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May 2009

Canine Aromatherapy

In the past 5 to 8 years, there has been a growing list more & more pet care professionals & pet owners that have begun to implement aromatherapy into their alternative pet care list. For us as humans, we can clearly see the benefits of aromatherapy, but for our canine counterparts, who cannot directly tell us how they are both physically & emotionally feeling or how they feel about something we are doing for them, a simple and gentle method of supportive care such as aromatherapy, can be greatly beneficial.  You can now read of Veterinarians who offer holistic services including aromatherapy and flower essence therapy, Animal Massage Therapists who implement herbal & flower therapies into their care, and pet stylists or groomers who offer these services for a wonderful spa experience for their clients. Aromatherapy is especially important for calming nerves and focusing and directing positive energy, so one can easily see that aromatherapy and herbal therapy has a multitude of applications for your pets, all of which are positive and beneficial.    

For canine massage, I have a few blends that I keep on hand for all types of massage, but often I will add a couple of essentials to them or make a simple mix at the massage session.  The reason for this is because yes, no massage and no canine are ever exactly the same. More importantly however, I believe that for the most part, massage in itself isn't nearly so much about the essentials used as it is the practitioner properly reading the animal's movement and structure and energy with their eyes and their hands, to read the dog's body like a map and decipher where there are issues and what they are. We have to do this is a fairly short amount of time, with limited explanation from their human counterparts, and if we have traveled to the pet’s home, as a new addition to the pet's living environment this always has them acting differently than they otherwise would.  So, we have a lot to overcome to even get to the beginning of a massage session in hopes of having it be a productive one.  Essentials can help to bridge these gaps so each session goes smoothly and positively.

Essentials in a carrier oil are not nearly as important to canines as they are with humans because we are not covered in fur and our skin makeup is obviously quite different. So, oil as lubrication of the practitioner's hands can actually be a disadvantage as the animal's natural oils really work best to offer the correct amount of "drag" or resistance of the fingers moving freely through the fur.  Too much fluidity can make a practitioner have to work harder to create the right amount of pressure or friction and make a mess of the pet’s coat.  Therefore, essentials in their pure form become our tool for setting the very important mood of the dog and our own energy, and not so much a tool for the physical application of a massage. 

Essentials do obviously play a role in the animal's receptiveness to the experience and overall willingness at times to receive a massage as well as their perception and therefore their memory imprint of the experience.  We have, as professionals, a clear disadvantage that the pets' owners do not: we are a stranger to their daily activities, their daily schedules and their behavior cycles that ebb & flow and make dogs either more or less receptive to massage at different times.  So, coming from their owners, educated massage sessions will usually be far more successful at a faster rate as the circle between an owner and their pet is, for obvious reasons, much more relaxed and mutually receptive. Not that we as CCMTs or Aromatherapists do not build a bond with our canine clients, we certainly do, but we would rely more on the ability of essentials to help align the environmental energy and set the outcome of the sessions by way of emotional state.  So, with that fact, essentials for us are quite important because they help to align both our moods and secondary responses to the massage session as well as the emotional state of our canine clients.  In essence, aromatherapy becomes a bridge of senses and energies between the pet and the caregiver.

For topicals used in massage, there are a few different blends that can be used, and they are both for different types of massage (addressing different care needs) as well as different types of personalities, and a pet owner may have to tweak them a little, nearly every session entered into, because both the dog and yourself might be in a different mood that day.  Or that you will be caring for your pet for slightly different care each time, even though you may be working on the same issues for many sessions.  


If your Canine Massage Therapist is caring for your pet, they would likely be implementing aromatics in the same ways, but along with their licensing and certification, they have applied their taught medical knowledge to how to use aromatherapy, herbal remedies, and many other modalities for wellness and treatment of the pet’s physical and emotional self.  As one so compliments the other in terms of overall health, well being and quality of life.



~First an Aromatherapist would address the emotional state of the dog and secondary to that, the physical needs.~


Overcoming massage anxiety- for initial meetings or with dogs that are overwhelmingly fearful of new surroundings or experiences:


Please note here that dogs that are fearful or internally coping with their own reaction mechanisms are much more harder to have a productive session with.  If you think about it, a dog that is happy and excited to meet you is FAR more receptive to seeing what you have to offer it in terms of  "What have you got that I can have”?, or “What do you have for me today that I can have fun with"? Basically, they are much harder to "win over".  Here flower and herbal essentials can help you a lot more on deeper levels than what you would implement to just calm or relax simple anxiousness or play energy. And they are important to use whether you are helping your own dogs to overcome certain emotional hurdles, or for treating physical ailments of your pets.

