Every city across the United States has a pound, and typically it’s full of pets that are, for one reason or another, unwanted by their previous owners. Although the overall problem of unwanted pets is nearly monumental in scope nationwide and particularly out of control in many urban areas, one of the most encouraging things I’m seeing in recent years is the increasing concern people have for homeless pets.
Many kind folks have adopted pets from the pound or are thinking about adoption. If you’re one of them, here are some suggestions for helping your new pet make the transition to your home.
First, visit the veterinarian
For starters, be sure you know about the type of care your pet received at the pound. For example, was your pet vaccinated, wormed, or neutered/spayed? Next, have your pet examined by a veterinarian. Most shelters have contracts with veterinarians who will give this physical exam for free or for a reduced rate. The exam will provide you with some pertinent information you’ll need to know about your pet: approximate age, gender, basic personality traits, and whether any disease is evident or if other physical ailments may crop up as a serious problem later on.
When I examine the typical rescued animal, the owners and I have almost no information about its past, so I make some basic assumptions.
First, I assume that the animal has been under an appreciable amount of stress. Being uprooted from one’s previous lifestyle and dumped into a kennel with masses of other noisy animals has to be stressful. All these and other stressors decrease the animal’s immune capability, and the compromised immune system comes just as the animal is being exposed to all sorts of diseases.
Second, there’s a good chance the pet is incubating an infection that will, if given the chance, appear in a few days or so.
Third, the pet likely has a behavior problem. Most of the animals turned in to shelters are there because they have some behavior problem their owners could not or would not deal with.
From these basic assum-ptions, I like to develop a holistic approach that will help ease the pet into its new home. Herbs, flower essences, and aromatherapy are the perfect helpers for this approach. The herbs I use are directed toward enhancing the immune system and helping the pet relax and cope with change.
Most pets turned in to shelters have behavioral problems.
Easing the transition
For boosting the immune system, there is nothing better than echinacea (Echinacea spp.). Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium), used as a substitute for the endangered species goldenseal, will help prevent (or treat) many infections. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an adaptogen, helping most of the systems of the body, and it’s specific for the adrenal gland, which is activated during stressful times.
There are several herbs I recommend to calm the nervous animal: St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), valerian root (Valeriana officinalis), and oats (Avena sativa). For cats, a good calming herb is catnip (Nepeta cataria).
Flower essences (dilute infusions of flowers) are powerful remedies that can be extremely helpful during times of mental or emotional turmoil. They are not used directly for physical illnesses but to counteract negative emotions.
There are a number of flower essences available, and each is indicated for a specific emotional or mental state. The idea is to match the flower essences to the emotions that are causing duress. Then, after a few treatments, the animal’s behavior should return to a more normal, well-adjusted state.
In addition, the flower essences are also used to heal physical problems. The theory here is that when we “heal” the mind, the body will then heal itself. I have personally observed an occasional physical ailment get better with flower essences, but in general I think the flower essences are most effective when they are directed toward the mental or emotional aspects of my patients.
Flower essences are a cinch to administer. Mix a few drops of the essence in one ounce of spring water. Shake well and give your pet a few drops of this mixture, either directly into the mouth or in the water dish. An alternate method—one that in my experience is equally as effective—is to mix several drops in water in a flower mister and mist the liquid over your pet’s head and body. You can put as many as five flower essences into one mixture.
There are several flower essences I use to help ease the rescued animal’s distress. Rescue Remedy (a combination of several flower essences designed to calm) is my emergency “drug” of choice. Use it whenever there is a crisis in your pet’s life. Some of my patients do much better in the vet’s office if they’ve been given a dose or two of Rescue Remedy fifteen to thirty minutes before their appointment.
Walnut is for the animal having difficulty adapting to new circumstances. Aspen is used to give courage to the apprehensive animal with a fear of the unknown, and it combines well with walnut for the animal entering a new household. If the animal is nearly hysterical with terror, rock rose will calm him and give him courage. Honeysuckle will help the animal adjust to his present circumstances. For the animal who is trying to remain calm on the outside but is showing subtle signs of distress—panting, rapid heart rate, a worried look—use agrimony.
There are also some remedies that can be used to help normalize behavior problems (problems that might be the reason the animal was taken to the pound in the first place).
Vervain is for the overenthusiastic, impulsive, hyperactive critter. Cherry plum is used to help control animals with compulsive behavior, especially those with extreme fear or recurring phobias. Impatiens helps those with irritable impatience, and heather is good for the loud, noisy, inattentive critter.
I often recommend flower essences for the pets’ owners, too. Many of them can benefit from Rescue Remedy just prior to bringing their pet to our clinic. Another example might be vine, used for the aggressive, dominant animal—two-legged or four-legged. If I see an animal who could use aspen to help him or her gain courage, I think of the possibility that vine might help his owner become less aggressive when dealing with his pet.
Aromatherapy for pets
Another gentle way to ease your pet into his new home is to use aromatherapy. There’s no need to adapt your pet’s taste buds—simply spread the aroma throughout your house. There are several ways to infuse the fragrance: candles, incense, or mechanical diffusers that mist the odor into the air. A more direct way is to put a few drops of the essential oil onto a bandanna neck wrap for a dog, or a few drops onto a cotton ball that is placed under your pet’s bed. Never apply essential oils directly to your pet’s fur.
There are several oils that are particularly good for animals. Lavender is used to help relax agitated animals so they can get a good night’s sleep. Sweet marjoram is good to ease depression, anxiety, and distress, and it’s also helpful for sleep. For anxiety, depression, and distress, basil can be added to the aroma mix, as can neroli and chamomile.
By Randy Kidd
Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for ten years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri.
Information provided in “Natural Remedies For Rescued Pets” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.