Special Interview: Ethical Treatment of Animals


Caroline Ingraham

Caroline Ingraham, born 1960, is the founder of Applied Zoopharmacognosy - a word derived from the ancient Greek „zoo“, „pharmaco“ (remedy) and ‘gnosis’ (knowing) - which involves identifying animal self-medicative behaviour in the wild and applying this understanding to the use of aromatherapeutic remedies for domestic animals by trained professionals. She has spent the last three decades observing and investigating how animals heal themselves through their own instinctive use of plant substances. Caroline Ingraham studied the use of essential oils with Robert Tisserand when she was 22 and then later, their scientific therapeutic properties with EROC in France, and is now regarded as the world authority on essential oils and plants with animals. She has written many full-length books and manuals on these topics. Ms. Ingraham has been an impassioned advocate for the ethical treatment of animals her entire life. In this interview with Christian Dueblin, Ms. Ingraham discusses why her strategy of using essential oils and plant extracts can work more effectively and holistically with the individual animal when veterinarian techniques have not helped, as well as how this change in perspective ofviewing the animals themselves as ‘active’ self-healers rather than ‘passive’ recipients of conventional pharmaceutical approaches is a more humane way to treat them.

Christian Dueblin: Ms. Ingraham, you are the founder of „Applied Zoopharmacognosy“ and Director of the Ingraham Academy. You are regarded as one of the leading pioneers regarding the self-medicating approach to animal health, in which you espouse having the animals themselves self-select aroma therapeutic substances as a remedy for their condition, which the facilitator then enables through successfully reading their behavioral cues. What brought you personally to deal in such a way with animals and human beings owning and using them?

Caroline Ingraham: When I trained in 1984, I was lucky as there were not the regulations surrounding essential oils, as there are today. This meant that I could be advised to take a couple of drops of juniper oil orally, since the topical application of juniper berry, yarrow and sandalwood helped but did not cure the cystitis that I was suffering from. I had battled with this affliction on and off for many years, and antibiotics were my only cure. After the oral application of the oils, the symptoms disappeared almost immediately, it was incredible, and cystitis did not return for at least 20 years. I also noticed that if I got the client more involved in the session, using their own sense of taste and smell to guide them, I achieved much better results. During this time, while still training, I rescued a dog, Roxy, from Battersea Dogs Home. She was weak, sickly and had a reduced appetite, and I wondered if the same approach would be effective with animals, so I offered plant extracts for her digestive problems. She chose an essential oil frankincense, traditionally associated with relieving diarrhea. Then after its application, she got up and almost immediately ate from her dish. I was stunned and I wanted everyone to know about the miraculous results that could be achieved. It was shortly after I moved to California that I developed the basic principles of this new approach to animal welfare. I mainly worked with horses then, though since then I have worked with a wide variety of domesticated and exotic animals. I gradually built up my knowledge by observing which plant extracts they selected in response to the problems they were facing.

You have been working with both domestic and wild animals using for over thirty years, and your approach is uniquely different to compared methodologies, since it sources how animals actually care for themselves in the wild using these plant substances. Can you address what were the previous social premises, probably also religious premises -scriptures in the Bible for instance do not protect animals, which could explain our behaviour towards animals in general - for disregarding their own need for self-care and instead treating them as passive recipients for our own aggressive medical treatments? Is it because we treat animals as less than human, or do we treat animals as we treat our fellow human beings as well as ourselves?

Some religions have lived their faith in the defence of non human animals, whilst it is true, that others have not helped their plight, such as when 19 th Century, Pope Pius IX told an English anti-vivisectionist, Anna Kingsford, that humankind has no duties to animals.

Yet on the other hand, St. Francis of Assisi, is an example of Christian compassion and ethical treatment towards them. Religion is a complex area of human existence. Perhaps it is because humans have achieved so many unique things that animals cannot do, some perceive animals as simple-beings. Today’s medical knowledge is the result of centuries of medical innovation, so naturally we would think that animals would not be able to medicate themselves. In our society we don’t give medicinal choices to children or the mentally infirm, this would be governed by a ‘qualified professional,’ animals too, are included into this category.

However, recent academic research shows that many different species, from caterpillars, to sheep, to chimpanzees, successfully select therapeutic plants that help control disease. In my three decades of observational research, I have witnessed first-hand how animals repeatedly demonstrate their remarkable ability to self-select for both physical and stress related problems.

On the one hand we are very nice to domesticated pets and horses, the animal. But we do not really want to know how meat is produced, a huge business and industrial complex. What does explain this gap between sentimental caring on the one hand for our mascots, and total indifference on the other hand towards animals destined to be consumed?

I think two things explain our contradictory attitudes to pets and livestock. The first is our obsession with putting things in arbitrary categories; we label cows, pigs and sheep as ‘food’, whilst we label cats, dogs and horses as ‘companions.’ However, in some parts of the world dogs can be found in the human food chain – so there are many different standards, depending on our education. Even Aristotle bent logic to suit human behaviour. He stated that males were naturally superior to females, and slaves were biologically designed to serve free men, and that animals naturally exist to be eaten by humans. We tend to use phrases such as farm animals instead of farmed animals; all food animals are perfectly capable of being our companions, if we give them a chance.

I am particularly shocked when I hear meat eating ‘animal healers’, put plants in the same category as animals, saying that either way they are taking a life. What would they think if they watched that child cut a carrot and what would they think if they saw the same child kill a lamb – I don’t think they would consider them to be equally shocking. The other problem is lack of exposure; we regularly interact with companion animals, which allows us to get to know them, while we never or rarely interact with industrially farmed animals, and so it is hard for us to form the emotional bonds that would prevent us from killing them. The more we are distanced, the harder it is to empathise.

