Aromatherapy for Animals

Table of Contents

Veterinary Aromatherapy – Veterinary Essential oils

FAQ Aromatherapy

The AVMC offers aromatherapy for animals, including aromatherapy for horses, ponies, dogs and cats.

Aromatherapy treatment uses aromatic, volatile extracts of plants, as a form of medicine, which is related to and derived from but not the same as herbal medicine. These extracts are often erroneously referred to as ‘essential oils’, since many of the active medicinal components are not oils at all. The volatile extracts contain, for instance, alcohols, esters, terpenes, aldehydes and ketones, in addition to oils. They are generally derived from plants by distillation. The misnomer has so slipped into common parlance, however, that it is pointless fighting it.

As in herbal medicine, the agents are described according to their pharmacological action in the body, e.g. alterative (often appearing as ‘alternative', either as a result of misprint, misunderstanding, ignorance or an over-zealous auto-correction function in a word-processor), anodyne, anthelmintic, anti-catarrhal, anti-emetic, anti-inflammatory, antilithic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti­spasmodic, aperient/laxative, aromatic, astringent, bitter, cardiac, carminative, cathartic/purgative, cholagogue and anticholagogue, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, ecbolic, emetic, emollient, expectorant, febrifuge, galactagogue, hepatic, hypnotic, nervine, rubefacient, sedative, sialogogue, soporific, stimulant, styptic, tonic, vesicant and vulnerary.

The practice is recorded from Egyptian times, so is probably older than that. References appear in the famous Ebers Papyrus, which dates from the eighteenth dynasty. Later, the Holy Bible contains many references to the use of oils, in Israel.

There has been little recorded use of aromatherapy in animals but some vets are now turning to this interesting practice. It is illegal for non-vets to be treating animals in this way (see below).

Practical Application

The ‘oils’ are derived from plants but their use differs from herbal medicine. This is clearly the case, since they are only the volatile fraction of the plant. It is worth noting, at this point, that they are very concentrated and powerful medicines, which must be used with care and understanding. For instance, it is said that some may cause abortion in pregnant animals. This fear may be overstated but of course spasm in the uterine wall during pregnancy may be harmful. For this reason, we always advocate extra care during pregnancy. Their use in food-producing animals can result in ‘tainted’ food products from those animals. In particular, regular high use of Lavender and Tea Tree have been suspected of disrupting hormonal function in young boys. Do not be fooled by the gentle way in which they are applied; this is no quaint or ‘twee' sort of ‘cottage remedy' but serious medicine, which ought to be subject to proper controls.

Horses, being such sensitive and natural creatures, respond wonderfully to the use of aromatherapy, even showing an ability and willingness to ‘choose’ their remedy. It is not, however, possible to guarantee that a horse, so medicated, would pass a competition ‘dope test’. On the farm, residues can occur in meat, milk or eggs. In dogs, there are remarkably few caveats. In cats, we have to be concerned about the level of ingestion, via personal grooming, if aromatherapy remedies are applied to the coat or skin.

There is a possibility of a clash with homeopathic treatment, so if used together homeopathy and aromatherapy must be properly integrated, by a holistic vet and integrated vet, who must be skilled in both.

There is also, as in herbal medicine, a real risk of dangerous summation with concurrent conventional drugs, that are used for the same purpose. That is one good reason why lay (non-vet) practitioners of aromatherapy in animals may not be safe.

Apart from the provisions of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, which bars non-vets from treating animals, the above are powerful reasons why aromatherapy should not be administered by non-vets. The AVMC cannot support the activity of non-vets in the use of aromatherapy in horses, dogs, cats etc. They are acting outside the law.

Some useful and familiar remedies are listed below, each with one of its many properties, to illustrate the versatility and wide scope of the system:

  • Basil – digestive
  • Bergamot – analgesic
  • Cedar wood – insect repellent
  • Chamomile – nervine
  • Camphor – stimulant
  • Clove – anaesthetic
  • Eucalyptus – expectorant
  • Fennel – galactagogue
  • Frankincense – tonic
  • Garlic – disinfectant
  • Hyssop – vulnerary
  • Lavender – calmative
  • Lemongrass – insect repellent
  • Myrrh – astringent
  • Oregano – antibacterial
  • Peppermint – carminative
  • Rosemary – stimulant
  • Tea tree – disinfectant

Ecological note

There are plants which are being harvested from the wild in unsustainable quantities. One example is Sandalwood for aromatherapy. We do not use this oil, for this reason. Because of the conditions in which the plant (tree) thrives and the method of harvesting, it is not easily amenable to sustainable cultivation by man.

N.B.: Although we specialize in alternative therapies, seeking alternatives to conventional drug therapy, we do not shun conventional therapy, per se, considering its worth in each case. No truly holistic vet can ignore the existence of conventional drugs which, while quite unable to cure chronic disease, on rare occasions may be the only way to control distressing or painful symptoms. It is noteworthy how much the body can achieve without drugs, however. Our holistic and integrated service is offered in support of animal patients, ‘owners' and carers and the veterinary profession. We are always willing to assist vets in the UK and worldwide in providing integrated care for their patients, providing the natural therapy component of a treatment program.

The Law

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (other than your own) with aromatherapy, by anyone other than a fully qualified vet. The powerful and potentially dangerous capability of this form of medicine (essential oils) makes observation of this law even more important. The AVMC cannot therefore support unregulated use of aromatherapy in animals, however it is disguised. The ‘permission' of a vet is not sufficient, despite the information given out by some web sites.

Aromatherapy is serious and powerful medicine

Holistic, Alternative, Natural or complimentary?

N.B.: Aromatherapy (essential oils) can be used as a natural air freshener. Citrus oils, pine, rosemary, lavender, rose and others have powerful ability to freshen, enliven and relax the atmosphere, along with their background health-giving properties.

FAQ Aromatherapy


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