Animal Self Medication Study 1

 Saffie, Bull Terrier Cross

Winny Boerman and Sheila Harper

Saffie is a 5 year old rescue dog at a rescue shelter in the Manchester area. She came in as a stray dog, but had previously lived in a pub. Little else is known of her history.

Primary concern

* Severe bloating over a 5 – 6 month period

Behavioural issues

* Easily excited; worried about hands; touch sensitive

* Bullying staff members

Medical history

When the rescue shelter first contacted us for help, Saffie had been suffering from continuous severe bloating, day and night, for well over five months. Due to making food adjustments, some of the issues during the day were lessened. However, from around 4 p.m., continuing for the majority of each night, Saffie would not be able to lie down, and could only sit up upright. She was in a great deal of pain, constantly rocking, and attempting to extend her body as much as she could in order to give her abdominal area the maximum space. Whilst in a sitting position, she would raise her head as high as possible, resting it on the side of her bed, a position that most closely replicated lying down.

In the months prior to our visit, Saffie had undergone several blood tests, X-rays and ultra sound scans which all confirmed the bloating in the stomach and intestines but which were unable to shed light on the cause. Saffie was prescribed steroids, which caused increased drinking and appetite, and so the Kennel staff decided to take her off these. She was also prescribed Pro-Kolin, Tramadol and Zylkene, but no medication had been able to prevent the bloat from occurring in the evenings and overnight.

The next step suggested by the vet was an invasive operation where the intestines would be examined for abnormalities. With few options open to her, the shelter manager decided to arrange a zoopharmacognosy session for Saffie several days before she was due to have the operation. As the medication appeared to be having no positive effect on Saffie’s condition, it was decided to discontinue with it. When out in the nearby environment, Saffie would search for and chew on the roots of a particular plant, which was found to be Himalayan Balsam. This plant contains anti-inflammatory and fungicidal properties and is also a pain killer. It contains a lot of minerals. It has a lot of other uses: including having a sedative effect and improving colon issues.

The Applied Zoopharmacognosy Session

At the start of the session Saffie needed some time to find out that we weren’t a threat to her and that the pace of the session would be influenced by her. Initially she showed some insecurity and anxiety towards me but the combination of calm responses to her, along with her interest in the various smells emanating from the containers we had brought with us, soon changed her attitude.

As soon as she was offered spirulina and barley grass, Saffie’s attention was fully on the remedies. Although she didn’t have a voracious appetite, her reactions showed that she was clearly in need of much of what was on offer. She ingested about four tbsp. of spirulina and about two tbsp. of barley grass. Bearing in mind that for a dog with the tendency to develop bloat, any type of solid intake could trigger a dangerous response, I was aware of how careful I had to be. However, Saffie was very sensible, taking regular breaks in order to allow herself to feel her body’s response before going further.

Order and amount of remedies selected:

Coconut oil: 5 tbsps.

Ricebran oil: 150 ml. Saffie had difficulty in selecting a fixed oil, but eventually chose the rice bran as a clear favourite.

Ginger water, Peppermint: inhaled

Rosehip shells: ingested a handful

Calendula: ingested approx. 15 ml

Almond oil: ingested approx. 10 ml

Marshmallow root: ingested 4 tbsps.

Spirulina: she returned to this and ingested about 2 tbsps. At this point, Saffie then began the process of passing wind, that lasted for the remainder of the session.

Sea Buckthorn: ingested one tbsp.

Cornflower water, Angelica root: inhaled

Rose water: ingested. She took 3 – 4 tbsps. first and then offered her head and neck so that it could be applied there. Gradually she indicated that she wanted more rose water along her spine towards the right side of her belly, moving towards her abdomen. At this point she began to lift up her right leg indicating that it could be applied around the inguinal ligament (see picture). She then began to ingest more rose water, preferring to take it from the hand rather than from the bowl.

Rose Otto: desperate to inhale, and then became very animated, pushing against it, indicating that she wanted to have this on topically around the neck.

Violet leaf: inhaled, followed by lots of violent sneezing, and then some whining.

Yarrow: inhaled

Here, Saffie took a long break before continuing further with essential oils:

Ginger, Violet Leaf and Lavender: inhaled. Saffie switched between these three oils for several minutes.

Sweet Basil and Fennel: inhaled. Saffie continued to pass wind, which became more and more frequent at this point.

Saffie became a little restless, but began to settle with the following:

Frankincense, Roman Chamomile, Jasmine, Sandalwood: inhaled

Saffie inhaled ginger essential oil again, but then indicated that she wanted to have ginger water applied, repositioning herself to show where she wanted it most: on the belly. Whilst the ginger water was being applied, she was licking, blinking, and intermittently ingesting it, at the same time inhaling the Ginger essential oil and Frankincense.

Peppermint: inhaled, then took a short break. Further passing of wind.

Aloe Vera gel: ingested 2 tbsps., then repositioned herself, sitting square, inviting it to be applied to her belly.

At this stage, Saffie clearly showed that she didn’t want to have the peppermint applied, and that it was for inhalation only.

Peppermint and Ginger were available nearby for Saffie to take as much and as frequently as she needed.

Although my primary concern was helping Saffie with the immediate physical effects of the bloating, I was also concerned that anxiety and stress could be playing a part in the underlying condition.

At this point there was a disturbance outside, which Saffie was aware of, but Frankincense, Jasmine and Sandalwood were key oils in helping her to calm down.

Saffie moved on to:

Orange Flower water: inhaled but a little wary and unsure

Vanilla: intense interest, applied topically to the shoulder area

At this point, Saffie softened completely, becoming much more relaxed, and wanting to have the vanilla on her neck and chest area, and on her abdomen, all the time licking the vanilla from the hand as well. This process took several minutes.

Orange Flower water: still a little wary

Mimosa: wanted to have it applied topically, and this took a lot of thinking time. After about 4 minutes, she inhaled more intensely, burping, swallowing.

At this stage a visible reduction in the bloating in her abdomen was apparent.

Neroli: this was offered, but Saffie was unable to go there, even with the help of a number of the supporting oils she had previously selected.

Violet leaf: wanted to have this applied.

Mimosa: wanted to have this applied to the chest

Geranium: interest

Rosemary: interest

Saffie also took Ylang Ylang, Seaweed , continuing with Violet Leaf, and Mimosa

Although she had shown little interest in oils such as Seaweed early on, Saffie now became more aware of them. Eventually she came to the point that she could lie down and relax.

She showed interest in, but didn’t ingest arnica, comfrey or chickweed oil, slippery elm, and liquorice root

She showed no interest in green clay.

Key Remedies

Spirulina Barley Grass; Rice Bran oil; Marshmallow Root

Ginger E.O., Ginger water; Aloe Vera gel; Peppermint; Rose water; Rose Otto; Vanilla; Mimosa, Ylang Ylang, Violet leaf; Frankincense; Hops; Seaweed.

Further information

Overnight, Saffie was kept under CCTV surveillance. She purged twice during the night. The following day, the staff noted that the bloating had considerably reduced, and that Saffie looked as she had done before this condition became apparent.

Although Saffie had been on gastro-intestinal food for five months, prescribed by the vet, we noted on the label that it contained a number of ingredients that were known to cause bloating. We left the Kennel manager with a list of foods that would cause bloating, and another list of foods that were safe to feed, in order that she had the tools to offer Saffie a suitable diet for this stage. Further suggestions were made about routine and general handling that would support her emotionally and behaviourally.

This session took place in October 2015. As we write, February 2016, Saffie has had no further instances of bloating whatsoever. In addition, her behaviour towards staff members has improved