by Joelle Steele

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Most of us grew up in the age of "modern" medicine. If we got sick we went to a physician who diagnosed our illness and then prescribed a drug which we purchased at the pharmacy. We did the same for our pets. But it may come as a surprise to some people that modern medicine has only been common practice for about ninety-five years, and is only in use by a very small percentage (estimates run from 4% to 18%) of the world's population.

Today, many people are returning to the holistic and natural remedies which were once practiced by their ancestors and which are still regularly practiced throughout most of our world. In turn, they are frequently seeking these alternative, gentler therapies for their feline companions, often with much success, since many veterinarians throughout the United States now offer these services in addition to their other veterinarian services.


What exactly is holistic medicine? In short, it is an approach to healing based on the philosophy that a body is capable of healing itself under proper conditions which may be fostered through such things as changes in diet or environment, vitamin therapy, massage therapy, herbal and homeopathic medications, acupuncture, or chiropractic care — to name a few.

Sounds old-fashioned? Well, something that is old is not necessarily "out of date." In fact, it could be "tried and true." Chinese medicine certainly seems to be just that. Many Chinese herbal formulas were written nearly 1,800 years ago, and today, along with acupuncture, they are still the primary choice of medical and veterinarian treatment in China and have become popular and effective forms of treatment in other countries, including the United States, as well. Chinese medicine is preventative in nature and advocates the maintenance of good health through the reinforcement of the body's own natural defenses. And, of all the natural therapies in use today, Chinese medicine has been found to be the most effective in curing chronic diseases.

Holistic medicine strives to strengthen the body to either fight off disease or to prevent susceptibility to disease. It encourages treatment of the individual as a whole and takes into consideration the personality and temperament of the patient. In addition to herbal remedies, it advocates exercise, a healthy environment, psychological well-being, and non-invasive practices such as acupuncture, massage therapy, or chiropractic care, to maintain good health.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine is ancient and is the most therapeutic device known. Many of our modern drugs are simply harsher man-made herbal derivatives. Ancient artifacts tell us that prehistoric peoples had knowledge of herbal cures. The ancient Egyptians, Arabs, Greeks, and Romans wrote extensively on the subject and even the Bible makes numerous references to herbal cures still in use today. During the Middle Ages, herbal medicine was at its peak thanks to the scholarly monks who cultivated and used medicinal herbs, recording their findings for posterity. American Indians and pioneers alike used herbal medications to treat themselves and their livestock. As late as the 19th century, herbal medicine was still the most widely practiced form of medicine throughout North America and Europe.

The academic interest in herbalism began to wane during the 18th and 19th centuries when Western scientists turned to chemistry for medical answers. But, at that time, when most people still had to treat themselves, herbal medicine thrived. Even in the 20th century, when "modern" medicine was considered state of the art, Europeans who were cut off from normal drug supplies during the World Wars turned to the herbs used by their ancestors. Immigrants in the United States, particularly those in rural communities, continued to rely on those traditional cures.

Herbal medicine is the most widely used course of therapy in the world today, and many of the synthetic pharmaceuticals on which we rely, such as aspirin and digitalis, were originally derived from plants which were used for centuries to treat illnesses in humans and animals.

Most animals in the wild instinctively know which plants to eat when they are ill, and most herbalists believe that the true strength of herbal medicine comes from the use of the plant, complete with all its nutrients, rather than a processed medication such as a homeopathic or pharmaceutical derivative of a plant. Herbs generally augment the healing process by cleansing the body of impurities and toxins which accumulate over time and contribute to many illnesses.


As with any remedy, you must first know exactly what is wrong with your cat, and that means seeking the advice of your veterinarian. If your vet is a holistic one, he/she may be help you determine the correct herb and its dosage. Remember that herbs are strong medicine; they are not harmless. Though they work more slowly and gently than their pharmaceutical counterparts, they can still be dangerous in too large a dosage.


