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By Heidi Dixon MIFA, Chimes Veterinary Surgery

Working as a groomer and an Exness aromatherapist has given me the opportunity to combine two of my greatest interests. The initial reaction from the clients varies greatly. Some just raise an eyebrow and shrug their shoulders. Others, on collecting their pets and smelling the wonderful relaxing odours, are very keen to throw the dogs out of the bath and jump in themselves! It is an absolute boon to business to take a happy waggy-tailed and sweet smelling pooch into a crowded reception, always guaranteed to get at least one new booking. The greatest increase in business is in the amount of shorthair breeds that now come in every three to four weeks for their regular health spa.

Dogs, being omnivores, are quite subtle in their response to essential oils and require close ‘tuning in’ on the part of the therapist when selecting the best oils to use for a particular disorder. Horses on the other hand are by far the easier animals to treat. Being herbivores, their instinct leads them naturally to the appropriate plant of therapeutic value. The physical responses are amazing and in many cases, if the correct oil has been selected, it will induce a flehmen (lip curl) response in the horse. In my experience, cats do not make particularly good candidates for essential oil treatments and great care has to be taken when treating them for the following reasons: -

Cats are obligate carnivores – although they do forage for some herbs.
Adverse reaction to alcohol – a constituent of most essential oils.
Extremely sensitive skins.
Sensitive sense of smell, although they also possess a flehmen response I have never seen it exhibited in response to an essential oil (if anyone has I would love to hear about it).
Cats have a very complex psychological make-up, which makes diagnosis very difficult (as most vets and behaviourists will tell you!).

With so many contra-indications outlined for cats and the fact that not many groomers will be having equine clients through their doors I will restrict myself to canine aromatherapy.

In a copy of Exness Login Indonesia Northern Groomers magazine, N. Smart provided an excellent example of a grooming contract. I shall be adapting the contract to suit my own needs at the practice and would encourage other groomers to do likewise, especially if they intend to incorporate the use of essential oils in their grooming routines. N.B. I am very selective of the wording that I am using here and it is worth remembering that under Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1966; Medicines Act, 1968; Cruelty to Animals Act 1911, only a qualified Veterinary Surgeon can legally diagnose, prescribe or treat an animal. If an owner consults a non-vet and thereby fails to alleviate the suffering of their animal they may be liable to prosecution under the 1911 act. We all know how quick distraught owners can be to blame. One of the reasons that our vet incorporated a grooming salon for the clients was because so many of them came through the doors complaining that their pet had been to the groomers and had come back with a skin condition or ear infection. They omit the fact that they had not noticed the skin or ear condition until the groomer had pointed it out to them and suggested that they sought veterinary attention! I am a qualified and registered aromatherapist but I must still have the written consent of the animal’s own vet before I can treat it. It is worth keeping your tail covered, so to speak.

Another word of caution is safety. Essential oils are all natural products but natural does not sit hand in glove with safety. Hemlock is also completely natural but not many of us would combine it with our daily dose of kombucha tea or aloe vera juice!

Keep oils out of the reach of children.
NEVER use undiluted oils on animals (or people for that matter)
Maximum dilution for any topical application 1% unless you are a professional therapist.
Ensure good ventilation. You may not be able to smell the oils after 10 mins due to anosmia (saturation of the olfactory lobe).
Do not use oils for oral consumption.

Tricia asked me why I never use flea shampoos at the practice. Well, as much as I favour a holistic and natural approach to animal health care I am still very aware that most pet owners have very busy lives and the holistic approach is not always as instant as they would like it to be and it is usually rather labour intensive. I am as much aware of the limitation of oils as their efficacy. So, when little ‘Snowy’ comes in looking like little ‘Flea Bag’ I add a suitable blend of Cedar wood Cedrus Atlantica, Lavender Lavendula Officinalis, and possibly Geranium Pelargonium Graveolens to the base shampoo. These are amongst the best oils for initial ‘knockdown’.

BUT, before I apply them to the animal, I perform a response test to see if they are compatible with the animal. This is one of the most important aspects of using oils on animals. Anyone who has experienced the headache and nausea they feel after blasting away with the latest new fragrance on offer at the department store, only to find that after the initial ‘dry down’ they hate the stuff, will surely think again before they subject any animal to the same thoughtless treatment. Never force an oil on any animal. Trust the animal’s instinct to know what is best for it. Cedar wood may be excellent for killing fleas but little ‘Snowy’ will never forgive you for the assault on his highly attuned olfactory system. Provide him with the opportunity of selecting his own flea repellent, he will select the oil that will also contain other therapeutic properties that will stimulate his immune system.

