Jared Mitchell, DVM, CVMA, CVA, CVFT
When used safely, pure essential oils are a valuable treatment modality for lower urinary tract disease in cats.
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a term many cat owners are familiar with because they’ve heard it from their veterinarians. It doesn’t refer to a single syndrome or specific diagnosis, but is a general term used to describe conditions affecting the feline bladder or urethra.1 Both physical and behavioral causes have been reported. Clinical studies, along with epidemiological surveys, indicate that approximately 4.5% to 8% of cats presenting to veterinary practices or teaching hospitals have FLUTD.2 In this article, the author will focus on how essential oils can become an effective part of the treatment protocol for these cats.
TREATMENT PLAN FOR FLUTD
Once a diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan can be implemented. Many options are available to the clinician. Some can be used alone while others may be combined. Fluid therapy, diet, and conventional pharmaceutical medications have long been the mainstay of FLUTD treatment, although more interest and research into integrative and holistic options, including essential oils, means these approaches are becoming more widely utilized.
EFFECTS OF ESSENTIAL OILS ON THE BLADDER
Conditions affecting the urinary tract have plagued humans and animals for millennia. Throughout that time, various treatment modalities were developed. With the advent of modern medicine came pharmaceutical medications that offered convenience and fast relief from symptoms, thus replacing a lot of traditional therapies. As time passed, however, bacterial resistance began to occur.3 In an effort to find effective alternatives, human physicians and veterinarians revisited traditional therapies. Acupuncture, laser therapy, and botanical medicine became popular modalities used as standalone treatments or combined with standard medical treatments.4,5
In the veterinary profession, many pet owners began to utilize essential oils to help maintain the optimal balance of health as well as treat certain medical conditions, including urinary tract issues. As the popularity of essential oils, and their medicinal qualities, became known within the mainstream, scientific evaluation and clinical studies were performed to evaluate their reported medicinal attributes. Results demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, anti-tumoral, and relaxing effects on urinary tract issues.6,7,8,9
SELECTING ESSENTIAL OILS: PURITY AND SAFETY
When using essential oils in any situation, it is crucial to understand the importance of selecting the purist quality oils and using them correctly and safely. This cannot be stressed enough when using essential oils with cats.
The feline species has evolved with many unique characteristics. Cats lack the CP450 enzyme and have developed other enzymatic pathways.10,11 A knowledge of which essential oils are safe for cats, and how they can affect physiological body systems, is necessary to properly utilize them. Essential oils with high level of phenols should not be used, or if needed, used with extreme caution and under the guidance of a veterinary aromatherapist. Table 1 lists some of the most common essential oils with a high phenol content.
Purity and safety go far beyond just selecting the proper oil to treat a medical condition. They begin before the oil is even produced. They start with proper land and seed selection and continue throughout the growing and harvesting stages.
Maintaining the proper techniques to ensure the most organic and holistically produced essential oil is paramount to creating pure products that can be used safely.
COMMON OILS TO USE WITH FLUTD
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is probably one of the most well-known essential oils on the market today. Everyone in the mainstream is familiar with its amazing calming and relaxing abilities. Clinical research has demonstrated that lavender has a multitude of medicinal properties as well.12 As a result, it’s considered the “Swiss Army Knife” of essential oils. Lavender can help with urinary disorders such as FLUTD in several ways.
- The anxiolytic effects can help calm and relax the cat, creating a relaxing environment.13,14 This can help with behavioral issues, which can be a cause of inappropriate urination and FLUTD.
