cats the water that is produced in the process of distilling essential oils (known as hydrolat) is often used instead of the oil itself.

Animals enjoy the oils and it is a great pleasure to be able to offer them help in a way that allows them to participate in their own healing. Also allowing the animals to choose which oils they want returns some autonomy to lives which are all too often in someone else's control. This is a great way to increase the bond of trust between animal and carer which is particularly useful where there is a history of abuse or multiple medical procedures that have led to "hate the vet" syndrome.

Although they are natural substances essential oils should be used with care as they are highly potent and can be toxic if misused. However it is easy to learn how to use them safely and effectively and then they can be a wonderful way to help maintain your pet's well-being.

(Information given here is not intended to replace proper veterinary care. Always talk to your vet first if you have a problem)