This month we are very excited to announce that Purple Flame will be sponsoring Sarah Hardy, a trained aromatherapist, who is about to embark on a trip of a life time to Malawi and Zambia to treat lions, elephants, wild dogs and monkeys with essential oil therapy. Carry on reading to find out why she has decided to embark on such an amazing trip and how essential oil therapy is used to help animals.
I am a sports and holistic therapist by profession and have run my own business in the heart of Newcastle City centre for the past 8 years. Outside of work I have a passion for animals, art, cycling and writing Eclectic you may think, however in one way or another they seem to sit hand in hand for me.
3 years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Zambia to work with the Vervet project through Born Free. It was an amazing month and a half and although my work was primarily with primates, I spent time helping to hand rear three jackal pup orphans who have since been released into the bush, antelope, cheetah, lions and various other species. I had a fairly basic lifestyle, but it was the happiest I’d ever been.
On my return I missed Africa intensely. The animals that I’d come to know and love, the environment and all that came with it. Obviously living there full time would bring its problems, but I still maintain Africa is a very special place and somewhere I knew I had to return to. Before going back however, I wanted to be able to offer something different to the projects I worked with. I’m not a vet and I don’t have that degree in zoology that gives some the edge over me. I have a huge drive and passion for animals, but I always felt a bit of an underdog. I began to wonder how I might be able to contribute more using my existing knowledge, extending it in a way that I would actually have something that maybe not everyone else could offer. That is when I began to look at alternative therapies for animals.
I’d already started a Bowen course (link) with a view to looking into Equine Bowen once I’d finished the human element. It was costly and involved lots of travel and stopovers at the other end of the country. I’m sure it would have been great, however it was ultimately something that my budget just couldn’t accommodate. After a bit of research I came across an essential oil therapy for animals course, run by a company called Healthy Beast. The name made me chuckle, but they appeared to also run herbal courses for Veterinarians, which I found reassuring about their credibility. They ran a course in Animalessential oil course and zoopharmacognosey which was ideal for me as I was already trained and practicing aromatherapy with humans. I enrolled and here I am today, three weeks away from my next trip to Africa. And with Purple Flame behind me, kindly sponsoring me with materials for the trip – specially selected essential oils and carrier oils from their wonderful range, I couldn’t be more confident or happy.
I’ve kept in touch with a few of the projects and sanctuaries since I was last out there and kept them informed of my intentions to return. I have to say that the interest in this branch of alternative therapy for animals has been incredible with the people I’ve spoken to, despite being virtually unheard of or even considered slightly strange. This time around my intentions are to work in Malawi for around a month and then travel to Zambia to work with a animal rescue and public education facility. I have a few more facilities who I will visit in Zambia and I dare say I’ll pick up other names and contacts of other projects along the way.
So how does animal essential oil therapy work?
It is a science, a combination of biology and chemistry just like with humans, except the oils are never massaged into the coat as this would result in the animal not be able to get away from the smell. You have the animal and you have the therapeutic elements of the oils with which to treat various symptoms and conditions and in that I include pathology and disease prevention.
In the wild animals very often seek out naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in plants, flowers, barks and earth, which work to restore balance in their systems and remedy ailments. A very simple analogy is a cat eating grass to purge itself and induce vomiting.
It is a common misconception that animals would be treated with essential oils in much the same way as a human-being via body massage. This however is quite inappropriate. That is not to say that massage is inappropriate for animals, however using essential oils to massage an animal would change the natural scent of the individual which could cause confusion and distress. Remember natural scent is a very important characteristic of an animal in that it gives each individual identity.
Taking this into account, methods of inhalation and licking are employed with essential oils blended into appropriate carrier oils. If topical application is required oils may be blended into clays or lotions and applied to localize areas, for example in the case of excema. Other exceptions are when treating conditions such as parasites. A spray or shampoo may be made up to treat the coat of an animal.
In any circumstance as with humans, the safety aspects of the oils should be taken into account. Potential skin irritants should be used with caution and in high dilution. Uterine stimulants should be avoided with pregnant animals; however unless the situation is an emergency, all pregnant animals are avoided with any treatments as the pregnant body is naturally out of balance. Citrus oils that are known to be phototoxic (increase the skins sensitivity to the sun) should be used mindfully and so on.
An animal therapist works under the guidance of a veterinarian whose responsibility it is to make the diagnosis, never the therapist; however both the animal guardian and therapist will be able to make their own useful observations of the external vital signs of an animal. These are key indicators to the state of an animals health and may or may not be immediately obvious. Developing a keen eye for indicative signs including condition of coat/skin, hooves, posture and gait, are they alert to their surroundings etc, any change in eating, drinking and activity levels. These observations all come fairly naturally with not only knowing your species, but also your pets natural demeanour.
Selection of the appropriate oils once a condition has been pinpointed is done through kinesiological testing – a form of muscle testing to identify imbalances within the body systems. With this knowledge, together with details of the condition, oils can be selected with the most appropriate therapeutic actions.
Once the best selection of oils has been determined, they are blended with an appropriate carrier oil and offered twice daily during the initial treatment plan.
Each oil is offered in turn to the animal, allowing them to inhale from a bottle or lick the oil off the palm of the hand. This can be a lengthy process and requires the patience not to force the oils on to an animal. They may inhale and then enthusiastically want to lap it up. They may be content sitting a distance away and simply inhaling. Even inhalation is very quick and effective form of medicating as the chemicals in the oils go directly through the olfactory organs and into the blood stream.
In the worst case the animal may not want to know at all, even going as far as leaving the room in the case of a dog or cat. That’s ok too. Remember especially if this is new to an animal they may be a little shy and reticent in taking it. If after a couple of days of offering the oil and they’re still not interested then you’ll know It’s not the right one. Patience is indeed a virtue here and reactions as such are classified a, b or c. In this way the animal is self medicating and able only to take what they want and as much as they want.
Carrier oils are highly underrated and are sometimes highly beneficial treatments on their own for their nourishing qualities and vitamin content. For instance Rosehip oil is full of vitamin C and has tissue regenerating properties, it is a carminative and astringent when used on the skin. Taken internally it can be used for in the treatment of influenza and diarrhoea. Hydrolats are also used and can be put out for an animal to drink alongside their drinking water for its therapeutic actions. Hydrolats and Carrier oils are particularly useful when treating cats. A cat’s liver cannot process the terpene and phenol elements of essential oils and so carrier oils and Hydrolats are a much safer option.
This trip is going to throw up it’s challenges, there will be lions and elephants, wild dogs and monkeys to name but a few, not just your domesticated tabby or Labrador, which don’t get me wrong they can be temperamental too! And albeit some will be captive, others may be less used to human contact. I will be relying on experienced handlers at these sanctuaries and working with some knowledgeable staff. There will obviously have to be adaptations to how the oils are offered to some of the animals. Some sanctuaries have strict no touch policies and then you have the animals that you just don’t mess with. I don’t really fancy getting on the wrong side of a lion…
I already know it will be an amazing trip and my dream come true again doing things that I truly love. How lucky am I!
I would fully recommend the Healthy Beast Diploma in Essential Oil Therapy for Animals course, it is distance learning so easy to complete from home and very thorough with lots of fabulous course notes. Contact them on 01869 349955 email: firstname.lastname@example.org for a prospectus.
I will be writing a blog during my trip, so if you would like to read more about my work please visit lyricalafrica.tumblr.com