Lecture 18 Rolfe

Avian Hematological Response after Stress and Flower Essence

Presenting Author: Vanessa Rolfe, DVM

Avian & Exotic Veterinary Services, Salem, VA

Interpretive Review and comments by Dr. Nemetz:

Often non-traditional medical treatments, "home remedies", or holistic alternatives have been touted as "effective" for a multitude of disease processes. Unfortunately most of these products are unregulated by government bodies and are only backed by testimonials or anecdotal reports. Do any of these non-traditional therapies hold up to scientific evaluation? Dr. Rolfe decided to take Flower essence therapy and create an experiment to seek a quantitative result.

Flower essence therapy was first described by physician/homeopath Dr. Edward Back (1886-1936). He prepared 38 remedies mostly extracted of plants and flowers. He proposed a theory that diseases were caused by imbalanced or negative emotional states. Each essence would alleviate a different emotion.

Five essences are combined to decrease the sensation of stress in unusual and fearful situations, allowing the recipient to adapt. He called this combination "Rescue Remedy" (RR).

Excessive stress has been implicated in different species as having many deleterious effects. This is especially true with companion bird species that are not domesticated. There are anecdotal stories of RR used for stress in humans, birds, dogs, cats, horses, and even plants. There have been several published studies evaluating RR in humans with limited-to-no benefit over placebos, but there have been no objective evaluations in the veterinary literature.

In chickens, heterophil / lymphocyte (H/L) ratio (part of the white blood cell population) has been shown to be an excellent measure of acute stress. Because of this well-established research protocol in chickens, chickens were used as the model in evaluating RR.

Dr. Rolfe set up a double blind study using controls, chickens given the carrier ethanol, and birds given the RR in the carrier. Blood samples were taken from all groups. In a second phase a stressor was applied and then compared against the baseline. Two other phases were conducted with greater stressors for longer durations.

In all of the phases, no change in the H / L ratio could be detected.


Even though Dr. Rolfe experiment failed to show any beneficial effect of the Flower essence therapy, to be fair, perhaps the stressors she used were not severe enough to elicit a response that could be measured. The main purpose of this paper was to bring to the avian veterinarian community that even though there are MANY holistic therapies available, there have been no documented scientific evidence that they have any beneficial medical effects in our pet birds. These perhaps may even have deleterious effects that we are unaware of and that also are just as difficult to evaluate.

At The BIRD Clinic, I get asked about holistic remedies on a fairly regular basis. My general answer is as follows: "Formal exotic avian medicine in barely 15 years of age and we still do not know all the pharmacokinetic effects of the FDA/USDA drugs available in both human and veterinary medicine that we presently use today. So, if we still do not know the effects in exotic birds for drugs with proven pharmacologic action in humans and other pet species, how can we really honestly evaluate other pharmacologic remedies with no proven research in any species?"

One must always be wary of a panacea to any disease process as over time most have proven to be ineffective. Please be extremely careful in experimenting with our exotic pets as some of the outcomes I have experienced have been terminal especially with airborne remedies.