Aromatherapy in pets: the emerging science of pet scent therapy
It seems there’s no middle ground in the debate between believers and non-believers when it comes to natural care for pets. People seem either innately credulous of its merits or downright dour as to its dubious worth.
As with the issue of “raw” versus “no raw,” both camps have historically drawn a deep line in the sand and regarded any crossovers with suspicion. But new research into the benefits of aromatherapy, in particular, has begun to blur these artificial borders.
One of the first studies to draw rave reviews from veterinary scientists from both sides of the Atlantic involves the use of lavender as a calming agent. The study, adopting a rigorous methodology, demonstrated convincingly that lavender oil had a calming effect on dogs. (Here's a link to download a PDF of the article.)
You may not find that this information is in the least bit earth-shattering. But I will inform you that the publication of this British study in the JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) was a benchmark for naturopathic medicine. It set a high standard for effective methodology when considering natural treatments—the same standard as has conventionally been met in traditional veterinary medicine.
By not meeting these standards in the past, natural medicine has remained relegated to the realm of the crunchy-granola, voodoo medicine backwaters of vet medicine. Anecdotes like “this worked in my pet” splattered across the Internet are never going to be enough for me and others trained like me. We need to see it in black and white alongside a big “peer reviewed” stamp of approval from a major scientific body before we’ll believe it.
That’s science. Everything else is potentially voodoo—or worse.
So now that I’ve gotten past the nitty-gritty of why I’m not a “natural vet,” as some are touted as, I’ll get down to the business of telling you what I do believe:
I believe that if a natural product can do no harm and it’s readily available to the client then it deserves a try. I think of it as a cheap insurance policy in the case of preventatives and a worthwhile attempt in the case of therapeutics. I believe it’s my responsibility to know all the commonly used natural products available in vet medicine and to make them available to my patients.
If a client wants more of a natural or holistic slant, or if the pet is a candidate for acupuncture (which I advocate), I refer the patient to a specialist in these matters (a certified specialist, not some “natural” vet everyone “seems to love”).
Aromatherapy falls under the category of “doing no harm.” It’s among my favorite natural therapies to employ. Lavender has always worked for me (I always keep a small bottle of oil in my medicine cabinet for stressful nights) so it makes sense that I might recommend a few drops in a carrier before transport to the vet. It’s not going to work for the real disaster stress cases but it will for most others.
Products like Feliway and its dog counterpart (D.A.P. or “Dog Appeasing Pheromone”) seem to have some merit, as well. The artificial pheromone aroma (not unpleasant to us) comes as a spray, diffuser or collar. I’ve had clients send me love letters after recommending these products. That’s not science but it’s not hurting anyone, either, if I recommend it and it doesn’t work for them.
I’m sure you’ve all had many personal experiences on this subject, potentially far more than I have. So here’s your chance: