First things first - while homeopathy comes under the umbrella term "holistic", anything holistic is not homeopathic. Homeopathy is quite unique and decidedly different from herbal medicine or flower essences.
Homeopathy is a sophisticated refined system of healing which deals with the whole individual (mental as well as physical aspects). It was developed in the 1800s by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann from Germany. It is based on the principle of "Like Cures Like" i.e. a substance that would produce certain symptoms in a healthy person, would cure a sick person exhibiting those same symptoms.Dr. Hahnemann and his test subjects undertook “provings” which involved meticulously recording the overall sensation as well as specific physical and mental symptoms experienced by healthy individuals when given minute amounts of a remedy. In other words, each remedy has undergone rigorous vetting much like current day "single-blind controlled" studies.
These detailed provings have been compiled into various books called Repertories which allow users to look up remedies that match their symptoms. The remedies that match as many of a person or cat’s symptoms become part of a short list so to speak. Detailed remedy descriptions or pictures as they are sometimes called, are laid out in a book called a Materia Medica (MM).
Kent's Repertory: http://www.homeoint.org/books/kentrep/index.htm
Boericke's MM: http://www.homeoint.org/books/boericmm/index.htm
By reading the descriptions of the remedies that have the most symptoms in common with the cat, one can narrow down a choice of remedy to arrive at the most appropriate single remedy, also known as the simillimum. Accounting for obvious differences such as no symptoms for a third eyelid or tail, a human Repertory can be used to determine the remedy for a cat.
Choosing a remedy for your cat
A homeopath taking your cat's case will ask detailed questions on proclivities (generals and mentals) as well as physical symptoms e.g. Does your cat seek warm places? Does kitty want to be comforted or left alone? Is s/he high-strung or laid-back? Clingy or independent? Is kitty limping (right side or left side)? Are the gums bleeding? Is there an odor coming from the mouth? Color, consistency, frequency etc. of discharges. And so on. No detail is too small, so if something seems trivial to you, it's a safe bet it won't be for the homeopath.
This process usually takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours by phone or several emails. A single remedy should be chosen based on the totality of your cat's symptoms, and as such is referred to as kitty's "constitutional remedy". In cases where there an acute situation e.g. cat got into a fight, first a remedy will be given to deal with that, and later his/her constitutional will be used.
What about OTC combination remedies
Homeopathy does not work like allopathy. You cannot just take a remedy for a given disease such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Two cats with IBD might need two different remedies based on their unique totality of symptoms.
Combination remedies e.g. something labeled "UTI" or "Allergies", are a mix of anywhere from 2 or 3 remedies to as many as 15 that typically match people with certain symptoms of a disease. However, under "Sneezing" in Boger's Repertory, there are 121 remedies, which would further need to be narrowed down based on that cat's particular symptoms. Who is to say the combo remedy even contains the matching remedy?
Combo remedies have not been proven; each of the remedies that is a part of the combo has, so the effect of them all taken together is unknown. Some of these formulations even contain known antidotes and numerous potencies of the same remedy.
They are at best a shot in the dark, and at worst, could cause provings. Why take a chance with your cat? That said, a combo remedy called Calms Forte (or simpler formulation - Calms) by Hyland's can be used in a pinch to calm stressed-out cats particularly if the other option is a drug.
Deciphering the numbers and letters on remedy bottles
An X is diluted in a 1:9 ratio of remedy to alcohol/water. A C remedy is diluted in a 1:99 ratio. In Europe and Canada, D potencies are the same as X in the U.S. and a CH designation is equivalent to a C in the U.S.
With each successive dilution and succession, the remedy’s potency increases. The higher a remedy’s potency, the more powerful it is, thus the more judiciously it should be used.
Usually remedies below 30 are considered low potencies; those between 30 and 200 are medium, and remedies above 200 are high potency.
The potency is determined by the degree to which the original substance (known as the Mother Tincture) has been diluted and succussed. If a remedy is simply diluted - by mixing it in water, its potency stays the same. However, if this diluted mixture is succussed (usually 100 times) i.e. held in one hand and rapped against the palm of the other hand (or on a hard surface), then its potency changes.
Posology is a much-debated topic in homeopathy circles - dry vs liquid dosing, which potency, if/when to give the 2nd/following doses, etc. Each practitioner develops his/her own approach with much of it also predicated on the vital force of the cat in question, and the nature of the disease (deep-seated vs acute).
In my experience, some cats are sensitive and cannot tolerate high potencies, others do just fine with 1M and above, so there are no hard-and-fast rules on cats and dosing.
Pellets/pillules vs tinctures
Homeopathic remedies are available in different preparations: tablets, pillules, pellets, and liquids. The liquid remedies are the mother tincture diluted with alcohol (as a preservative), whereas the rest are prepared by coating sugar pills with the liquid homeopathic remedy.
