Homeopathy - is it the cure-all that many claim?

The battle rages on.. should one go 'homoeopathic' with one's cats, or should one stick to conventional veterinary practices? The pros and cons have been discussed endlessly, with the advocates of either side becoming quite vehement in putting over their points of view. Alison Hudd describes in the Feline Advisory Bureau's magazine her own experience with the use of Bach Flower remedies to counter anxiety and stress.

Alison is a Bach Foundation registered practitioner, registered veterinary nurse and registered mental nurse.

The Feline Advisory Bureau frequently receives inquiries about the use of homoeopathy and homoeopathic remedies in cats. As the magazine states: 'Despite many studies, convincing evidence of the efficacy of homoeopathy is lacking both in animals and humans. There are many anecdotal reports of its effectiveness, but genuine proof that these remedies have beneficial effects are lacking.'

The bureau adds, however: Nevertheless, in general, homoeopathic remedies should not be harmful and therefore their use is not 'contra-indicated'. Careful distinction is necessary between homoeopathic remedies and herbal remedies. While the former should be harmless (due to the extreme dilution of any 'active' ingredient), the latter can potentially be harmful as they can contain large quantities of active ingredients that, unless specifically tested in cats, could potentially be toxic.

'Some people may also have experience of homoeopathic vaccines or 'nosodes'. These are not to be recommended - vaccination relies on the induction of a specific immune response to microbial antigens (proteins). Homoeopathic 'nosodes' have no basis for induction of such a protective immune response, and reliance on these, rather than true vaccination, would place your cat at unnecessary risk.

Alison writes:
The pet cat is an important member of the family. Its whole life is spent within the family unit, sharing all events. It is quite understandable that when a crisis within the family happens, the cat is affected, too. Death of a family member or another pet is a major traumatic experience for the whole unit. At these times, when each member is coping with their own grief, it is easy to overlook the effect it may have on the family's pet cat. It can be several days or even weeks, when the family have come to terms with their loss, that they become aware of the distress of their pet.

Signs of grief

Cats may show its grief in a number of different ways. Some may refuse to eat, lose interest in life and stay outside for long periods. There may even be outbursts of aggression. Self-mutilation in the form of pulling out fur or biting him/herself, may become apparent. Others may become clingy and demanding, always wanting attention. These wide and varied changes in behaviour are all ways in which a cat may react to a loss within the family. A vet's opinion, to eliminate any physical cause, should always be sought first. If there is no other reason, then the cat needs help to cope with its reaction to loss.

Bach Flower Remedies

When a cat suffering this way is left unchecked, long-term problems can become evident and the risk of illness and disease is increased. Unresolved stress may cause the immune system to break down and individuals may succumb to infections and other physical problems.

The Bach Flower Remedies offer a safe, gentle and effective way of helping the grieving cat in its negative emotional state become restored to a balanced state, and thereby cope with the situation. The remedies treat the whole of the patient, not just the effects. Although first developed for humans, they are as effective for animals.

There are 38 remedies and, with the exception of one, each is prepared from safe, wild plants, bushes or trees. None are harmful. One is prepared from pure spring water. Each one is for a specific emotional state of mind, mood or personality trait. Up to five remedies can be mixed together to take into account any combination of emotions or moods. This means the cat's whole personality is taken into account and the cause of the imbalance, not just the effects, are considered.

For emergency and crisis situations there is a combination of five remedies known as Rescue Remedy. In any crisis situation, all involved - human and animal alike - can take Rescue Remedy. It brings instant relief to the shock, terror or anxiety felt by the circumstances. In the event of a loss within the family, all members, including the pet can need Rescue Remedy. If, after the initial shock, behaviour problems are apparent, it may be that the pet cat is having difficulties in adjusting to the new situation. In this case, other remedies could help.

The appropriate remedies chosen will depend on the behaviour displayed. A cat which has lost a companion and then refuses to eat or take an interest in its surroundings would benefit from several remedies; walnut to help adjust to the change, honeysuckle to let go of the past, star of Bethlehem for the shock and sense of loss, and gentian for the depression from a known cause.

Gorse may be more appropriate if the depression is so severe that the cat gives up everything and does not want to go on. If a cat becomes fearful and nervy of everyday things, such as strangers coming into the house, it may be that the companion that died was the dominant cat and now the remaining one cannot accept the responsibility of being top cat with no one 'to hide behind'.

This cat would benefit from mimulus for fear of known things, shyness and timidity. Larch would be suitable if the cat was finding it difficult to assert itself in the changed feline social structure, and centaury if the cat was unable to assert his/herself in a community.

However, if the anxiety was generalised with no specific trigger, then aspen would be more appropriate. Aspen is for fears for no apparent reason, a general 'on edge' feeling and apprehension. A cat which becomes clingy and demanding to its owner would benefit from chicory. However if it were demanding attention from anyone, then heather would be more fitting.

For self-mutilation, excessive licking and stereo-topic behaviour, crab apple would be apt. For aggression, the cause of outbursts needs to be established before an appropriate remedy can be selected. Beech would be suitable if the cat appeared intolerant; mimulus if the cat was frightened; and vine if the cat was becoming dominant.

When the appropriate remedies have been chosen they need to be made into a treatment bottle. Two drops of each remedy should be added to a 30ml glass dropper bottle. This is topped up with mineral water (not tap water). Four drops should be given at least four times a day directly on to the tongue. It is the frequency that is more important than the quantity.

Adding the remedy to the drinking water is fine, provided the cat drinks frequently. The remedy can be rubbed on to earflaps, pads or dropped on the nose. It can be sprinkled on to food; again, it is better to give small meals to ensure the frequency of taking the remedy. The remedies are totally safe and cannot be overdosed. If an inappropriate remedy is selected, it will have no effect and cannot do any harm.