Q&A: Aging cat with dementia & use of Essential Oils on/around cats

Q: We have our 15-year-old cat that is beginning to show several signs of anxiety or dementia. Our vet wants to give her Xanax, to which we are opposed.  I would like to try defusing essential oils through the house to see if it works.  Does anyone know of a practitioner that could help us with what to use that might be specific for what is going on my girl?  Thank you. Carrie

A: Hi Carrie,

I am so sorry to hear about your middle-aged kitty experiencing dementia and anxiety. I hope I can provide some suggestions that may provide some relief to her and to your household/family!

I am so glad you asked about the use of essential oils with your cat. Because of the dire and very serious consequences that can occur in cats exposed to essential oils, my position is that they are never safe to use — even diffused, even the therapeutic grade, even EOs lower in the most toxic/potentially lethal chemical compounds (ketones, phenols, and monoterpenes). And for dementia and anxiety, EOs would not be my first choice anyhow — there are some other options that I think may be more effective, and would certainly be safer.  Here is a short answer about the issue regarding cats and EOs:

Why Cats and Essential Oils Are Not Suitable by Dr. Khan, DVM, PhD, DABVT (Veterinary Toxicologist), National Animal Poison Control Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois

Generally, essential oils and hydrosols* have terpenes (along with other things) in them (terpenes are hydrocarbons of plant origin). Terpenes are rapidly absorbed orally and dermally and are metabolized in the liver. The metabolites of terpenes are conjugated with glucuronic acid (glucuronidation) and glycine depending on the type of terpene and animal species involved. The conjugated metabolites are usually more water soluble and are easily excreted through the kidney and feces.

Why Cats Can’t Metabolize Essential Oils: Cats are known to be deficient in their ability to eliminate compounds through hepatic glucuronidation (they lack enzyme glucuronyl tranferases). Glucuronidation is an important detoxification mechanism present in most animals except cats. Lack of this important detoxification mechanism in cats may result in slower elimination and thus build-up of the toxic metabolites in the body causing toxicity.

And another link you may want to check out about this topic here.

Below please find my suggestions on alternative options to help your aging cat:

1) Pheromones Feliway products are a safe to use pheromone diffuser and/or spray that can be very helpful for a lot of mood & behavior issues in felines. Feliway is 100% safe to use and you can easily buy it from SFRAW, online or even in many local pet supply stores. It’s a good first thing to try.

2) Flower Essences can make a big difference and are 100% safe & easy to use — simply add drops to their water, food, treats, by mouth (if you can), or spray frequently – if they are not stressed by the spray action.  Giving 2-4 drops 4-6 times a day will provide the best results. I can gladly make a blend for her current state next time you come in or you can make your own (mix up to/no more than seven in a bottle with a little distilled/filtered water and either a bit of Vodka, brandy or vegetable glycerin to preserve).  Learn more about the different remedies here.
3) Herbal Remedies: the main downside of this modality is that your cat may not want to ingest herbal compounds and, unlike energetic medicines (flower essences, homoepathy, etc) they must be consumed/metabolized to work. I’d offer some of them to her and see if she is willing to take one on her own or when added to food. She will know what is good for her, and it is best to allow for her to choose/guide you about which herbs she needs (or not). Some blends that would be useful in this case include: Ginko Biloba, Turmeric (information for use in cats here); Animal Essentials Senior Support or Animal Essentials Tranquility Blend; Standard Process Neurotrophin PMG.

Some helpful dietary supplements & nutritional changes to her current species appropriate, fresh raw, carbohydrate-grain-sugar free diet to consider would be:

