Homeopathic Remedies for Cats ... and are They Healthy?

While most people take their cats to a traditional veterinarian for care, some may wonder whether homeopathic veterinarians are actually the way to go. Homeopathy in general is about addressing symptoms rather than naming a disease, which some may say puts limits on treatments.

Dr. Arthur Young, DVM, CVH, was a traditional veterinarian for 30 years before moving over to homeopathy gradually. He changed his focus when he began to think that many animals’ health problems stem from over vaccination, excess antibiotic use and poor nutrition.

Here are some of the basics you should know before making the decision to switch your own pet over to the homeopathic route.

Pet Profiling

Homeopathic remedies are not species specific, but symptom specific.  As Dr. Young explained, “Homeopathy is individual specific. Once you have a picture of the patient built by questioning the owner, that creates a profile of the animal and the problem. It doesn’t have to be a cat; it could be a dog or hippopotamus. There are over 2,000 homeopathic remedies, and whatever fits a patient’s problem, that’s the one that’s correct.”

Treatments

Dr. Young said that he sees many cats that he believes have problems due to over vaccination. The solution, according to Dr. Young, would be to vaccinate your cat when she’s a kitten, and then not do it again. In his practice, Dr. Young says that cats he’s seen who he believes have been over vaccinated tend to have emotional instability and increased fear, which he treats with Bach’s Flower remedies. This type of remedy helps alleviate stress, which is a huge obstacle to getting better.

An important part of homeopathy is solid nutrition. “Cats get 70% of the moisture [they need] from their food,” said Dr. Young. “Cats are notoriously bad water drinkers. Dry food contains 10% moisture, so they have a 60% moisture shortage if your cat only eats dry food. This lack of moisture leads to problems with the urinary system like cystitis or inflammation without an infection.” 

A homeopathic approach to the lack of water in a cat’s diet would be to feed her a good wet food product that contains minerals, vitamins, enzymes and probiotics. Dr. Young also recommends supplementing your cat’s diet with taurine, a dietary supplement that prevents blindness.

Check out this story for more on understanding your cat’s drinking habits.

The homeopathic remedies that your vet will recommend for your cat do not require a prescription. They come in small pellet, tablet, powder or liquid form, and are given orally. “When you give your cat, or any animal, a homeopathic remedy, the protocol is no food and no water 20 minutes before or after,” said Dr. Young. “If your cat just ate or drank, it will compromise the energy of the pill, since it produces the effect in the nerve endings of the tongue.”

Taking the Plunge

At the end of the day, the type of medical treatment you pick for your cat will be a very personal decision, and finding the correct remedy for an ailment may take some time and a few tries. If you do decide to try homeopathic medicine for your pet, find a board certified veterinarian who has been trained in homeopathy for animals. You can look up a list of homeopaths at http://www.ahvma.org/

How to get your cat to use the litter box

One of the most important things a cat owner needs to do is set up a good place for her cat to do her business. Follow these simple steps to help teach your cat where her proper potty place is, and you’ll avoid a lot of future hassles.

Placement is everything
You should set up your litter box in a place that is accessible, but that has little to no traffic or noise. Jane Brunt, DVM, executive director, CATalyst Council and founder and owner of Cat Hospital at Towson, the first feline-exclusive veterinary practice in Maryland, suggests a spare bedroom or bathroom, if you have one. “If your house has multiple floors, it’s best to have one on at least two different levels so there’s always a toilet nearby when nature calls,” she added.

Avoid putting the litter box in the basement, or near your washer and dryer, as the loud noises may scare your cat from going in there.  

Setting the stage
You can’t expect to just put the litter box down and have your cat learn what to do with it on his own -- teaching him to use the litter box is the first priority. “It’s best to initially keep the cat in a single room with food and water, it’s carrier with soft bedding inside, a scratching post and, of course, a litter box,” says Dr. Brunt. “You can show your cat the box by placing him or her in it, though cats naturally eliminate and cover their waste.”

If it seems like your cat isn’t getting it after a few tries, try helping your cat dig around in her litter box so she’s used to the texture, and if she does happen to go somewhere else in your house while she’s training, pick up the waste and place it in the box so your cat will start to associate the box with the correct area to do her business.

The best type of litter
There are many types of litter out there to choose from, but studies have shown that cats prefer clumping litter and types with activated carbon.

More information on studies about kitty litter can be found here.  
Dr. Brunt suggests having two boxes for one cat, and adding an additional box for every other cat you have in your home. “Placing them strategically around your home and keeping them clean will ensure everyone has one when they need it.”

Litter box problems
Has your cat started to soil other areas of your home and stopped using the litter box? There is usually a reason for this, but Dr. Brunt says it’s never because your cat is angry with you. “Make sure the litter boxes are scooped daily, and clean and wash the litter pans every 2-3 weeks,” she said.

