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Kristen Leigh Bell, the author of Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals (Findhorn Press, 2002) and founder of Aromaleigh, a Rochester, N.Y., company that makes essential-oil blends for animals, discovered the healing powers of aromatherapy more than a decade ago.
There are so many oils and so many different uses for them, she says and combining them is as much an art as a science. In that respect, selecting a handful of essential oils as an introduction to this healing modality is like trying to name the five best colors in an artist’s palette — impossible. And as with colors, essential oils work best together, Bell says: “When they are combined in carefully prepared formulas, their total effect is much greater than the sum of their parts. “
Here, then, are five popular essential oils that Bell uses frequently. But they are just the beginning of any exploration of canine aromatherapy. Be sure to consult a qualified aromatherapist, herbalist or a veterinarian familiar with essential oils to ensure you are diluting the oils properly and using them safely.
1. Lavender. This oil tops most aromatherapists’ lists because it is so versatile and immensely safe for topical use. Lavender not only relieves itching, fights bacteria and prevents scarring, but it has a soothing effect, making it an important calming oil.
2. Peppermint. Bell rates this second only to lavender in terms of its overall usefulness. Peppermint oil stimulates circulation, repels insects, reduces motion sickness and zaps bad breath.
3. Niaouli. Bell recommends this as an alternative to tea-tree oil, which is a trendy but powerful healing agent. Both have Australian origins, but Niaouli is gentler, and while it is antibacterial and antihistaminic, it is less likely to irritate skin.
4. German chamomile. Like lavender, this oil is very gentle on the skin, which is where it does the most good. German chamomile can be used on burns, stings, allergic reactions and skin inflammations.
5. Helichrysum. In her book, Bell compares the smell of this essential oil to that of squashed bug. Still, its healing properties outweigh that olfactory assault: A powerful anti-inflammatory that is safe to use on the skin, helichrysum facilitates tissue regeneration.