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About Alternative Medical Care for Cats
Alternative veterinary medical treatments may involve a number of disciplines in a practice known as integrated medicine. The alternative moniker can apply to any type of medical approach that is not a part of Western (allopathic) medicine.
In the United States, each state controls what services must be performed by credentialed and licensed veterinarians, which may be done by trained and licensed veterinary technicians, and whether or not the supervision of a vet is required for various treatments. In the United Kingdom, many alternative therapies are governed by the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966, which states that only trained and licenced veterinarians may perform aromatherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, Bach flowers, tissue salts, and herbal medicine.
Many alternative remedies are used in conjunction with others as a means of holistic treatment, which addresses a patient’s whole being – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Holistic treatments tend to examine nutrition, environmental and lifestyle factors in patients, resulting in highly individualized approaches for each.
Most veterinarians are not trained in alternative therapies, but many of those who are trained in these disciplines belong to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA). Their website has a searchable database by state of their members to help you find one near you. Here are brief summaries of some of the more popular alternative methods used to treat cats.
AcupunctureStemming from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture involves using strategically placed needles to stimulate the flow of energy (Qi, pronounced chee) through the body. Practitioners believe that blockages in the flow of Qi are what compromise good health. It can be used to treat not only neurological issues, but most diseases and conditions.
And yes, there are veterinary acupuncturists! Many cats respond quite well to acupuncture, becoming relaxed and calm. Typically, acupuncture is used in conjunction with a holistic treatment program that may involve diet, massage, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbal remedies, environmental therapies, lifestyle changes…and, yes, even some allopathic treatments. If a cat is in pain, acupuncture can be quite effective at relieving that pain.
AromatherapyA type of herbal medicine, aromatherapy uses essential oils from plants that are inhaled, massaged into the skin, or (rarely) given by mouth. Essential oils are not commonly used with cats, as the feline physiology cannot metabolize them like we humans can. Diffusing certain EOs around cats can, in fact, lead to liver failure. They should not be given orally to cats, either. And since cats groom themselves fastidiously, be careful about using certain EOs topically on them. Those sold on Old Maid Cat Lady are safe when used as directed. Ideally, they would be used under the supervision of a veterinarian specializing in alternative remedies.
Ayurvedic MedicineOriginating in India, it has been around for thousands of years and has become quite popular in Western nations since the 1970s. Practitioners use techniques that include herbs, massage, and specialized diets to balance the body, mind, and spirit and promote wellness.
Bach FlowersThis type of alternative treatment involves using the essences of different flowers that are said to include the innate energy of those flowers to stimulate the body’s natural healing properties. As in homeopathy, each type of flower has certain characteristics and is said to address specific conditions or tendencies.
The flower remedies address a cat’s emotional pathways, an area in which little scientific research has been conducted. Using certain pharmaceuticals may negate the effects of flower remedies, but these remedies do not cause dangerous interactions with any other types of therapies.
Chiropractic MedicineChiropractors manipulate the spine and skeletal structure to correct misalignment and enable the body’s own natural healing processes. Chiropractic can be effective in treating arthritis, lameness, spinal pain, disc problems, and neurological injuries.
Yes, some chiropractors treat cats! Those who have neck and back pain may find great benefit in it. My own little Vixen received some chiropractic treatment to help her neck pain and was quite calm during and after it. Laws governing veterinary use of chiropractic vary from state to state. Some states allow chiropractors who treat humans to also treat animals, while others do not.
Herbal MedicineMany pharmaceutical products used in western medicine are derived from the active ingredients in herbs. Herbal medicines use the natural versions of these substances that may include acids, alcohols, alcohols, alkaloids, anthraquinones, bitters, carbohydrates, coumarins, flavones, glycosides, phenols, saponins, tannins, and volatile oils. Using these to treat patients is sometimes referred to as natural medicine.
While these medicines are considered natural, they should not be used without the supervision of a veterinarian who has been trained in veterinary herbal medicine. Great care must be taken when giving any herbal supplements in conjunction with pharmaceutical or homeopathic medicines, as they can have dangerous interactions.
True herbal vets prefer to give the whole plant as treatment rather than extracting its active ingredients. Some take that a step further to use only herbs local to a patient.
Chinese and Ayurvedic medical traditions are types of herbal medicine. Herbal therapy is also known as phytotherapy.
For more information on how herbal medicine may apply to cats, consult this page on the Alternative Vet website.
HomeopathyA treatment system of like-treats-like in which substances that can induce certain symptoms in large quantities are used in minute quantities to treat those same symptoms. The substances are often diluted beyond the molecular level. Some studies have shown no more effectiveness than placebos from these medicines, but their advocates swear by them. Homeopathy is considered a form of energy medicine.
Offshoots of homeopathy include Bach flower remedies and tissue salts therapy.
Tissue Salts TherapyCreated in the 1800s, this is a treatment system that addresses the body at the cellular level, attempting to balance mineral salts within each cell of the body. It was an offspring of homeopathy. Preparations stimulate the body’s healing processes. The AVMC is studying new uses of this therapy with modern research and report encouraging results. Treating cats with this method can be challenging, so it is not commonly used for them.
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