If you are exploring essential oils for your animals – most likely you have been introduced to them by someone who absolutely LOVES essential oils. They are hard not to love. And they are amazing. However, as much as I love them, it is incredibly important to have a truthful and realistic view of their actions and their limitations.
For a bit of history – I started my own personal essential oil use within one of the larger “Multi-Level Marketing” companies back in 2008. One thing these venues do exceedingly well is to market and spread information regarding essential oils to their “followers”. Many classes are offered, teleseminars, webinars, conventions, etc…and this is no longer limited to the “Super Companies” – many smaller suppliers and creators of brands of essential oils – now offer Facebook Groups, Online Classes, and a variety of outreach programs based on education and use of essential oils. There is definitely no lack of educational opportunities, blog subscriptions, or opinions to be heard.
I will not tell you what you should believe in terms of your human use of essential oils. That will remain a personal decision for you, once you feel you are educated enough to make that commitment. However, the one thing I will “require” of you – is never to only obtain education from one source. I routinely take courses from those who I know have completely different views and philosophies from myself. I think it is important to hear them out – even if I find that I do not agree with them in any manner.
However, in the field of animals and essential oils; I will also require this of you while you look at learning. What are the qualifications of the person teaching you regarding essential oils and animals? Just because they may be a certified aromatherapist – may not mean that they have any knowledge of animal physiology, pharmacology, or disease processes. They may only be spreading information based on what they were taught 20 years ago, based on what the best available information was at that time. There are even courses available to make you a “Certified Animal Aromatherapy Practitioner” – however this course does not even cover the subject of essential oil use with cats. If one were to be truly certified in the use of essential oils in the animal kingdom – I do expect that they are knowledgeable on ALL animals – not just a few. And if their position is to not recommend the use of essential oils with let’s say cats – then they should indeed be able to explain backwards and forwards, upside and down – why they believe this to be true.
So please – when gathering information about Veterinary Aromatic Medicine (which in case you are confused, really does include aromatherapy) – make sure to weigh information in terms of who is giving it. And make sure to question and collect information on the credentials of those who would educate you, or make recommendations to you.
Now that that is covered – let’s talk about why essential oil use with animals can be so beneficial. This will assume you already have the basic knowledge of what essential oils are, and how they are obtained properly for veterinary use. If not, please look into some of our other resources for this knowledge.
Essential oils are an amazing modality to me. Just like proper diet is essential in helping animals with illness – essential oils to me, are just as important. Without them in my arsenal – I doubt I would really want to practice veterinary medicine.
However, like diet – do essential oils “cure” anything? This is one of the huge problems with the “general public” marketing of essential oils. There is a lot of misrepresentation, and basic lies that are told in regards to making a sale. Essential oils ARE amazing – but do they fix the issue at hand? I actually say no. Here is the truth.
Essential oils act in harmony with the body. The body in fact, is the organism that is always in charge of healing and “curing” any ailment. Even if an antibiotic is given, and that antibiotic reduces the numbers of bacteria present – does the antibiotic actually “cure” the infection? Not really. It is still up to the body to eliminate the bacteria, reduce inflammation, create an immune response, and to prevent reinfection from occurring. In holistic veterinary medicine, this is recognized as addressing the root cause of the issue. Naturally – if a nasty wound, and filthy environment is present – we want to address this along with prescribing antibiotics. And this is true with essential oils as well. We will always want to address full body health and function – no matter what modality of treatment we select.
For essential oils though – say with bacterial infections – one gleaming benefit is that they do not appear to create resistant bacteria – and this is apparent through many research studies currently. With traditional antibiotics, medications, and chemicals – there is often one chemical, or structure involved in a synthetically created substance. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration will require that this substance be created the “same” every single time. It would not be prudent to have asprin be a different concentration or makeup every time you purchased it. That would lead to a huge amount of concern. However, with antibiotics, this does become the concern. The same chemical exposed to bacteria over and over again, gives the bacteria opportunity to mutate and create defenses to the antibiotic. Creating methods in which to become “resistant” to the effects of that antibiotic. Traditional medications and chemicals also often come with a variety of side effects. An antibiotic is only effective against bacteria, while leaving fungus to run a muck. And certainly, antibiotics do nothing else to build the body’s immune system and function while it is being given. It is there to kill or reduce bacteria, and that alone.
Essential oils on the other hand, have a variety of properties which are being researched every day in medical laboratories. Essential oils have been proven to have anti-microbial and antibacterial properties – while also being anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, immune supportive, and even tumor reducing. There are so many layers of benefits, that essential oils become more like “nutrition support” in veterinary practice – and no single aspect of the essential oil is unimportant.
There are several places where you can search for research on essential oils for yourself. www.PubMed.gov is one great place. As of 2020 – 22,325 search results are present for “essential oils” alone. And there are more published weekly.
You can also search at Google Scholar at www.scholar.google.com – this website can also be used to find scientific articles relating to your field of interest.
So in short, essential oils do provide a wide array of beneficial properties in truth. But one needs to wade through a bit of the over-representation of these amazing items – before proceeding. And most certainly – if you are proceeding with your beloved animal – you had better learn a great deal more than just what a “sales representative”, “wellness consultant”, “advocate”, or even certified aromatherapist has to offer.
The most common question I receive currently, is regarding essential oils for use with a cancer diagnosis. Although there are amazing things that essential oils bring to an integrative therapy regimen for cancer – I think it is highly irresponsible to say only “use Frankincense” or to say that “oils cure cancer”. While there is research that essential oils can increase apoptosis or cell death of cancer cells, or that they may reduce cancer in other mechanisms – it certainly is not ONLY Frankincense doing this. And people are being sold short by only getting one or two essential oils recommended – although certainly the “sale” is not inexpensive. One can be far more effective by including multiple essential oils (a blend) for effects desired against cancer and tumors. But just like with chemotherapy – the body cures the cancer – chemotherapy and even radiation is designed to reduce the cancer into manageable levels so that the body can eliminate it. After all, this is what our bodies are designed to do on a daily basis – recognize cancer, and eliminate it, hopefully before becoming a tumor or large enough to cause symptoms.
Chemotherapy and radiation – although effective at killing cancer cells, are also quite efficient at damaging our normal body (whether human or animal – remember humans are part of the animal kingdom!). So while we might be reducing cancer – we are also destroying the body’s immune system. Making it even more impossible to fight off the cancer. A lose, lose situation. While with essential oils – we can create win, win situations. And actually, I view them more as win, win, win, win, win situations.
Why so many wins? Because, I can benefit from tumor reducing properties WHILE reducing inflammation, fighting secondary infections, and building the immune system! And wait – remember that a cancer diagnosis is stressful for both human and animal – and isn’t that the hallmark of “aromatherapy” is the wondrous emotional benefits and support we see? So now – we can have all of these physical benefits – while also improving emotional health? Yeah, I call that a multi-layer win!
So in summary. Essential oils are amazing. The person recommending how to use them for your animal – better actually be trained in animal physiology, medicine, and pharmacology. There is not just “one” oil – so if someone says you need Frankincense – they are likely just regurgitating a taught lesson. Are essential oils the be all and end all to health and healing – of course not. But responsible use of essential oils KNOWN to be safe for animal administration – really is a worthwhile endeavor!
Melissa Shelton DVM, CA
The Oily Vet