Effective modern tools with ancient origins, essential oils are an accessible starting point for adding integrative modalities to veterinary practice
Essential oils and aromatic therapy are among nature’s most ancient and best-kept secrets. In recent years, however, these modes of healing have returned to the forefront of both traditional and holistic medical discussions. Leading the charge is the amazing versatility these oils exhibit in their ability to improve and maintain health. This is one of the major reasons I chose essential oils as the starting point for incorporating integrative modalities into my practice.
What are essential oils and how do you get started?
So what are essential oils? Simply put, they result from the metabolic processes of plants. They are aromatic volatile liquids distilled from many parts of plants and shrubs, including flowers, leaves, roots and seeds, with the exception of citrus oils, which are cold-pressed from the rinds of the fruit.1 However, a simple definition of essential oils belies their elegance. In fact, the chemical nature of each oil is a very complex synergistic mixture of hundreds of compounds.2 This is why purity and proper training are two of the most important factors to consider when selecting essential oils for use in our veterinary patients.
How did I get started with essential oils? As with most people, my journey began with a personal experience. In July of 2013, my wife sustained an injury which tore a tendon in her foot. We sought the medical advice of physicians, podiatrists and orthopedic specialists, and my wife followed their instructions to the letter. She ran the gauntlet of treatments, including bed rest, casts, steroid injections, pain medications. Surgery was also mentioned, although it carried only a 50% success rate. While many of these treatments helped, none gave my wife the relief and healing she needed. All that changed, however, when she was introduced to essential oils.
After seeing my wife’s results firsthand, I decided to research as much as I could about essential oils. I was amazed at the versatility of these aromatic compounds. I also learned how beneficial they could be in every aspect of veterinary medicine. There are oils to help clients and their pets heal their physical bodies; some to help clear the mind; and others to bring peace and balance to the spirit.
An easily-integrated therapeutic modality
Essential oils offer a practical starting point for introducing integrative services to a veterinary practice:
- Many clients are familiar with essential oils and already incorporate them into their own healthcare. With proper training, they enthusiastically embrace the use of essential oils in their pets’ healthcare, enhancing treatment compliance.
- Essential oils give clients an easy and fun way to interact with their pets, allowing them to become more involved in the overall wellness of their companions.
- Essential oils require minimal financial investment.
- They are versatile. Essential oils can be used as standalone treatment options for many routine aliments, from behavior problems and dermatologic conditions to pain control. They can also interact synergistically with other holistic modalities.
Initial steps: pure inventory and quality education
While the upfront costs of adding essential oil therapy to a practice are low compared to other holistic or traditional modalities and equipment, investing in high quality, pure grade brands and choosing quality education and training is priceless.
A seemingly unlimited supply of information on the use of essential oils is available online, and sifting through mountains of this information can be challenging to say the least. While a great deal of positive information can be found, an equal quantity of misinformation is also circulating around the Internet. This is why I advocate for non-branded certification in essential oils; it helps add credibility to the field of essential oil study, and shows clients that the veterinarian has specialized training in the use of these oils. Most certification classes are online, giving busy practitioners the ability to learn and become certified without leaving the clinic, and without loss in revenue — a win-win for veterinarians and their patients.
Using essential oils with other modalities
Essential oils and laser therapy
We know the amazing benefits photobiomodulation produces in relation to wound healing and pain control. Now imagine combining it with an essential oil, such as Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), which has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Applying the properly-diluted oil before routine laser therapy pushes the oil deeper into the tissues, creating a synergistic effect for greater healing and a faster return to function.
Note: Although some aromatherapists advocate this approach, others exercise some caution. It is possible that the combination of an essential oil (especially citrus) with laser light may create a skin photosensitivity irritation. Veterinarians should become familiar with their laser devices before implementing essential oils. What class of laser is used? What are its safety features? Does it produce heat or pigment changes in the skin? Lasers and essential oils can be used safely, but knowing your equipment and practicing sound and safe techniques are paramount.
Essential oils and acupuncture
Essential oils can also be incorporated into TCVM practices. They can be classified using criteria similar to that of Chinese herbal medicine, via the law of signatures, five elemental associations, nature or temperature, taste as well as aroma, and channel affiliation.2 Acupuncturists have combined essential oils with traditional techniques in the treatment of certain conditions. Needles can be dipped into the prescribed oil, then used in the traditional manner, or the essential oil can be applied directly to specific acupressure points and meridians on the body to help enhance the desired effects. Often, channels are chosen based on their resonance with certain oils.2
Studies published in 2004 and 2006 demonstrated the positive benefits of acupoint stimulation using acupressure with Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil to provide an increase in short-term pain relief in humans with back and neck pain.3,4
Essential oils and massage/chiropractic
Animal massage therapists and veterinary chiropractors are well-poised to reap the benefits of combining essential oils with their treatment techniques. Essential oils have been used in massage therapy for years to help soothe sore muscles and release stress and tension. A quick Google search provides insight into how many veterinary chiropractors are already incorporating essential oils into their everyday adjustments.
In a March 2018 educational conference, Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic, an institution accredited by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association to teach animal adjusting, devoted an entire day to the topic of incorporating essential oils into veterinary chiropractic medicine.5 Integrating essential oil therapy with veterinary massage and chiropractic adjustments results in more relaxed animals and increased efficacy of treatment outcomes.
While further research into essential oils should continue, they have proven to be a versatile tool in the holistic toolbox of an integrative practitioner. Their ability to help with conditions of the mind, body and spirit, along with their ability to synergistically work with other holistic modalities, make pure grade essential oils an excellent starting point for veterinarians looking to become integrated practitioners.
1Young, D. Gary. “Chapter 1: Essential Oils: The Missing Link in Modern Medicine”. Essential Oils Integrative Medical Guide, Life Science Publishing, 2003.
2Yuen, Jeffrey C. “The use of Essential Oils in Accordance with Chinese Medicine Part 1”. AHVMA Conference Proceedings, 2014, pages 604-608.
3Yip,Y.B., Tse, S.H.M. “An Experimental Study on the Effectiveness of Acupressure with Aromatic Lavender Essential Oil for Sub-acute, Non-specific Neck Pain in Hong Kong”. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Volume 12, Issue 1, February 2006, pages 18-26.
4Yip,Y.B., Tse, S.H.M. “The Effectiveness of Relaxation Acupoint Stimulation and Acupressure with Aromatic Lavender Essential Oil for Non-specific Low Back Pain in Hong Kong: A Randomised Controlled Trial”. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 12, Issue 1, March 2004, pages 28-37.
5Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic. “4th Annual Animal Chiropractic Olympics and Essential Oils for the Animal Chiropractic Patient”, 4267 Virginia Road, Wellsville, Kansas, March 8-11, 2018.
This article has been peer reviewed.