It does not matter in what form your kitty gets the remedy though if using tincture, remember to dilute it first. My preference is to mix 2 pills/pellets/pillules/tablets in spring water in a 1 oz./15ml dark dropper bottle, and administer a dropperful by mouth as a dose. This "liquid dosing" technique is gentle and effective. It gets absorbed by the cat's mucous membranes in the mouth, and works fast. With aqueous doses, aggravations are typically less likely because by diluting and succussing i.e. plussing, between doses, one can increase the potency ever so slightly.
Protocol for administering a remedy
It is usually recommended that remedies not be taken with food because this might either render them ineffective or reduce their efficacy. Also, withhold food 30 minutes before or after giving your cat his/her remedy.
Some cats will tolerate a dry dose which can be given by crushing the tablets or pills between two clean pieces of paper. However the liquid dosing technique described above, works very well indeed. If kitty spits out part of the liquid, it doesn't matter. A dose is however many pellets are taken at one time so within reason it does not matter whether you take 1 or 2 or 10 pellets.
There is no dosing schedule for homeopathic remedies. They are taken/given only if needed. Redose kitty only if you see an amelioration in the symptoms of the original complaint. As long as the old symptoms are being helped and there is room for improvement, you can give kitty another dose. When you reach a plateau, it is time to consider a higher potency of the same remedy. If you see new symptoms appear at any time, stop and re-take the case. A different remedy is indicated at that point.
Aggravations and Provings
An aggravation is when the original symptoms worsen. Some homeopaths feel that this initial aggravation occurs because the Vital Force (akin to Chi in TCM or prana in Ayurveda) is being stimulated, and is thus responding to the remedy taken/given. An aggravation should not last very long, and soon you should see an improvement in your kitty. Yet other homeopaths feel that aggravations occur when the correct remedy is given in too high a potency (or as a dry dose). To that end, they feel that if one sticks to low potencies, aggravations (which are unnecessary) simply will not occur.
A proving occurs when either the wrong remedy is administered or the correct remedy is repeated too often. There is more likelihood of this happening with higher potencies. An example of this might be a case where a cat that does not have heart palpitations is given one or more doses of a high potency of Crataegus Oxycantha, and develops palpitations.
Using a Repertory
A repertory is a book of detailed symptoms a.k.a. rubrics. Homeopathic remedies are "proved" by healthy individuals so in a manner of speaking are much like mini single-blind controlled studies we see today. The provers who were healthy individuals volunteered to take remedies and record meticulously the symptoms that resulted from taking the remedy. If a very large number of provers experienced a particular symptom, then it is denoted as either bold font (in Kent) or Italics (in Boericke). Symptoms not reported by all the provers or a majority of them, are listed in regular font.
Different Repertories are categorized differently e.g. Robin Murphy's is alphabetical so Wrist problems show up toward the end. But Boericke for instance, has Wrist under "locomotor system" because the Repertory is sectioned by body parts in the old Hahnemannian way.
The key is to become very familiar with one's Repertory and get used to the scheme for listing symptoms. That way one can go directly to the section of interest e.g. Skin for Ringworm problems. This is what one would do for acute prescribing where you are treating just the one self-limiting condition. Acute situations can be characterized as those with sudden onset, frequently requiring immediate attention, and in some cases short-lived.
Chronic problems e.g. asthma, are deep-seated and ongoing. This is where it is best to not go at it on one's own, and instead consult a homeopathic professional. Shamless plug alert - me, me, me.
Some people only look at the major symptoms; others look at them all. Still others focus primarily on what are referred to as Strange, Rare, and Peculiar (SRP) symptoms. Homeopathy is as much art as science, seems like. But be patient and do things right instead of looking for a short-cut. If you stick with it, you will be amazed at the results in your cat.
Once you have identified the key symptoms, you will see remedies listed for each. Some general symptoms will have as many as 40 remedies whereas an obscure symptom will have 1 or 2 remedies. In Kent's Repertory, remedy names in regular font are counted as 1 point, italicized ones are 2, and bold fonts are counted as 3s (Boericke's is different - regular is 2 and italics are 3).
Write down all the remedies that show up along with their corresponding weight(s), and then add up the number(s) for each remedy. The remedy with the highest number of "hits" as some refer to it, is *the* constitutional remedy. Sometimes two or more remedies make the final cut.
Regardless, once you have one or more remedies you think are a close match, open up your Materia Medica, which lists symptoms for each remedy, and read up on it to narrow it down to a final pick.
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Sandy Arora, Whole Health for Happy Cats: A Guide to Keeping Your Cat Naturally Healthy, Healthy, and Well-fed 2006
Donald Hamilton, Small Doses for Small Animals : Homeopathy for Cats and Dogs 1999
George MacLeod, Cats: Homeopathic Remedies 1990
Christopher Day,The Homeopathic Treatment of Small Animals 1984
Tim Couzens and Grace McHatty, My Cat is Driving Me Crazy 1995
Kaetheryn Walker, Homeopathic First Aid for Animals : Tales and Techniques from a Country Practitioner 1997
K. J. Biddis, Homeopathy in Veterinary Practice 1992
Shawn P. Messonnier, Homeopathy for Pets (The Best of Care for Your Best of Friends) 1998