- Lavender can be utilized for its anti-inflammatory effects,15 which can help reduce inflammation within the bladder and urinary tract that could be causing FLUTD.6
- Lavender has been shown to be powerfully anti-infective and can help fight the bacteria that can be another cause of FLUTD.16
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
Frankincense essential oil is considered a must-have for many veterinary aromatherapists. It has been utilized with most species and is considered incredibly safe, well tolerated, versatile, and effective.18 It possesses wonderful anti-septic and anti-inflammatory properties.19 In the mainstream, frankincense is probably best known for its anti-tumoral properties.In clinical studies, it has shown promise in targeting cancer cells, including those in the bladder.20
Copaiba (Copaifera officinalis)
Copaiba is a wonderful essential oil to use with urinary tract issues, including FLUTD. Its constituents make it a very powerful anti-inflammatory. It acts much like an NSAID by blocking the oxidation of 5-lipoxygenace, a major player in the inflammatory cascade, thus reducing pain and inflammation.17 Because copaiba is both a pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory, it’s very important for conditions such as FLUTD.
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
Helichrysum is an essential oil renowned for its anti-inflammatory effects. 21It is also known to chelate chemicals and toxins, and helps with circulation and circulatory disorders. This oil is often included in pain recipes and is most often combined with copaiba and/or myrrh, where there seems to be an enormous synergistic effect for pain management.22
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
Geranium essential oil can have many beneficial uses for cats suffering with FLUTD. This oil’s medical properties are extensive, and it can be a great antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial. From an emotional and behavioral standpoint, geranium can help balance the cat’s emotional state by releasing negative memories and easing nervous tension.23
Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)
Juniper has been used for centuries as a diuretic, and in the treatment of urinary tract infections. It has antiseptic and anti-infective attributes. It is also known to help increase circulation through the kidneys, and can assist with the excretion of toxins.24 Reported adverse issues with juniper may be related to its more harmful oxidized form. Only fresh and well-stored juniper essential oil should be used.25
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)
Lemongrass has very powerful antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. In one study from 2008, it was shown to inhibit Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).26 It has also been demonstrated to dilate blood vessels and improve circulation.27 Lemongrass is especially useful for bladder infections and other urinary tract issues that can lead to FLUTD. It is considered one of the “hot” oils for topical use in animals. It’s very important to dilute lemongrass with a carrier oil.28
USING ESSENTIAL OILS FOR FLUTD
Essential oils can be used singly or combined with other oils to work in a synergistic fashion. For example, lavender could be utilized for its calming attributes and combined with juniper for its ability to increase circulation through the kidneys, while both could also provide anti-inflammatory and anti-infective properties.
Essential oils can be used as a primary treatment option, or integrated into an already established treatment protocol. As discussed, FLUTD can have many underlying causes. Conventional medications and treatments should not be overlooked and may be needed to provide proper care. Essential oils, however, can be a welcome addition to the treatment protocol, and may lessen the potential side effects of long-term medications.29
Topical application, diffusion, and oral administration have all been used to treat medical conditions in veterinary aromatherapy. With FLUTD, the most common techniques are diffusion and topical application. When using essential oils topically, they should be in a 50% to 75% dilution and applied over the lower abdomen two to three times daily 30 (Table 2). The author personally begins with twice-daily applications and generally continues these treatments for five days, then re-evaluates the patient.
If long-term therapy is required, the author continues with five days of consecutive treatments followed by two days without treatment. This cycle is then repeated as needed. It allows the body to recognize what it needs and try to reach a homeostatic state. It also allows for frequent re-evaluation of the cat, and their condition and response to therapy.
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a collective term used to describe multiple disease processes affecting a cat’s bladder and lower urinary tract. Over the years, many treatment options have been developed, and while they have been a mainstay, increases in antibiotic resistance and concerns about side effects have led to the research and use of alternative treatment modalities. Essential oils are one of these options and have shown great promise both in clinical settings and research studies.
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6Horváth A, Pandur E, Sipos K, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of lavender and eucalyptus essential oils on the in vitro cell culture model of bladder pain syndrome using T24 cells. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2022;22(1):119. Published 2022 Apr 30. doi:10.1186/s12906-022-03604-2.
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9Frank MB, Yang Q, Osban J, et al. Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces
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30The Essential Oils Animal Desk Reference. Chapter 10: Cats (Felines). Urinary Tract Conditions. Life Science Publishing, May 2017. 174-175.