Articles – used with permission from http://www.ingraham.co.uk
Essential Oils and Cats
There are several websites that make statements along the lines of, “there is a lot of information out there on essential oil toxicity in cats”. Unfortunately, these websites do not cite their sources (which is a reliable indicator of an unsubstantiated claim). The fact is there is hardly any information out there on essential oil toxicity in cats. Do not trust any website that makes claims without citing its sources.
An extensive publication search brings up just three reports on essential toxicity to cats; two involved the use of tea tree (1, 2), the third with potpourri (3).
There are no reports on the toxicity of other essential oils with cats and not even a mention in two popular veterinary toxicology (4, 5). There are plenty of mentions of toxic household plants but none of these feature in the applied zoopharmacognocist’s kit.
The concern with cats over other species is more theoretical than actual. The issue is that cats have very low glucuronyl transferase activity, an enzyme involved with breaking down some foreign chemicals including alcohols and, more importantly, phenols (3). There are only a small number of essential oils that contain significant levels of phenols, the most commonly used being clove, cinnamon, wintergreen, yellow birch and the phenol rich chemotypes of thyme. In our experience and the experience of our students, it is incredibly rare for a cat to select any of these oils, and in the odd case where there has been a selection it has almost exclusively been through inhalation.
Almost invariably cats will select essential oils through inhalation and will almost never select them orally (the form of administration cited in the above papers are either topical or unknown). Some websites claim that allowing cats to inhale is also risky; again there is no evidence to suggest there is a risk, especially if the oil is offered in well ventilated areas and the cat is free to remove itself from the odour.
- Bischoff (1998). Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil poisoning in three purebred cats. Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation
- Villard D, Knight MJ, Hansen SR et al (1994). Toxicity of Melaleuca oil and related essential oils applied topically on dogs and cats. Veterinary & Human Toxicology 36: 139-142.
- Schildt Julie C.; Jutkowitz L. Ari; Beal Matthew W (2008). Potpourri Oil Toxicity in Cats (2000-2007) Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care 18: 515-516
- Peterson ME & Talcott P (2007). Small Animal Toxicology. Elselvier Inc.
- Campbell A, Chapman M (2000). The Handbook of Poisoning in Dogs and Cats. Gray Publishing.
Wounded African Elephant Calf
An African elephant calf (aged 6 months) was found trapped in a well and separated from the rest of the herd, near the Kenya-Tanzania border. She possessed large, infected wounds on the dorsal lumbar and scapular regions of the back, under the mandible and her trunk had been mutilated by hyenas.
She also exhibited signs of a possible Klebsiella pneumoniae infection and suffered from loss of appetite and was generally fearful. She had already been given two sets of antibiotics and the vets were reluctant to prescribe another, since in immuno-compromised calves, a long course of antibiotics can be as likely to kill the calf as is the infection.
The first antibiotic used was amoxycillin for seven days and second antibiotic was clauvulanate amoxycillin used for a further seven days.
A month following Sinyas’ rescue, she was still in a bad way. There were concerns that septicemia would set in and she was still very depressed. It was decided that Sinya was to be given the opportunity to use a self-medicative regime with essential oils and herbal extracts, in which she determined both the substance, the route of administration and the respective dosage.
A total of 14 substances were chosen over the course of 14 day treatment, the most prominent being Illite clay (wounds) and garlic (infection) and violet leaf (anxiolytic) essential oils, the former applied topically and the oils being both inhaled and ingested. Approx 25ml of undiluted garlic essential oil was ingested over this period, with a range of approx 0.5-5ml per offering.
After the first day of treatment the operation scheduled to clean her wounds was cancelled and by the end of the two weeks her wounds had completely healed, no longer showing signs of infection and exhibiting no further neurotic tissue. Instead the wound had formed healthy granulation tissue, providing a protective covering. Under normal conditions, if septicemia had not set in first, her wounds would have been invested with maggots. In addition, Sinyas’ behavior become comparatively playful during the second week of treatment (she had been selecting oils that affect behavior). Subsequent correspondence has not reported any relapse in any of the conditions.
We concluded that this case study suggests a possible ability of elephants to self-medicate and for this to be explored further for potential use by wildlife-vets. We postulated that as the calf had realistically never come into contact with most of the substances, her self-medicative behavior in respect to the essential oils was most likely innate, perhaps mediated by the olfaction via the vomeronasal organ (before ingesting she exhibited a flehemen-like response).
A potential mechanism in selecting Illite clay is harder to elucidate as there are no volatiles in this substance. However, further studies are needed to confirm the link between olfaction and self-medication.
A report can be read at the Sheldrick Trust website here
Elephant calves self-selecting
Read the abstract on Sinya, a young calf at the Sheldrick Trust who was found trapped in a well. A paper on this case presented to the International Elephant Conservation & Research Symposium (2008) here.
Click here to see a video that shows the work with Shimba, another calf at the Sheldrick Trust. Shimba was found at 3 months old trying to wake his mother, who had died of starvation after getting her trunk caught in a trap.
Scents of Calm
A solution was needed for a tiger who at times, was risking her own safety and that of her keepers. But who would have thought that her life would have been turned around by scent? The success achieved by aromatherapy pioneer Caroline Ingraham in introducing a sense of calm to a fearful tiger could offer hope for other big cats in captivity, not to mention domestic cats with issues!