Most experts agree that fresh herbs are best, with dried herbs being the next best choice. But, since most fresh herbs taste awful and must be administered over a period of weeks or sometimes months, this may be impractical, especially for a cat. You may find that it is best to purchase herbs as pills or liquids from mail order suppliers. Bear in mind, however, that if you order pills you may have to reduce them to powder or crumbs to get the smaller cat-size dosages.

In the long run, you may find that herbal treatments for cats are best suited to short-term acute disorders such as indigestion, and that homeopathics may be a superior choice for the more serious or long-term chronic illnesses. Some experts feel that herbs are easiest to administer to cats when used externally for such conditions as ear mites or skin problems.

As with any method of treatment, it is important to recognize any contributing factors to your cat's condition. For example, if you are treating your cat's itchy skin with any kind of medication, herbal or otherwise, you should eliminate the possible and probable causes of the condition. For example, examine your cat's sleeping area for possible allergy-causing materials, be sure you get rid of flea infestations, or try a new cat food free from preservatives or made with lamb rather than beef, etc. Herbal medications, like any other kind of treatment, can only do so much to ease your cat's suffering. Finding the cause of the problem should be your primary concern.

Homeopathic Medicine

In the 19th century, a more modern form of herbal medicine, homeopathy, was founded, then introduced and practiced in Europe where it remains in wide use today. The theory of homeopathy is similar to that of Chinese medicine. But, rather than relying on herbal preparations, homeopathic remedies consist of minute amounts of herbal substances, assembled into small pills.

In the early 19th century, a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann performed experiments with herbal medications and found that when administered in large doses to healthy individuals they caused symptoms of illness, but when given to the sick in small dosages, those same symptoms were relieved. By the end of the 19th century, Hahnemann's "Law of Similars" which stated that "like cures like" had established a stronghold for homeopathy in Europe and the United States.

In recent years, homeopathy has received a renewed interest in the United States to the extent that books on the subject have even been written for animals such as horses, dogs, and of course, cats. As with homeopathy for humans, many factors must be taken into consideration when determining a correct diagnosis and selecting a proper remedy. And, unless you are 100% certain of a diagnosis, you should never attempt to treat your cat with any kind of medication. Even with the correct diagnosis, it is important that you consult both your veterinarian and a comprehensive homeopathic text written specifically for cats.


Homeopathic medicines are obtained from all natural sources and come in three forms: tablet, powder, and liquid. Unlike pharmaceuticals, most homeopathics are usually bland with no unpleasant taste. You can simply mix the medication in with food. If you must administer in pill form, it is easy because the pills are very tiny and dissolve so quickly, leaving no acrid aftertaste. The clear liquid form can be administered with an eye dropper and the water-based solutions having less taste to them than the alcohol-based tinctures.

When determining which homeopathic treatment to use it is important to thoroughly assess all of the symptoms your cat is exhibiting since there may be a half-dozen or more possible homeopathic medicines for the same illness and only one or two are correct. For example, if your cat is suffering from colitis, (inflammation of the large bowel), diarrhea is only the primary symptom. Your cat may also be vomiting, the stools may contain blood, the condition may get worse at night, there may be severe straining, flatulence, itching, etc. For colitis with flatulence and vomiting after drinking, the choice would be Uran Nit at 30c per day for two weeks. If there is vomiting and blood in the stool, Ipecac at 6c three times daily for a week would be the proper remedy. Other homeopathics for this condition are also available depending on the symptoms and sometimes a combination of two or three of these is what is necessary to effect a cure.


Puff was diagnosed by her veterinarian as having feline viral rhinotracheitis or FVR, an upper respiratory virus. She had been sneezing, coughing, and wheezing for four days, and had not eaten for two days. The veterinarian gave her the usual antibiotic treatment and infused her with liquids intravenously. But, Puff still refused to eat or groom herself and her fever caused her to be flushed and damp from profuse perspiration.