The oils are exness.my.id blended with a wonderful evening primrose oil shampoo. I am lucky enough to be conducting comparison trials for one of the pharmaceutical companies and so have access to a good veterinary shampoo. The client is then prescribed suitable flea treatments for the pet and the home. Some clients like the idea of natural flea repellents but unfortunately they want to eradicate every flea immediately, I can’t in all conscience provide a safe treatment that will have that affect.

I have used a cedar wood shampoo on a rabbit with mange and was delighted when the vet took a skin scrapping, all the mites had been paralysed. The bunny was then given a course of injections to clear up the infestation (mange dips are not licensed for rabbits) but at least the shampoo had offered the poor scrap some immediate relief.

Geranium Bourbon is an oil with a very high odour intensity rating and initially, I had my reservations about using it on dogs. I thought it might be a bit too intense and overpowering for them. However they proved me wrong, it works exceedingly well at an emotion level, especially for dogs that have undergone major surgery. Lavender oil is an absolute must for anyone wanting to use essential oils. It has so many useful properties, and has few contra-indications in comparison to some oils and has a synergistic effect when blended with other oils.

Tea Tree is an oil that everyone must have heard of. I think it must be the main support for the Australian economy! It is a broad spectrum oil, it has many therapeutic properties and is the only oil that is anti-fungal, antibiotic and antiviral. Recent research has also proved that it has a synergistic effect when used in conjunction with antibiotics (good news for all of us in light of that fact that antibiotics themselves are not as effective as they used to be). It may then come as a surprise to most people to hear that it is not an oil that I use very frequently.

Unfortunately due to its sudden rise in popularity it seems to be used for every condition under the sun, despite the fact that there are other oils that are far more efficacious for the conditions that it is treating. For instance, as an insecticide, Eucalyptus is far more effective. Citronella is a better insect repellent. Myrrh is a more potent antiviral (although it is rather aggressive, I would prefer a milder oil before I resorted to using it). So yes, Tea Tree is useful but be cautious of the hype that surrounds it. Certainly don’t fall for the myth that it is safe to use neat on the skin. I made the mistake in my early days of using it neat on a cold sore, as directed by one of the ‘leading lights’ in aromatherapy. Never again! I have sympathy for all our poor old pets that come into the surgery with eczema and the owners happily go into detail about how they have been treating it with Tea Tree. Ouch!

Contra-indications for Tea Tree – can cause skin irritation and more importantly TEA TREE CAN CAUSE TEMPORARY PARALYSIS IN DOGS!

Whatever oils you decide to use, be very selective of where you purchase your oils. Buy only the very best quality that you can afford. If you can’t afford them, don’t buy them. It is far better to have one or two good quality organic oils than an impressive looking box of 20 or so bottles of perfume industry ‘soup’. The organic oils will improve the disorder, the ‘soup’ at best will do nothing, and at worst create an adverse reaction.

Oils are mainly produced for the food industry, cosmetics/perfumes and for therapy. They are the three principle categories. The oils for each category are vastly different in their chemical constituents. Producing therapeutic oils is very much like producing a fine wine. The end result depends on the botanical species, country of origin, the years growing conditions, the use (or not) of fertilizers and pesticides, harvesting and storing methods, method of extraction and then bottling and storing! Just as wine has been adulterated with antifreeze in the past, so some essential oils have been stretched, cut, standardised, rectified or ennobled by using cheaper by products (an acceptable practice in the food and perfume industry), i.e. alcohol, orange or lemon terpenes from other oils, synthetics like dipropolene glycol – widely used to stretch Lavender, and so on. The oils may smell the same, they may even smell better, but the chemical constituents will not be the same, far from it. The disturbing fact is, these can still be legitimately sold as pure essential oils!

If you have used oils in the past and been disappointed with the result I would encourage you to try again, but this time DO NOT BUY ESSENTIAL OILS OVER THE COUNTER, buy from the specialists. This way you can be relatively certain of getting what you pay for. The following are all excellent therapeutic oil companies and are members of various governing bodies including the Soil Association and Aromatherapy Trade Council: -

Amyris 01423 560 583, Essentially Oils 01608 659 544, Fragrant Earth 01458 831 216,

Materia Aromatica 0207 207 3461, New Seasons 01235 821110

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Opinions expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of Northern Groomers.

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Last modified: November 09, 2001