You’ve said in an interview with BBC Radio that we should rethink our relationship to animals and view them as active conscious creatures rather than as passive ones. What is it that we should rethink in particular, in regards to their health?

Do we always know better than nature? I think this is a question we need to truly look at with great honesty. Animals are capable of making choices and have a strong desire to do so. I can’t emphasize enough that when they are allowed to choose their medicine, it can alleviate so much unnecessary suffering and save lives. Time and time again I come across animals with behavioral problems that select pain-relieving remedies, suggesting perhaps an undiagnosed physical problem, since their behaviour completely changes after self-medicating. Once an animal knows that you are ‘listening,’ your relationship develops to a new level, if you watch carefully, they will show you exactly where, and how they want a remedy applied. By understanding the properties of the remedies selected, you can find out so much; is the animal selecting plant extracts that help ease anxious behaviours or pain, or those that combat infection, or ones help to reduce inflammation? The list goes on.

However, I think that some people lose confidence in domestic and captive animals self-medicating when they hear, for example that cats can poison themselves on certain houseplants. These plants are usually from areas in the tropics, where domestic cats have had no evolutionary history so therefore don’t have the necessary detoxification or detection mechanisms to recognize them. The same applies with dogs and chocolate, cocoa beans are poisonous to them, but when they have been masked with sugar, they may be perceived as food. Most cases of animals ingesting toxic substances can be explained can be explained. We must remember that animals survived a substantial period of history without our intervention – with the wide variety of therapeutic plants out there, it should not be surprising that animals have evolved to use them to aid their own survival.

What distinguish this new self-medicating approach to animal care, in which you use essential oils and plant extracts, to earlier approaches? Is it the way you have the animal select its own remedy-essential oils or plant extract, rather than simply imposing ‘the cure’ as if we humans know best?

This approach can be quite challenging for some people a s it is all about handing the ‘treatment’ over to the animal, which is the complete opposite to what we have been taught over the generations. How animals acquire the ability to self-medicate is not fully understood, but one plausible mechanism involves an innate biological system that responds to their physical and behavioural needs, where taste and smell is altered in a way that makes the animal prefer the scent or taste of the required medicinal plant. Self medication contrasts with current practice, where humans generally take control, and decide the dose and frequency, because ‘we know best’, but in reality this is not always so – veterinary medicine is generally excellent but it is not unheard of for incorrect drugs to be administered, or wrong doses given?

You are in demand globally as a consultant and teacher, speaking regularly at International symposiums, as you’re currently doing in Switzerland. How do you explain and lecture this innovative medical modality, and why do you think people are attending such seminars, sometimes with their animals?

People are attending the lectures and seminars because, as with themselves, they understand that there is a need for individualised medicine, (the idea that there is a cure all tablet for one problem is a concept that is declining). In addition they want something more natural to keep their animals healthy, as a first resort not last. Many people are tired of the overuse of drugs, and realise that this is not always the best way forward. In addition people are seeing and witnessing, absolutely incredible results, both physically and behaviourally using this method and word of mouth has traversed the continents. In addition it can create an incredible bond between the animal and guardian, empowering the guardian to be able to read their animals‘ needs and help in their health. As we do for our children, when a child falls over we dress their wounds; whereas a n animals wounds are almost always treated with antibiotics.

Others, such as zoologists are interested in animal behaviour and attend to be able to add another skill to their approach. In the classes I explain using video examples, demonstrations with animals, giving scientific evidence where possible, including the rationale behind Applied Zoopharmacognosy and how to read behavioural cues associated with self-medicative behaviour.

Where can you detect and see parallels of medical treatment between humans and animals? Are there implications for human beings in performing their own self-medicative behavior?

Humans and animals share many of the same plant medicines, it is generally only the application and dosage that may be different. Some drug companies are interested in observing self-medication in the wild, to help guide them to explore potential cures for humans. This is especially true for drugs such as antibiotics and anti parasitics, where resistance is of great concern.

Humans can self-medicate; but perhaps not as accurately as animals because of differences in olfactory capabilities. It would also appear that the plant extracts seem to work better for physical disorders than for behavioural problems in humans. This is possibly because we have evolved to use conversation to express and process our emotional problems. However babies and young children respond well to aromatics for both physical and behavioural problems. It appears that when verbal language is not fully established, smell is the dominant form of communication, and because their language is not the same as ours that does not mean they shouldn’t have choice.

In legal terms, the domestic animal is still property, that is to say, an owned possession, a thing. What should be done legally to change this attitude towards animals, in your opinion?

The idea that animals should be considered property came from a time in history when societies thought that animals had no feelings, thoughts or souls, and so were not meaningfully different from other tradable goods. Today, a large body of evidence shows that animals do have their own emotions, desires and personalities, which is why the idea of them being ‘property’ sits so strangely. Perhaps it would best to replace the idea of us being ‘owners’ of these animals to us being their ‘guardians’, the same way we do for young children; that way these animals would still ‘belong’ to us in a sense, but we would be obliged by law to provide a duty of care to them. Some countries have animal welfare laws to this effect, but they are almost always arbitrarily applied, with pets getting far greater levels of protection than farm animals, even though their ability to experience emotions and desires is no different. The most important change is to get farm animals and pets to be considered equally under the law.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude, Mrs. Ingraham, the time you have devoted to this interview. I wish you all the best in continuing to innovate in this new and exciting field of animal medicine, as well as train facilitators in Zoopharmacognosy for the future.

(C) 2015 by Christian Düblin. All rights reserved. Other publications require the author’s explicit consent.

- Homepage of Caroline Ingraham
- Newest book of Caroline Ingraham: "How Animals Heal Themselves"
- Caroline Ingraham on Facebook

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