  1. Increasing the amount of EFAs in her diet either by adding more beneficial fatty foods or by supplementing with high quality EFAs: there is a good product specifically for cats here and here. Adding a high quality, organic, cold-pressed Coconut Oil may be of benefit; Standard Process Calamari Oil would be another choice.
  2. Antioxidants and supplements such as: Sam-E, CoEnzymeQ10, choline/phosphatidylcholine, and B-vitamins are known to be helpful.
  3. Feeding more “grounding” foods such as beef, elk, venison, turkey, lamb, bison; cooked root vegetables, seaweeds/salty foods, egg yolks & cheese. Making stews and offering some pureed cooked meals may also help bring her to balance during this period of confusion/upset.
  4. Try CBD oil or tincture. CBD oil has been incredibly helpful for some animals — get 18:1 or 20:1 CBD oil that you purchase from a dispensary. Yes, you will need a medical cannabis card to make this purchase legally for your animal. I am not a fan of the OTC products available online or in pet stores/vet hospitals recently; I think these are a waste of money, possibly unsafe, and not nearly as effective as the regulated products found in a dispensary. It is important to purchase safe, clean, medical-grade products. A high quality local brand is Treat Well, for example — she makes nice ones for animal use and can advise you on which product you should use. Whatever one you buy, do be sure it is xylitol free and safe for use in cats (no artificial sweeteners or preservatives added, for example).
  5. Add a little catnip to her routine — she can eat it or roll in it. It can help to balance her mood and reduces anxiety.
  6. Consider probiotics specifically tailored for the feline gut and/or for improving behavior/cognitive function. For example, we just started carrying a product from Custom Probiotics which has a very good reputation and has some promising results for positively influencing both GI health and behavior in humans, and we are hopeful this will prove beneficial for our animal companions, as well. My partner tried it out for himself, and our cat, usually having no real interest in our supplements at all — went absolutely CRAZY for this particular probiotic. He was doing anything he could to get just a little taste! His highly unusual, very dramatic response to this particular product, and the good information I have heard about this product was a determining factor for me to bring this on as one of the select supplements we offer at SFRAW. We are learning more and more about how the gut microflora has an influence on our brain functioning/health and behavior (the “Gut-Brain-Immune Axis” – more here). You can learn a lot about the general and species specific use of protiotics in cats here. This is a great website and they suggest some excellent products.

Obviously, these are all only useful if she is willing to take them willingly! I would offer them to her individually — she may surprise you with her interest in specific formulas or supplements.

Lastly, sound and light can have a big impact on biology & mood – especially in animals!   Music therapy may be very helpful for her; not sure if you had thought of this yet.  You can purchase/download or stream music to play softly for her during the day and at night before bedtime, that is used for meditation, or to promote sleep and relaxation in pets and babies/children. Classical music or music that has been arranged and developed for dementia and anxiety (in people) can be used for cats or dogs with similar concerns. Music therapy may be very good for her – worth trying and low investment/no real risk.

Fluorescent lighting may be giving her some trouble. Animals are sensitive to the high pitched sound these bulbs make and the blue spectrum lighting can cause some serious disruptions to sleep cycles (much like us – but I think animals are even more sensitive to this). If you can swap out florescent bulbs with incandescent (warm not cool) or natural light, this may be very helpful for her.  I like the Salt Lamps for early am and pm lighting – safer than candlelight but has a similar calming effect. You may want to look into therapeutic UV lighting that people use for Seasonal Mood Disorders  – she could really benefit from UV lighting (unless she gets to go outside a lot already and gets direct exposure to natural sunshine, daily). Light can have dramatic influences on her hormones, and may be causing disruptions to her sleep/activity cycle – blue light from electronics and artificial lighting may even be causing her anxiety.  Do what you can for this – I know it may not be an easy fix, but certainly worth exploring.

If she does not get to go outside/spend time having direct “paw-to-soil” contact to the earth – an earthing or grounding mat is something to consider. This can help with adrenal issues, dementia and anxiety quite a bit – but they can be really expensive. I have heard some cases where this has really helped dogs and cats suffering from age related cognitive dysfunction and anxiety. But simply spending time outdoors on natural surfaces (touching the earth/natural substrates – not concrete, decks, or patios) every day (safely, of course) is the better – and way cheaper! — solution, when possible.

Homeopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine can both also be very useful here. I’d recommend working with one of the following veterinarians:

Alternatives for Animals (highly recommended by other SFRAW members and also offer a discount for your first visit if you are a SFRAW member!)

Dr. Barbara Fishelson, DVM (Barbara does house-calls & phone consultations)

Dr Cheryl Schwartz (the original, a true pioneer for TCM use in veterinary medicine)

Homeopathic Veterinary Housecalls, Cecille O’Brien Greenleaf VMD Portola Valley, California (she is excellent!) cao@greenleafmed.com (650) 533-0074

Mt. Madonna Veterinary Clinic in Watsonville (SFRAW members, and worth the distance! Gwen & George are wonderful!)

The Western Dragon – Dr. Sara (Dr. Sara – I think she may be closer to you?)

For general information regarding feline dementia, please check out this article – and this article.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.  These are some rather broad and general recommendations – each individual symptom picture is unique and your cat may respond better to different things.  If you want to talk more set-up a Consultation with me and I’d be more than happy to do whatever I can to provide you with more specific suggestions for her, as well as guidance and support that you may need.

I hope this helps!


Kasie Maxwell

Founder/Owner, SFRAW

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