Essential Oil Therapy for Animals - The Scentsitive way to Well-Being

Percy checks out the oil with interest.

by Nayana Morag

Essential oils are an effective and gentle answer to many of today's common animal problems, often bringing relief where allopathic medicines hold no answer. Chronic skin conditions, allergies, arthritis, sarcoids, Cushing's Syndrome and behavioural problems are just a few of the conditions that have responded well to treatment with oils. When the use of essential oils is combined with kinesiology as a diagnostic tool we have a truly holistic way to get to the root of any problem.

Essential oils are the potent extracts of aromatic plants and have been used as an aid to health for centuries. They have enjoyed a renaissance this century since a French chemist accidentally discovered the healing properties of lavender oil after burning himself in a lab explosion. The actions and properties of many essential oils have been catalogued since then and indeed many of them are the basis of today's synthetic medicines.

Kinesiology is a system that combines manual muscle testing with the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and other healing modalities. By isolating certain muscle groups and applying gentle pressure it is possible to gauge the quality of energy within the related acupuncture meridian. Using this system we can tell exactly where the imbalance is that is causing the presenting problem. For example it is possible that what is seen as a behavioural problem comes from pain in the back, or a skin problem comes from a weakness in the liver.

In Britain the use of kinesiology and essential oils for animals has been developed over the last ten years by aromatherapist Caroline Ingraham and her students and is regulated by the Guild of Essential Oil Therapists for Animals (GEOTA). Through a blend of knowledge and experience and by allowing the animals to teach us, we have created a method that is safe and effective and receives a growing respect from the veterinary community.

Here he lets me know he wants more!

So how does it work?

If horses were roaming free they would have access to a variety of healing herbs, which they would eat as needed using their sense of smell to differentiate between plants. This instinctive ability is one of the most important elements of the GEOTA method. A trained therapist first takes a detailed case history in order to understand all the emotional and physical factors that might have contributed to the animal's present condition. Then a kinesiology test is done to find any weaknesses in the horse's system and the appropriate oils are chosen.

The oils are not blended but diluted in a base of infused herbal oil and offered individually to the horse. The maximum number of oils offered at one time is five, after that horses seem to lose their powers of discrimination.

Horses respond to the oils by either inhaling, licking or turning away. Often times if they want it applied topically they will even indicate with their heads exactly where to put it. The oils are then offered to the horse once or twice a day - depending on the degree of interest shown - until the horse shows no further interest, usually within three to ten days. Sometimes a horse will show great interest for one session then show no further interest, or alternatively be rather blasé the first time with interest increasing as the treatment progresses. If the horse shows no interest in the oil then it is offered again after a day or two; if there is still no interest it is not applied. The only time there has been any adverse effect using the oils is when they are applied without offering them to the horse first.

Once the horse has lost interest in the oils the therapist will re-test to make sure all his organs are now strong or if some underlying problem has surfaced and more oils are needed. This rarely happens except where the problem is very long running or there has been much abuse. Usually one course of treatment is enough to bring a complete and lasting change.

Percy rubs his nose into the oil on my hand.

One great benefit of this gentle system is how it increases the bond of trust between handler and horse; this is particularly useful where there has been past abuse or trauma. By allowing the horse to participate freely in its own healing process we return a measure of autonomy to creatures that are used to having everything done to them rather than with them.... And in their inimitable fashion horses repay us for this small kindness with their hearts.

Case histories

Five year old, home-raised Splash came to me because she was overprotective of her personal space, baring her teeth if you came into her stable. She had also started to bite randomly and with no apparent reason although mostly she had a friendly disposition. My first impulse was to look at this as an emotional problem but the only weakness the kinesiology had shown was in her stomach, which while unusual was not unreasonable as tension can be held in the stomach. However after much trying of different 'emotional' oils I settled on peppermint, the most simple and 'physical' of the oils, five drops in five mls of carrot seed infused oil. She was offered the oil and inhaled it deeply, going into a trance like state. After three sessions of inhaling the oil she lost interest, and both the biting and the over-protectiveness disappeared. Peppermint oil is the first choice for griping stomach pains. On an emotional level it dispels feelings of pride and inferiority.

Two: Chappy was a laminitic rescue pony. For twelve years he had lived alone in a neglected weed patch and had been tormented by the local children. Now he was living in a pleasant pasture with two other horses and had a loving owner, however.... he bit, climbed out of his stable, wouldn't be left alone, barged into anyone who entered his paddock and chewed the gate anxiously as people approached. He was also arthritic in both shoulders, the near back leg and his knees. His glands often swelled and his nostrils were always inflamed; some days he had a deep raucous cough.

Then he decides to lick it as well.

The kinesiology test showed a picture of a compromised immune system, a sluggish system, especially the liver and circulatory system, and multiple allergies.

The oils that were selected were:

A clear distillation of bladderwrack seaweed, a strong immune stimulant that gets things moving

Great mugwort, an antihistamine

Hay, often indicated for allergies on the homeopathic principle of 'like cures like'

Yarrow, also anti-allergenic and a strong anti-inflammatory plus it releases past trauma on an emotional level

Ginger, warming and analgesic, stimulates circulation and builds a sense of self worth

These oils were all diluted at 5 drops per five mls in comfrey infused oil.

He accepted all the oils, inhaling the seaweed and great mugwort and licking the others. The physical symptoms of allergic reaction cleared within a week, he allowed his owner to show him affection and enter his space without anxiety, and he lost interest in most of his oils. He showed continuing interest in the ginger until he was put on an herbal maintenance mix for the arthritis. I also made him up a blend of oils to apply topically on the days when his arthritis seems bad. Nowadays he 'always seems to be smiling' according to his owner.

A few tips for the safe use of essential oils

Never apply oils without offering them first; the incorrect oils are at best annoying (imagine being smothered in a perfume you hated with no way to wash it off) and at worst dangerous. Offer each oil before each application.

Dilute oils to a 1% solution before applying.

Know about the oil you are offering as some oils have side effects (such as bergamot which is photo-toxic and will burn skin badly if exposed to sunlight within twelve hours of application).

To offer the oil hold the open oil bottle firmly in your hand leaving only the top exposed so the horse cannot take it from your hand and do not put the bottle down where a horse can reach it. Hold the bottle a few inches away from your horse's nostrils, be careful not to touch his nose, and then patiently watch his reaction.

Signs of a keen interest: smelling oils intently for a long time, the lip curls (flehmen), follows the aroma around, tries to nibble the bottle. (Offer oils twice a day)

Signs of a moderate interest: A few sniffs, looks away then returns to the bottle, ears forward, slightly flared nostrils, easily distracted. (Offer oils once a day)

No interest: Turns away from the aroma, ears back, and walks away. (Do not apply oils)

If the horse shows signs of wanting to lick the bottle dab a small amount of oil on your hand and allow him to lick it off. Repeat this two or three times.

For topical application rub, it is best to mix the oils with a water-based gel; otherwise the coat can become sticky and attract dirt.

Do not offer more than five oils at any one time.

Oils are potent chemicals albeit natural and should be treated with respect. Always check with your holistic veterinarian and a qualified Essential Oil for Animals Therapist before applying.

For more information:

The Guild of Essential Oil Therapists for Animals:

About the author:

Nayana Morag is a qualified Essential Oil for Animals Therapist and a member of GEOTA. She has worked with horses all her life, specialising in the ones no one else wanted! She has also developed her own method of teaching riding based on the martial arts and body-awareness techniques and is the author of the 'Riding Raps' series of audiotapes. She travels worldwide to teach workshops in Essential Oils for Animals and is currently arranging 2001 clinics for the US and other countries.