Ronja is a three-and-a-half-year-old Siberian Tiger who was imported from Germany to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation (WHF) in Kent two years ago.
From her arrival she showed extreme rage towards men. Her attacks were so fierce that she would hurt herself and damage the fence she was hurling herself at.
Caroline says, “She became known within the zoo and exotic animal community as one of the most aggressive tigers they had ever known.” Looking after her was not easy. It was impossible to shut her into her house when her enclosure was due to be cleaned. Instead the neighbouring tiger was shut into his house and she was ushered into his enclosure. If ever she was shut in her house her reaction was so violent that staff were afraid that she would seriously hurt herself. Caroline adds, “It was at the point whereby they needed to decide if it was fair and safe to keep Ronja alive.” WHF Director Mark Edgerly invited her over in August. Although intrigued by the possibilities of what could be achieved using essential oils, Mark admits that he had initially been rather sceptical.
Caroline first step was to put undiluted drops of five chosen essential oils and one fixed oil on six-inch strips of plywood. Here’s what she used and Ronja’s reaction:
- Linden blossom: physical injury/dislike of men; no response
- Rose otto: past trauma; slight interest
- Ylang Ylang: lack of self-worth/confidence; no interest
- Vetiver: offers stability; no interest
- Frankincense: fear; selected this aroma often
Caroline notes, “She would walk a few steps away then return for more. She did this many times over a period of an hour.”
- Hemp fixed oil: Calming to the central nervous system. She approached and licked it.
Caroline explains, “When Ronja selects her remedy she will walk to the chosen plank of wood, circle it to lift the aroma and as she almost completes her circle she will grimace to draw in the aroma.”
There was a stunning immediate result.
“She walked into her house to retrieve her food while two men were stood by, something she had never done before.” Five days later, the positive changes were apparent. Caroline recalls, “As I stood by Ronja’s enclosure she walked close to Mark, her keeper and director of WHF; he had never been so close to her before without being the subject of attack.”
Caroline has since tried other oils, chosen to match Ronja’s temperament and her habitat and allowed the tiger to select her favourites.
- Frankincense: fear; interested
- Valerian: deep sedative; interested
- Angelica root: opens the animal up to healing; interested
- Sandalwood: Fear and supports the kidneys, a weak area for both big and domestic cats; a very strong interest
- Peppermint: stimulant; interested
Caroline takes up the story, “Ronja walked straight to the Sandalwood. This oil prompted the strongest interest of all the oils to date.
She returned to it many times over a period of two hours, displaying the flehmen response each time she inhaled its aroma. She paraded up and down the side of the enclosure where the oils were placed, each time returning to the sandalwood, circling it and taking up the aroma. After about half an hour into the sandalwood selection she walked over to the peppermint, put her head down and inhaled it, going back to it several times before selecting Angelica root, which she returned to a number of times, while still intermittently selecting her sandalwood, which she was very attracted to. Eventually Ronja returned to her comfort patch.”
Soon after Caroline had finished, a group of photographers arrived, part of a regular arrangement. Ronja’s usual reaction was to go for the attack or more usually hide in her house. As she did the latter, Mark decided to see if the essential oil inhalation would have positive results allowing her to be shut in.
To Mark’s amazement she did!
The house is designed so that the keepers can walk in and be protected by wire fencing.
At the first sign of the door opening in the past, Ronja would throw her entire body weight at the fencing by the keeper’s door. It would normally be too distressing and dangerous for both the keeper and Ronja. “Mark went to the door, opening it slowly. Instead of throwing herself at the fence, Ronja lay in her bed, growling. As he took steps in, the growls turned to loud roars, however she still remained in her bed.”
The next experiment was for Mark to wear Ronia’s favourite oils so that she would see him in a more positive light. “Rose had previously been selected but was not one of her favourites at the time, however from past experience I have observed that rose helps most animals cope with stress,” Caroline explains. So, Rose was applied to Mark’s chest, sandalwood to an arm, Angelica root and Frankincense on the other arm. This time the effect was quite startling.
Ronja allowed him to walk in, giving only the odd growl. He was able to sit down cross-legged in front of her with a wire fence separating them (she became known within the zoo and exotic animal community as one of the most aggressive tigers they had ever known) while she closed an eye. He stayed there for a good ten minutes. That was the closest she had been to anyone in the time they had known her, something they had only experienced when she was anesthetized. Mark says, “I went into the, corridor expecting her to rant and rave like she used to, but, she didn’t. She curled up and put her head between her paws. I was just amazed!”
Since Caroline began to visit, Ronja has not attempted to attack men as violently as she did in the past and she is no longer considered a danger. Since October, Ronja has even allowed herself to be shut in the house without a fuss.
&ldquot;We haven’t quite cracked the problem, but we are really pleased with her progress,” says Mark.
“Zoo professionals who saw her a year ago say they have noticed a remarkable difference in her. We don’t experience the rages that we used to get with her.
“Sandalwood is still her favourite. She will even take strips of wood with the oils on to the area of her enclosure where she eats.” As far as Mark knows, she is the only big cat to experience the benefits of essential oils. He hopes that the success they are having will help others like her.