Here are some ways to naturally eliminate litter box odors.

If the litter box was clean when the accident occurred, then it’s time to think about other obstacles that might be inhibiting your cat from getting to the litter box. Could you be accidently closing the door? Did you change brands of litter? “If there’s no obvious reason like cleanliness, access and familiarity, it’s time to call the veterinarian,” says Dr. Brunt. “It’s nearly impossible to tell if your cat isn’t feeling well, and there could be anything from diabetes to bladder crystals or stones to parasites or other infections, and the longer the problem persists, the more difficult it is to treat.”

If all else fails, try starting litter box training over again from scratch. Purchase a completely new litter box (because yes, cats can be picky about the type of litter box they use) and place it where your cat is comfortable going and can get to easily. “Keep the boxes clean, and if this doesn’t work you can try synthetic facial pheromone products, a diffuser plugged in near the litter box that will help the area seem more familiar through scent,” suggests Dr. Brunt.

Remember -- your cat wants to be clean just as much as you want to her stay clean. A little training in the litter box area can go a long way.

Best Practices for Bathing Your Cat

Since cats aren’t generally known for their love of water, it’s a good thing they don’t need to be cleaned as regularly as dogs. The reason is because cats fastidiously clean themselves with their tongues and teeth on a daily basis.

Most of the time, brushing your cat will be enough to keep him clean, but on occasion -- like if your cat has gotten into something particularly dirty, or you’re trying to eliminate excess dander -- little Fluffy might need to take a dip in the tub.

In those cases, here are some tips for making the experience less traumatic for you and your furry friend.

  1. Be prepared. When giving your cat a bath, the quicker you can make the experience go by, the better. Have a plastic pitcher or large cup, a towel, a washcloth and cat shampoo at the ready. Also, the ASPCA recommends trimming your cat’s nails prior to bathing him if you’re concerned about scratching. You should also brush your cat thoroughly before bathing him to remove all excess hair and mats ahead of time.

  2. Set the scene. Fill a sink, basin or tub with several inches of lukewarm water. Keep in mind that your cat probably will try to claw her way out of wherever you’re washing her, so try confining her to a space that’s not as easy for her get out of, like a tub with glass doors. If you have access to a spot with a retractable spray nozzle, even better. Test the water, just as you would for a child or baby, to make sure it’s not too hot or cold.

  3. Be steady and confident. If you’re nervous, your cat will sense that and be nervous as well. When you’re ready, place your cat in the water and wet him from his neck to his tail using water from the pitcher. Don’t pour water on your cat’s face, and do not dunk his entire body into the water all at once. Not only will he hate it, but you run the risk of getting water in his ears and/or nose. Instead, use a damp washcloth once the cat is out of the bath to gently wipe off his face.

  4. Lather up. Clean your cat’s fur with specially formulated feline shampoo, since human shampoo can be too drying for cats’ sensitive skin. Be sure to pay attention to the specific product’s instructions.  Again, avoid your cat’s face, especially his nose, ears and mouth. Use the pitcher or cup to rinse off the soap. Since cats clean themselves with their tongues, be sure to get rid of all the suds so that they don’t ingest too much of the shampoo later. Be sure to check under his chin, paws and belly for any residual bubbles.
  5. Dry him quickly. Wrap your cat in a soft towel and dry off his fur as much as you can. For long-haired cats, you may need to brush or comb their fur to get out tangles.
  6. Give your little bud lots of praise -- and a treat! -- for being so brave. Who knows, your cat might be one of the few that likes baths or, at the very least, will stoically endure them.

If you know your cat is extremely anxious or water-adverse, be sure to consult your vet first. And if your cat absolutely will not tolerate being submerged in water, consider having him professionally cleaned at either a groomer or at the vet.

Kitten Behavior Essentials

They say moving to New York City is tough, but the biggest challenge I faced during my first few weeks was unexpected: raising a kitten I rescued from the street, weaned off its mother prematurely. The veterinarian warned me that 3-week-old Andy was too young to survive away from his mother, but to me, Andy looked like a trooper.

According to The Humane Society of the United States, there are five stages of kittenhood. As I listenened to Andy's steady breath while he slept that first night, I vowed to see him through all five.

The Neonatal Period: Birth to 2 Weeks
During a kitten’s first two weeks of life, its eyes and ears slowly open. Being with its mother is critical at this time because antibodies found in mother’s milk help to build immunity. What’s more, “if a kitten is raised without the ability to be comforted by a mom, it can begin life as a dysfunctional animal,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, author of The Cat Who Cried for Help (Bantam Books 1997). Uncertain of how much contact Andy had with his mom, I wondered whether his nestling in my hands was enough to ensure his well-being.

