Bach Flower Remedies have found a place in many integrative practices as a way to shift emotional states to aid recovery, and to help with behavior or training problems.
The Bach Flower Remedies are based on the research and findings of English physician Dr. Edward Bach. A medical pioneer in the early 1900s, Dr. Bach became aware of the link between stress, emotions and illness. When treating people, he found that flower essences helped them overcome their illnesses by addressing the underlying emotional contributing factors. This connection is based on Dr. Bach’s idea that negative emotional states can suppress the healing process. The contemporary science of “psychoneuroimmunology”, or the study of the connection between the mind and its influence on disease, seems to support this concept.
A century of use
Dr. Bach’s insight was born from medical knowledge, observation and empirical research, before the era of evidence based medicine. A recent systematic review of seven randomised trials of Bach Flower Remedies in humans concluded that they failed to provide convincing evidence that they worked any better than placebo.¹ However, the review also noted some limitations and potential biases, and also left out other studies. Another systematic review supported the safety of these remedies.²
Even though Dr. Bach developed his flower essences for people, they have been used in animals for many years by both owners and health professionals alike because they are safe, easy to find and administer, and numerous anecdotes tell us they actually can do something.
Their role in practice
So do dogs and cats have emotional states that can influence their health? We know many animals have behavioral problems and we can even describe their “personalities”. From anxiety and fear to aggression and loss, we have seen it all in our patients. We know that stress can reduce immunity, so it is not unreasonable to accept that it can influence the health of patients too.
Despite the lack of high level evidence that Bach Flower Remedies do anything more than placebo, along with the fact that animals can’t really tell us how they are feeling the way humans can, these remedies still find a role within integrative veterinary practices. The Bach Flower Remedies are essentially gentle and non-toxic. And provided they are not used inappropriately – that is, by delaying proper medical care, or trying to deal with serious behavioral disorders without utilizing additional therapies — they can help in two ways.
1. They can be used in the way Dr. Bach originally intended: on their own or to enhance any form of medicine by shifting emotional states to aid recovery or healing. As animal health professionals, we need to rely on our knowledge of the remedies, observations of the patient and from the client, as well as judgement and intuition, to prescribe the right remedy or remedies.
2. The second way they are commonly used in the veterinary context is to help with behavioral or training problems. Careful selection of a remedy or remedies alongside behavior modification or training advice can be employed as part of a treatment protocol.
One challenge in using Bach Flower Remedies is taking the leap of faith to try them, especially when the science is weak. Keep in mind that science is also weak in many common conventional therapies we use in practice. The fact that these remedies can be used alongside conventional medicine without any reported interactions or adverse events makes them worth considering.
The second challenge is how to select the remedies. Each Bach Flower Remedy helps deal with specific states of mind. These states include fear, terror, mental torture or worry, indecision, indifference or boredom, doubt or discouragement, over-concern, weakness, self-distrust, impatience, over-enthusiasm and pride or aloofness. Anthropomorphism and intuition, attributing emotional aspects based on our interpretation of the patient’s history and signs, are necessary to selecting remedies for individual animals.
Guidelines for use
The remedies are purchased as a stock bottle, which contains the concentrated essence. Essences are generally diluted before use, although they can be given straight from the bottle in emergencies. Stock strength essences contain about 2/3 brandy, which most animals hate. So two to six drops of the stock are usually diluted in spring water, with about ¼ brandy as a natural preservative. If the remedy is to be used within one week, it does not need added brandy.
• The remedies are selected and prepared either singly or in combination (up to six remedies can be mixed together).
• To prepare a Bach Flower Remedy, place two to six drops of each selected essence (or four drops of Rescue Remedy) into a 1 oz or 25 ml bottle. Fill the bottle ¾ of the way with spring water, then add brandy, vodka or organic vinegar to fill so you have three parts water to one part alcohol. This dilution bottle should be thumped against the palm of one hand to thoroughly mix the remedies.
• The remedy is given by mouth or applied to the ears or head area. The drops can be added to drinking water (six to eight drops) each day. A dropperful can be added to the animal’s bath water, or to a mister or spray pack so that a kennel, room, cage or animal can be sprayed with the remedy.
This depends on the pet’s individual response. Try three to four drops by mouth or on the inside of the pinna one to four times daily, or every ten to 15 minutes in emergency situations. If you choose the wrong remedy, there are no side effects and pets cannot be overdosed.
One way to test out Bach Flower Remedies at your clinic is to purchase a bottle of Rescue Remedy. This is perhaps the most well known Bach Flower Remedy. It consists of five flower essences: Cherry Plum, Clematis, Impatiens, Rock Rose and Star of Bethlehem. It is one of the most widely used remedies as it can be applied in any first aid, emergency, trauma or stress situation. It can be given every five to ten minutes as necessary. Ideally, dilute it with spring water only, so the taste is acceptable. Try it on at least ten patients — you will know which ones need it.
According to feedback from clients, Bach flower remedies can work surprisingly quickly, sometimes with a single use.
• One client described her dog being bothered by a stinging fly while camping. The dog became very distressed and agitated and totally focused on the fly. After a single dose, she relaxed, lying on her side and not bothered at all by the fly.
• Another client described the lethargy and grief her dog experienced when her son left home. Within a day of receiving the Bach flowers, the dog’s behavior changed and he was back to his old active and happy self.
The more common observation, however, is a gradual change over two to four weeks of use, sometimes longer.
Record the patient, the problem, the dose and the outcome, and see whether Bach Flower Remedies can play a role in helping patients in your care. You might be surprised!
Learn more about Bach Flower Remedies at civtedu.org.
¹Ernst E, “Bach flower remedies: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials.” Swiss med Wkly 2010 Aug 24; 140.
²Thaler K, Kaminski A, Chapman A, Langley T, Gartlehner G. “Bach Flower remedies for psychological problems and pain: a systematic review.” BMC Complement Altern Med 2009 May 26; 9-16.