Here are some of those essential blends- addressing first the emotional state and secondly the physical needs of your client.



Relaxing and aligning energy: Chamomile, Bergamot, Ginger, & Geranium.

Calming and supporting: Chamomile, Lavender, Eucalyptus & Clary- sage.

Stronger sedative effect: Lavender, Chamomile, Clove & Frankincense.

And follow up the massage with a neat drop on each cheek of this blend-


Energizing: Rosemary, Lemongrass, Thyme & Basil.


Relaxing the playful dog: Lavender, Chamomile, Vetiver, Clary- sage, Marjoram.


Focusing the excited dog: Geranium, Chamomile,  Lavender, Clary- sage.




* There are more but these are the most important!*

Circulation, anti-inflammatory, muscle tension, muscle fatigue active sports recovery massage: Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Geranium, Rosemary & Clove.

Skin irritations and muscle atrophy due to lack of circulation: (also hot spots if they are not open) Helichrysium, Evening Primrose & Naiouli.

Deep tissue, tendon fatigue and sprains:  Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove, Thyme, Vetiver & Black Pepper.

Arthritis and Rheumatoid: Clove, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg & Black Pepper, Clary- sage, Birch, Rosemary, & Juniper, Frankincense, Marjoram, Chamomile, & Lavender (3 different blends for symptoms from severe to mild).

All over relaxation massage & pathway massage for geriatric pets: Geranium, Clary- sage Lemongrass, Bergamot & Lavender.





~You can see, there are so many essentials whose properties compliment each other- it is also just as important to mix oils that are simply pleasing to your personal tastes as this will affect how you give the massage and therefore the physical benefits for your client.


Suggested reading materials to learn about aromatherapy:

The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann WorWood.

Essential Aromatherapy by Susan & Valerie Ann Worwood.

The Aromatherapy Bible by Gill Farrer-Halls.

*Remember to educate yourself thoroughly on any holistic or alternative care methods before working with them with your pet.*

Canine Paw Soaks

~If your dog has excessive pad hair, you may want to trim it back first to allow for faster drying and aeration between the toes and paws.~

 Soak the dog's paw- one at a time if using a soaking tray for about 5 to 10 minutes in warm purified water and a ½ teaspoon of Epsom salts. If you are standing the pup in a tub fill the tub with enough warm water to cover most of the paws but below the top of the foot. Add about 2 Tablespoons of Epsom salts per gallon of water. Allow the pup to soak for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on their tolerance for standing still!

Lift each paw carefully and gently scrub the paw pads and nails with a nails brush. Remember that dogs have many nerve endings in their feel so they are sensitive and vigorous scrubbing isn't necessary. This is a good time to lift back the hair from the very bed of each nail and address any red stains and oily saebum at the nail base. Many dogs have reddened hair and staining here from oxidized paw and skin oils that have interacted with enzymes in their saliva, causing a rust color and some odor. If you suspect your client may have some definite allergies, either contact allergies or internalized allergies, be sure to get the owner's approval and possibly even speak with their Vet before scrubbing or applying topicals to their feet and bodies as this could aggravate the matter for some dogs. At this time take special notice to see any cracks or breaks in the nails, excess nail growth that could cause sore toes and feet, swelling, hot spots, excessive or "yeasty" odor, cuts or debris attached to the foot hair, etc. Address any issues with the pet's owner when they return unless there is an open cut or sore on the foot, at this point you should stop and call the owner & do not scrub the affected foot.

After the dog's foot soak, lightly squeeze and pat dry the foot and pads. Gently apply and rub well in, a mixture of a few drops of fresh olive oil and pure shea butter into each pad individually especially while they are still lightly damp. You can scent the cream if you like with just a drop or two per ounces of cream with pure essential oils like marigold, myrrh, palmarosa, peppermint, ylang ylang, sandalwood, or of course lavender. Be very careful to study up on the use of essential oils before applying them to any pet for their safety and yours. Rub this cream in softly and with a kneading action to get both good penetration and to massage the pet's foot. If the pet seems excessively tender or sensitive of their feet, a foot massage may not work for them, but you can still try the soak, and always apply an emollient after your soaks to help seal in moisture and treat the freshly sloughed and tender skin.

Creating a nice client display with a nail brush, soaking bowl, pretty towel, a nice jar of your cream and a stoppered bottle of your olive oil (which can also be infused with certain herbs and essences) for your clients to view while offering the service suggestion, will give your new service a focal point to refer to for both you and your client, as well as it allows them to see the products that you will be using and discuss their purpose. 

                                                                             Very dry paw