Feline Focus: Treating Cats Holistically

The health effects of feline botanicals, though widely marketed, are for the most part unproven.

When it comes to holistic medicine for cats, some extra concerns arise. The following list addresses these issues alphabetically, categorized by modalities.


People seem surprised to learn that cats can respond as favorably as dogs to acupuncture, until they witness a cat purring contentedly while being treated. Three conditions lead to peaceful and safe feline acupuncture sessions:

• Flexibility in point selection gives the veterinary acupuncturist options for neuroanatomic stimulation that allow a cat to remain relaxed while still achieving positive results.
• Having an attentive assistant helps ensure the patient will not ingest an acupuncture needle.
• For the unusual cat who refuses acupuncture, low-level laser therapy can provide a degree of neuromodulation that can resemble, though not replace, the benefits of acupuncture.

Neuroanatomically designed studies on cats illustrate the effects and mechanisms of action for acupuncture for pain1, esophageal motility disorders23, neuroprotection after spinal cord injury45, hemodynamic regulation6 and resuscitation.7

Aromatherapy and Essential Oils

Aromatherapy, the inhalation of highly concentrated plant-based oils, can cause euphoria or sedation in cats. Some respond even more strongly to the airborne volatile compounds from valerian root than they do to catnip.

The effects of other oils such as lavender, which helps calm dogs, remain unproven in cats.

Given that cats resent litter odor, strong airborne, flowery scents may produce more stress than benefits. After all, the odor of valerian root craved by cats most closely evokes the memory of smelly gym socks.


No clinical studies exist on chiropractic for cats. As such, the safety and effectiveness of high-velocity adjustments in cats remain undetermined. 


The health effects of feline botanicals, though widely marketed, are for the most part unproven. However, reports indicate that essential oils found in some products can cause problems when applied topically, which in cats spells ingestion.89

These include flea, skin and ear products such as tea tree oil, pennyroyal oil and various citrus-derived oils.1011

Cats absorb oils rapidly through oral and topical routes. Pre-existing liver disease hastens the onset of injury, as does mixing oil with alcohol. No antidotes exist for essential oil toxicosis.  


Homeopathic remedies, when properly prepared, are as safe as they are controversial because of their highly diluted composition. One retrospective case series exploring classical homeopathy for feline hyperthyroidism indicated that eight out of 13 cats achieved resolution of clinical signs and decreasing thyroxine levels over a one- to two-year course.12 Five of the 13 cats failed to respond to the same 200C potency of Natrum Muriaticum (table salt) remedy employed. Those who responded maintained normal thyroxine levels for one to five years; on average, the cats required less than two doses per year. One cat required a 1M potency to respond satisfactorily.

Both the 200C and 1M dilutions represent preparations diluted well past the point at which any of the original sodium chloride molecules still exist in the solution (at 12C), raising much skepticism.


Massage appears to facilitate recovery following trauma in cats. A German study explored the effect of massage and range of motion exercises on recovery of motor function following traumatic paralysis of the pelvic limb, and it showed improvement in over 75 percent of cats.13

Raw Food Diets

Cats fed exclusively a raw rabbit diet run the risk of taurine deficiency.1415 Feline diets consisting mainly of raw liver can produce serious side effects such as hypervitaminosis A, with cervicothoracic skeletal lesions and subsequent neurologic compression.16

In addition, the public health impact of giving raw food to domestic cats came to light recently in a study comparing the seroprevalance of Toxoplasma gondii infection in domestic cats fed raw or undercooked animal products (53.5 percent) with those that ate commercial canned or dry food (22.9 percent).17



1. Guo Z.L., Moazzami A.R., Tjen-A-Looi S., et al. “Responses of opioid and serotonin containing medullary raphe neurons to electroacupuncture.” Brain Research. 2008; 1229:125-136.

2. Shuai X., Xie P., Liu J., et al. “Different effects of electroacupuncture on esophageal motility and serum hormones in cats with esophagitis.” Dis Esophagus. 2008; 21(2):170-175.

3. Wang C., Zhou D.F., Shuai X.W., et al. “Effects and mechanisms of electroacupuncture at PC6 on frequency of transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation in cats.” World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2007; 13(36):4873-4880.

4. Zhao W., Zhao Q., Liu J., et al. “Electro-acupuncture reduces neuronal apoptosis linked to Bax and Bcl-2 expression in the spinal cords of cats subjected to partial dorsal root ganglionectomy.” Neurochemical Research. 2008; 33(11):2214-2221.

5. Zhou H.L., Zhang L.S., Kang Y., et al. “Effects of electro-acupuncture on CNTF expression in spared dorsal root ganglion and the associated spinal lamina II and nucleus dorsalis following adjacent dorsal root ganglionectomies in cats.” Neuropeptides. 2008; 42(1):95-106.

6. Tjen-A-Look S.C., Li P., and Longhurst J.C. “Role of medullary GABA, opioids, and nociceptin in prolonged inhibition of cardiovascular sympathoexcitatory reflexes during electroacupuncture in cats.” Americal Journal of Physiology ¬– Heart and Circulatory Physiology. 2007; 293(6):H3627-H3635.

7. Skarda R.T. “Anesthesia case of the month. Dystocia, cesarean section and acupuncture resuscitation of newborn kittens.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 1999; 214(1):37-39.

8. Bischoff K. and Guale F. “Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil poisoning in three purebred cats.” 

9. Villar D., Knight M.J., Hansen S.R., et al. “Toxicity of melaleuca oil and related essential oils applied topically on dogs and cats.” Veterinary and Human Toxicology. 1994; 36(2):139-142.

10. Means C. “Selected herbal toxicities in dogs and cats. Poisonous Plant: Global Research and Solutions.” Wallingford, Oxfordshire, U.K.; Cambridge, Mass. CABI Publications, 2007.  Pp. 554-559. 

11. Lans C., Turner N., and Khan T. “Medicinal plant treatments for fleas and ear problems of cats and dogs in British Columbia, Canada.” Parasitol Research. 2008; 103:889-898.

12. Dobias P. “Homeopathic treatment of feline hyperthyroidism.” 2006 World Congress Proceedings. 31st World Small Animal Association Congress, 12th European Congress FECAVA and 14th Czech Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress, Prague, Czech Republic, Oct. 11-14, 2006. Prague: Czech Small Animal Veterinary Association, 2006, p.124-126.

13. Fischer I., Weiss R., Cizinauskas S., et al. “Acute traumatic hindlimb paralysis in 30 cats.” Tierarztliche Praxis. Ausgabe K, Kleintiere/Heimtiere. 2002; 30(5): 361-366.

14. Glasgow A.G., Cave N.J., Marks S.L., et al. “A Winn Feline Foundation Report on … Role of diet in the health of the feline intestinal tract and in inflammatory bowel disease.” Obtained at www.cfa.org/articles/health/role-of-diet.html on July 24, 2008.

15. Crissey S.D., Swanson J.A., Lintzenich B.A., et al. “Use of a raw meat-based diet or a dry kibble diet for sand cats (Felis maragarita).”  Journal of Animal Science. 1997; 75:2154-2160.

16. Polizopoulou Z.S., Patsikas M.N., and Roubies N. “Case report. Hypervitaminosis A in the cat: A case report and review of the literature.” Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2005; 7:363-368.

17. Lopes A.P., Cardoso L., and Rodrigues M. “Serological survey of Toxoplasma gondii infection in domestic cats from northeastern Portugal.” Veterinary Parasitology. 2008; 155:184-189.

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