After a week, Puff still showed no response to traditional remedies and was deteriorating further. She was taken to a holistic veterinarian who immediately took her off the antibiotics and prescribed an herbal and homeopathic remedy. Her owner was skeptical but desperate. Within three days, Puff's fever was gone and she began eating again. And, two days after that, her congestion had completely passed, she no longer sneezed and coughed, and she began to groom herself.

Puff's recovery came as a result of holistic veterinarian medicine. She was treated with, and responded to, an herbal tincture of Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), given orally, which stimulates the appetite and has antibiotic properties, and two tissue salts in homeopathic form: Natrum muriaticum (from sodium chloride), alternated with Ferrum phosphoricum (from ferric phosphate).

Holistic remedies have been around since the times of the ancient Chinese and Egyptian cultures and were only "replaced" with modern pharmacology in western civilization as recently as the first half of this century. Homeopathy, its basic principles originating in India as early as the 10th century BC, has always been widely used in the European community. Chinese medicine relies heavily on herbal treatments, a practice originating prior to that country's first written records of approximately 1800 BC. Today, in the United States, many people and their pets are turning to these older, gentler, remedies as alternatives to expensive commercial drugs, many of which have side effects worse than the ailment for which they are prescribed.

For those who are used to relying heavily on modern day pharmaceuticals which suppress a disease and its symptoms, holistic medicine can seem confusing because it relies primarily on the ability of the body to heal itself. It uses the symptoms for diagnostic purposes only and treats the individual with substances which to some extent duplicate those symptoms which are, in reality, manifestations of the body's own healing process in action. By administering a substance which acts in this manner, the self-healing is enhanced or increased and the body is able to heal itself naturally.

Most holistic medications are available in pill form. Many are also available in the forms of essences, salves, and tinctures, and on the whole, they are usually very inexpensive, particularly when compared to pharmaceuticals. Holistic medications are derived from the roots, stems, leaves, seeds, fruits, and flowers of various common garden plants and wildflowers, although there are other treatments used which are derived from such substances as bee venom, and the twelve tissue salts that are frequently administered to ailing felines. Unlike traditional modern medicines, holistic medications do not sacrifice laboratory animals to prove their efficacy or their safety.


Essences, also known as Bach flower essences, are heavily diluted infusions of flowers and buds which work slowly and are normally administered orally several times a day for weeks at a time. Herbs also work slowly but usually elicit results within a week or two at most. They help detoxify the body and work at boosting sluggish systems. Homeopathic medications are not as highly concentrated as herbals, but work fairly quickly, sometimes in a matter of a few days. Like herbs and essences, they operate by stimulating the body's own natural self-defenses, healing response, and recovery process.


The method by which a remedy is administered, (orally or topically, in liquid or pill form, as an essence, herb or homeopathic, etc.), depends upon the individual and the kind of condition and ailment being treated. A skin condition may benefit from an herbal wash while a stomach irritation may benefit from the same herb taken internally in the form of a tepid tea. And, because one of the basic principles of holistic medicine is that a patient responds according to his or her own basic temperament, the correct treatment is prescribed based on the needs of the individual and not just according to the specific disease or ailment. What this means is that two cats suffering from the same malady may require two completely different cures, while two cats with totally different ailments may be successfully cured with the same or similar treatment.

For example, Twinkle had feline acne that had not responded to repeated treatment with antibiotics and skin washes. Her entire chin and mouth area were inflamed with red, blistery sores and pustules. Like Puff, she was treated with Hydrastis canadensis, but in the form of an infusion, (a tea-like liquid), which was swabbed onto her chin area twice daily. And, like Puff, she was also given Ferrum phosphoricum. But, because the veterinarian suspected that sluggish bowels may have exacerbated the problem, Twinkle was also given Nux vomica. Her chin was completely cleared up within two weeks.