The Socialization Period: 2 to 7 Weeks Between the second and seventh week, kittens develop their senses fully and learn to run, stalk, pounce and avoid obstacles. To my relief, Andy began to do all these things, remaining healthy after a week of sleeping and bottle-feeding. His first feat was learning to jump from my bed into his own. Soon, the brave kitten preyed -- with boundless energy -- on the toys I made for him. It was entertaining to watch Andy blossom during this period, which Dr. Dodman calls “the starting point of their lives…where they learn everything before fear develops.”

Most Active Play Period: 7 to 14 Weeks After nearly two months, a kitten usually starts to scoop, paw and mouth. Andy seemed to turn into an acrobat overnight, often running as fast as he could before springing himself onto my bed. “Having gone through ‘acclimation,’ kittens continue using that talent [skills they learned in the socialization period],” says Dr. Dodman.

Ranking Period: 3 to 6 months “In this period, kittens are still continuing to learn…when to run away and when to fight,” says Dr. Dodman. Andy learned the hard way how “ranking,” or basic dominance and submission, works. As my two older felines ate side-by-side one night, he slowly crept up behind them. His small nose suddenly sniffing in their food bowls surprised them and caused Freddy, the oldest, to strike Andy on the head. Andy slumped back with his belly up and lay still on the floor, meaning no harm, while Freddy retreated into her favorite room. From then on, Andy stayed by himself more often.

Adolescence Period: 6 to 18 months
During adolescence, kitten play and exploration continues, but the onset of sexual maturity is the biggest change. It was right before this time that I handed my kitten over to new owners. There were many reasons that I couldn’t keep Andy, but his new human family was ecstatic. For an unneutered, orphaned cat, Andy was surprisingly well-adjusted.

The Secret to Good Behavior
Andy’s adjustment to his new life was not a surprise, as I had nurtured him well in the socialization stage of his life. “If you introduce almost anything during this period, whether it’s kind and gentle handling or even your dog or bird, kittens will soak in the information like a sponge,” affirms Dr. Dodman. To ensure that your own kitten grows up to be intelligent and social, follow these five critical steps, especially during the tender socialization period:

  1. Handle your kitten often Wrap one hand around your kitten’s body under its front legs and scoop the back legs with the other hand. Studies show that kittens frequently handled by people are more likely to develop larger brains.

  2. Teach your kitten to love toys, not hands Drag or throw a toy and let your kitten chase and pounce on it. A small stuffed animal will allow your kitten to wrestle the way it would with littermates instead of grappling with your feet or hands. Conduct at least two 15-minute play sessions a day.
     
  3. Introduce your kitten to strangers Teach your kitten not to avoid people by exposing it to others early on. Let your friends play with your kitten, and bring its favorite toys into the session.

  4. Actively encourage/discourage behaviors Bribe your kitten with treats when it does well. When it nips you, squirt it, away from the eyes, with water mixed with a bit of vinegar. If the play session gets too rough, abruptly end it by walking into the other room and closing the door until your cat relaxes.

  5. Avoid physical punishment Flicking or hitting your kitten to reprimand it will only teach your pet to become afraid of your hands.

With proper care and socialization, a cat’s less-than-promising fate doesn’t have to be written in stone. Raising Andy, for me, was proof of that: I was able to overturn the veterinarian’s prediction and help Andy breeze through his fifth stage of kittenhood.

How to best bond with your new cat

Becoming a new cat owner is an exciting experience. Your kitten can become a happy new addition to your family, as long as you start by making your new pet comfortable in her surroundings and take the time to bond with her.

Prepare Ahead of Time
Laurie Donovan, DVM, recommends a few preparations to help ease the transition prior to bringing your new cat home. “The items you really need are food and water bowls and litter boxes, and you should always buy one more litter box than the amount of cats you have,” she suggests. “It’s also advised to purchase a scratching post as well. Cats like to jump on counters and shelves, so make sure to safely put away any valuable, breakable objects and tuck away any exposed wires.” 

It’s a good idea to ask around for veterinarian recommendations early, too, so you have one ready to evaluate your new cat during the first week.

Start Small
After you bring your cat into your home, it’s smart to keep him confined to one area at first, to help get him acclimated. “Make sure to lead your new cat to where the litter box is located, and show him a few times,” says Donovan. “Try to keep loud noises and activities to a minimum as to not spook the new cat while he explores.”

Of course if you already have a cat at home, introductions can be a bit more intense. Here’s how to keep the harmony in a house full of cats.

Show Your Affection … the Right Way
Creating a level of trust between you and your cat takes patience and positive integration. “Pet him when it seems he wants to be touched -- forcing it may just make him run away and hide,” says Donovan. “You can use toys that have the human-cat interaction, such as a laser pointer, and a stick with a cat nip mouse or feather attached to the end.” Cats are very sociable, and with a little time they will learn to love your company and become a perfect addition to your home!