Use caution first with essential oils

Image by Charlotte Govaert from Pixabay 

When a journalist friend shared a Snopes Fact Check piece about essential oils being poisonous to pets, I took notice.

Snopes is generally good at sifting out scams and misinformation, and I already knew cats are much more sensitive than other animals to essential oils. Its rating: True. When used the wrong way or in the wrong concentration or amount, even diffused, essential oils can be toxic.

I would never suggest a client use essential oils with any animal without first seeking reliable guidance on which oils to use, how, and with what species. First, I’m not a veterinary professional. Second, there are too many variables — species, the individual animal, the condition being treated, oil quality, and use. The following is intended only as a starting point should you want to learn more about essential oil use for animals.

A veteran physical therapist and dog parent told me about animalEO, a line of essential oils and blends developed by holistic veterinarian Dr. Melissa Shelton. Her website is packed with information and instructions, and there is a very active animalEO Facebook group hosted by Dr. Shelton herself. (Good luck keeping up with the high volume of posts.) Also see her response to the viral post that led to the Snopes piece.

I’ve used a few of these blends with my own animals, mostly for diffusion and at low concentrations. The whole household benefits from a little aromatherapy. Moreover, it gives me confidence to know that the products were created for animals by an experienced veterinarian. (I receive no compensation from animalEO.)

Speaking of oil: CBD oil and other cannabinoid products for animals merit even more caution. There is very little data on their use, and your veterinarian may be restricted from even discussing it. 

Finding reliable pet health information in a sea of social media and commercial sites can be challenging. Here are some guidelines I use, both as a journalist and an animal wellness practitioner. 

If you are interested in using essential oils — either for yourself or the animals you love — there is no harm in going to animalEO to learn before you buy. Then here are my recommendations:

  1. Don’t be tempted by cheaper, lower-quality oils, or blends not formulated for animals. 
  2. Take what you learn (from whatever or whomever) and run it by your veterinarian.
  3. If you do use essential oils for or around animals, use as directed. When in doubt, use less rather than more.
  4. Observe your animal carefully. If you remotely suspect any adverse effects from the oil — stop use and contact your vet.

Remember that “natural” isn’t necessarily beneficial. As always, be mindful, not fearful.

Letting animals choose lets them be their best

(Photo by Nancy Crowe)

The massive draft horse was one of the saddest, checked-out animals I have met. He’d spent years on at least one Amish farm, was isolated and probably abused, and had given up. After he was rescued, his new owner wanted to find out what he needed.

The first thing I did was ask if it was OK to communicate with him. Surprised but skeptical, he agreed. The notion that he could choose anything was foreign to him.

Within a week or so, he told me what he wished to be called: Duke.

When I offered to share Reiki with Duke, I made it clear that opting out was absolutely fine. As we worked together during those first months, sometimes it was a yes and sometimes a no. How long the session lasted was also up to him.

That is the core of the Let Animals Lead method I practice. It’s all meditation and no hands unless the animal initiates contact, or the practitioner knows the animal well enough to gauge whether that would be welcome.

One day Duke decided he’d had enough Reiki and walked back into the barn. I thanked him and moved on to a pig a few feet away.

A few minutes later, Duke stuck his big head out the barn door and looked straight at me. “Got any more of that?” I heard. I assured him I did, but he’d have to wait until the pig and I were done. When I returned, he was waiting at the fence. I met his eyes and saw hope.

His owner, veterinarians, equine bodyworkers, clients, and I all worked to help Duke heal from the effects of his past, giving him choices whenever possible. Two years later, he still struggles mightily with triggers. But he has friends in the herd. He connects with veterans who also live with PTSD. He even let kids dress him up for the Fourth of July. Being a therapy horse would have been an unthinkable job a couple of years ago.

While we can’t let our animals choose to play in traffic or opt out of a vet visit, there are many other options we can offer. We can give them a choice of toys, blankets, or litter boxes. We can hold out two different treats and see which gets gobbled up first. We can let cats come to us rather than picking them up. We can suggest a walk or a ride and pay attention to the dog’s body language for a “let’s go” or a “not today.”

Choice frees us all to engage honestly, be our best selves, and create our “better than before.”

Speaking up for neglected horses

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This is one of 16 malnourished, neglected horses taken from a northeast Indiana property in January 2018. (Photo courtesy Friends of Ferdinand)

Sixteen horses — first 10, then another six — were rescued from a Wells County, Indiana property in January 2018. All were malnourished, and some had untreated infections and injuries.

A few, including two of the six horses I worked with, did not survive. Others returned to their previous owners or found new ones, but faced a long and difficult healing process.

The case was all the more disturbing because the person responsible was known and trusted by area horse owners and rescuers. Yet, according to the conversations that followed, there were previous signs that all was not well.

What can we pull from this to create a better outcome the next time something doesn’t seem quite right, but we don’t know what to ask or how to help? How can we get better at spotting signs of animal abuse and neglect, speaking up, listening, and following through?

As I write this, winter is coming. That’s when many of these heartbreaking situations come to light, and when it’s difficult to respond.

I’m not a veterinarian, horse handler, or law enforcement officer. My job with horses is to listen to them, and to the people who love and care for them, and offer a calm presence that allows healing. But as a journalist of many years, I also wanted to offer some quality information that might prove useful to those of us in northeast Indiana and beyond. Here’s what I found.

• These two articles were both sparked by the Wells County case: When to Speak Up: Red Flags & Warning Signs for Reporting Abuse in Horse Nation; and If you see something, say something by Carleigh Fedorka, a horse handler and postdoctoral researcher who was part of the same network as the neglected horses’ owner.

• Another, Neglected, abused and abandoned horses: How to help in Equus Magazine, was written earlier but includes helpful information on staying on the right side of the law in these situations.

• Also of note: Friends of Ferdinand, which played a key role in the rescue of the horses in the above case, received a Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding in 2018. This story talks about how other rescue organizations stepped in to help.

Creating a better world for horses (and everyone else) does, in fact, take all of us.