Because natural treatments are so personalized, it is important for cat owners to inform their holistic veterinarians of the personality and behavioral characteristics of their feline companions in such a way that the vet can make a complete assessment of the animal's needs and diagnose accordingly.

Lou had chronic but intermittent diarrhea for the first year of his life. His owner changed his diet, kept him indoors in case he was eating some contaminated food from outside, and spent a small fortune taking him on repeated trips to the veterinarian. He eventually took Lou to a vet who specialized in animal homeopathy. After learning that Lou was anxious, easily frightened, and preferred sleeping on the cold garage floor to dozing in a sunny window, the vet prescribed Argentum nitricum (from silver nitrate), for the diarrhea and the desire to keep cool, and Kali phosphoricum (from potassium phosphate), for the hypersensitivity. Lou responded to treatment within a week. His owner then administered the same treatment at every onset of the same symptoms. Each time it took a shorter period for Lou to recover. After six months of this treatment, Lou was finally well again and has had only one recurrence in three years since.

Lifestyle changes as well as dietary changes and supplements are often administered in conjunction with holistic remedies. For instance, cats with bladder problems such as cystitis may be medicated with one or more of the following depending on the individual condition and temperament of the animal: Apis mellifica (from bee venom), Cantharis (from Spanish fly), Equisetum arvense (from mare's tail grass), Rhus toxicodendron (from poison sumac), Thlaspi bursa pastoris (from shepherd's purse plant), Urtica urens (from the stinging nettle), and, of course, the tissue salts. But, to fully treat the condition holistically, vitamin B, C, and E supplements may also be indicated as well as a dietary change to a higher grade of cat food with low ash content and possibly a rice rather than wheat or corn grain base, as well as a reduction in organ meats, the latter being most important during the actual initial treatment period. In the case of a cat whose cystitis is exacerbated by stress, moving the animal indoors, keeping it in a quieter part of the home, or separating it from small children, may also be indicated.


There are some excellent books available which can help cat owners determine an appropriate holistic remedy, including Dr. Pitcairn's "Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats," "Homeopathy for Pets," and "The Treatment of Cats by Homeopathy." But, beware. Playing veterinarian with your cat is risky business, particularly with serious diseases or acute conditions which may necessitate regular monitoring of progress, immediate surgical intervention, or the administration of intravenous fluids, services only a qualified veterinarian can administer. It is always advisable to consult your veterinarian, preferably one who is familiar with holistic medicine, for a complete diagnosis before administering any natural remedies.

It is easy for the amateur to make mistakes in selecting the correct curative and in some cases this does not present a serious problem. Candy Cat's owner was administering Sulphur as a treatment for a dandruff condition. The condition did not improve at all. A holistic veterinarian was consulted and he informed her that she should have been treating Candy Cat with Arsenicum album (from arsenious anhydride) and the tissue salt, Natrum sulphuricum (from sodium sulfate). When the treatment was changed, Candy Cat's dandruff condition was cured.


But, failing to consult a veterinarian can also have fatal or near-fatal consequences as was the case with Snow White. Snow was eight years old and had a history of bladder ailments ranging from mild cases of cystitis to complete blockage. When her owner decided to treat Snow with homeopathics, she simply bought some Cantharis and started giving it to her cat. Unfortunately, Snow did not have cystitis, she had nephritis, an acute swelling of the kidney. While this condition can be treated with Cantharis, Snow's general temperament and other symptoms indicated that the correct treatment for her should have been Apis mellifica and Natrum muriaticum. Snow's kidneys failed while she was on Cantharis and she almost died, requiring a two day stay at the vet to recover.

Many conditions for which there are no conventional cures can be treated holistically providing some measure of relief from the symptoms, and in many cases, reversing the problem altogether. For instance, elderly cats are subject to a variety of problems such as arthritis, rheumatism, stiffness, muscular tremors and twitches, all of which can be relieved using one or more of the following, depending on the individual cat in question: Actaea racemosa (from wild baneberry), Atropa belladonna (from deadly nightshade), Bryonia (from bryony), Kali phosphoricum, Medicago sativa (from alfalfa), or Rhus toxicodendron. Watching the diet to prevent overweight also helps as does creating a suitable environment. A warm bed, out of drafts and away from noise, and a small ramp covered in carpeting can allow easier access up and down from a favorite "perch" making the arthritic feline more comfortable and mobile.

