Lavender Aromatherapy Soothes People, Horses and Dogs
Lavender has been used to soothe and heal people for a long time, dating back to at least the Egyptians where it was commonly used in daily life. Not only does the fragrance refresh and soothe our senses, but the scent or aroma molecules pass to the limbic area of the brain directly from the nose. The limbic area deals with instinct and emotion as well as many of the body’s autonomic systems, such as the immune system. This is one of the primary ways that inhaling lavender essential oils helps to calm us down and restore a sense of peace. This aromatherapy is also highly effective with the animals we share our lives with.
Aromatherapy is the use of specific plant essential oils to enhance physical and psychological well-being. As a therapy it has been proven with use dating back thousands of years. Essential oils are distilled from specific plants and are 100% pure aromatic oils. Some oils are especially potent and are highly valued for their benefits and concentrations of essential oils. Lavender from Provence, France is one such oil as it is grown in the high altitude and harsh climate where the lavender plants respond to the environmental stresses by producing higher than normal amounts of protective oils, which give us benefits when the flower buds are harvested and distilled. Another source of high-altitude lavender oil from the United States is Red Rock Lavender, grown outside of Concho, AZ with a climate that is very similar to Provence. The essential oils produced in Concho are the second most potent in the world behind that from Provence.
It must be noted that there is some confusion due to exceedingly clever marketing on aromatherapy oils. As a result, many people have the mistaken idea that any kind of perfumed scent is aromatherapy. This is not true. Synthetic oils, often labeled “fragrance oils,” are not the same as essential oils. There is no therapeutic effect on the body like with true distilled essential oils. If you are buying essential oils, make sure to source them from a reputable company and that the oils are true, therapeutic grade essential oils and not fragrance oils.
Another approach is to grow your own lavender. It is a hardy perennial in most parts of the United States, with several different varieties that are suited to different climates. You can buy starts and transplant them or start your own from seed. Once your lavender plants are established, you will have an abundance of lavender sprays for many uses!
Aromatherapy is a little different for animals than for humans, with the main difference being the sense of smell that most animals have over humans. Animals have a much more acute sense of scent than we do, so the amount of oil or scent will need to be reduced by 2/3 for a start to see how the response is. It is much easier to increase the amount bit by bit than to overwhelm their nostrils on the first whiff!
A word of caution is needed here, as some essential oils can be toxic to cats. Certain essential oils naturally contain phenols and should never be used with cats. Their liver does not produce the enzymes to digest these compounds allowing them to build up to toxic levels in their systems. It is safer to avoid using aromatherapy with cats, unless you are working with a skilled aromatherapist with experience and knowledge in working with cats.
Lavender is well known for its effectiveness in calming people, horses and dogs. There are many studies that show the immediate and intermediate positive effects that lavender has on sensitive, stressed, anxious animals. Both horses and dogs respond very well to the scent of lavender with decreased heart rate and respiration, a calmer posture, less shaking and pacing or other nervous behavior. Spray some essential oil on a cloth or the dog’s bed before a car trip to ease stress, just before thunderstorms and for separation anxiety. You can also put a few drops on a cloth and tie it to the dog’s collar for a longer-lasting effect. For horses, a cloth with a couple of drops to introduce the new scent to them will usually have a beneficial effect. After they are used to the aroma, it is easy to let them inhale the scent off of a cloth that is kept for that purpose. They can benefit from a cloth hung in the trailer before a trailer loading session, before and during a road trip – adding a few drops of oil if needed during fuel or rest stops.
One other benefit of lavender essential oil is it is a highly effective insect repellent for both horses and dogs. The same properties that make it a pleasing and relaxing aroma for us and our animals make it the ideal insect repellent. Just add 10 – 15 drops of lavender essential oil to a spray bottle and fill with water, shake well and apply! Make sure to avoid the eyes, but all other parts of the body are ok.