With behavioral problems, particularly those related to the innate temperament of a particular cat, natural treatments can be very helpful, with essences considered particularly effective. To be on the safe side, cats that are depressed, anxious, or irritable should first be given a complete medical exam to rule out any possible physiological cause of their behavior such as an abscessed tooth or internal parasites which should be treated.

If the veterinarian gives your cranky feline a "clean bill of health," the next step is to change to a diet that is free from artificial ingredients, such as dyes and preservatives, which can affect brain tissues. A vitamin supplement rich in B complex will also help combined with one or more of the following natural remedies depending, once again, on the particular cat in question: Avena sativa (oat), Chicory essence, Holly essence, Impatiens essence, Matricaria chamomilla (German camomile), Mimulus essence, rock rose essence, Scutellaria lateriflora (skullcap), Star of Bethlehem esence, Valeriana officinalis (valerian), Verbene hastata (blue vervain), walnut essence, and tissue salts such as Calcarea sulphurica, Kali phosphoricum, or Natrum sulphuricum.


Administering any medication to your cat, holistic or otherwise, is not an easy task at best. Herbals usually come in small capsules and the homeopathics are very tiny pills. Herbals and homeopathics should be given to the animal when it is not eating, preferably a half hour or so before or after a meal. Homeopathic medicines should not be touched if possible being tipped into the lid of the pill bottle and from there dropped into the mouth of the cat. If necessary, the pills can be crushed between to spoons into a powder and dissolved in water or "hidden" in food. Herbal medications cannot usually be disguised in food because they often have such a bitter taste. Essences are liquids which are given in very small amounts which makes them fairly easy to administer by dropper.

Dosages vary. Some are daily, some hourly, some every three to four hours; some are administered in the morning and again at night. The unit of potency recommended for cats is usually designated as 3X (or 3C) and 6X (or 6C), (humans usually use 9X and higher). Treatment may last for a few days or a few weeks depending on the individual cat, the condition being treated, and the animal's recooperative powers and progress. Chronic conditions may need to be treated once a week for a month or more.


Holistic medications should be stored in cool, dry places away from light and from strong-smelling substances such as cleaning fluids. Stored in this manner, the homeopathics can maintain their potency for many years. Herbals and essences should be stored in like manner, though their potency may be diminished after about a year.


If your favorite feline is not responding well to conventional veterinarian medication, maybe it's time for a change to a more natural remedy. And, even if your cat is being successfully treated with modern-day pharmaceuticals, he may benefit from a change to holistic medication since his condition may only be temporarily "controlled" and not permanently cured. Years of toxicity from long-term conventional drug treatment can create other bodily distress, possibly the breakdown of important organs such as the liver or kidneys which must process these highly toxic chemical substances, placing your cat's life in danger.

It pays to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism, but it also pays to keep an open mind, like Sharon Fisher did when Booboo, who had been ill for some time, was diagnosed as having feline leukemia. Devastated, Sharon got a second opinion and the same dreadful diagnosis. Desperate to save her best friend, she consulted yet another veterinarian who had been practicing holistic medicine for only a year. He treated Booboo, without charge, on an "experimental" basis. It took three months of trying different treatments until miraculously, Booboo was cured. That was nine years ago, and today, Booboo is a healthy fourteen year old. Sharon Fisher is glad she kept an open mind — and so is Booboo!

This article last updated: 02/13/2013.

The articles on this Web site are informational only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice or treatment. Cats are not "one size fits all." They are different in terms of breed, age, health, lifestyle, and tolerance for different foods and other substances.