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What is self-selection and how can it help your cat thrive

In this blog we look at the concept of self-selection and how it can radically change the life of your cat.

When I learnt about self-selection my world was rocked to its core! As a holistic feline behaviourist self-selection are the underlying principles, I use in all my work with cats. I’ll share with you in this article how self-selection can help to deepen your connection with your cat and how giving your cat a choice can change the way they interact with you.

What is self-selection?

Self-selection is the awesome process of listening to your cat and #givingcatsavoice

It’s allowing your cat to choose remedies that will support its well-being and enable it to decide what it needs to heal. In terms of healing I mean in all elements – physical, mental, emotional and physical. It removes the human need for us to be in control (which can be hard for some guardians to let go). It gives the cat the opportunity to tap into its natural, wild instincts. It’s another way we can support the enrichment of our cat’s lives and help them to thrive rather than survive.

How does it work?

Now here comes the science…

Self-selection by definition is ‘the action of selecting something for oneself’. If we use this in the medium of working with remedies it means allowing your cat to decide for itself what it needs to inhale/ingest/rub/roll on etc.

When using remedies with cats through self-selection we are using the method of applied zoopharmacognosy – that’s a super long word right?! What does it mean … zoo = animal, pharma = medicine, cognosy = knowing. Caroline Ingraham is a pioneer in this world, and I’ve referenced some of her books below if you’d like to read more about it. This discipline is about animals (and in our case cats) seeking out healing herbs, minerals, oils etc that would not be a normal part of their diet. Caroline delves further into the science, talking about the bitter propensity theory and more! But for us we need to know that a cat will only select what it needs to heal.

How do you know a cat is self-selecting a remedy?

Cats are VERY subtle creatures. They can display what appears to us to be the smallest of reactions yet to them it is a huge display of processing a remedy. Also, we need to learn to speak cat. We need to remove the human interpretation of a cat’s reaction and see it from their perspective. For example, if a cat closes its eyes when you offer an essential oil (from a distance, with the lid on) you may see the cat blinking. No, it is not going to sleep – it is selecting and processing the remedy.

Here is a table which breaks down the signs of processing into 3 categories:

This is a very crude list and sometimes the signs of processing aren’t that obvious. It’s really key when you are working with your cat that you sit and take time to observe them. Cats can spend up to 40 minutes working with one remedy. You need to make time to be present with your cat. To turn off distractions and be in the moment.

How can it help your cat?

Using botanical remedies with your cat enables it to cope much better with our (yes, our) hectic lifestyles. As a cat guardian you know that our cats will pick up on our emotional state. They are great healers. But in their day to day environment not only do cats have to deal with their cat world they also have to process our emotional state and routine. Cats are not in control of their world. It is our responsibility to provide for them the best we can. Yes, providing a litter tray and scratching posts is good but we can do more. We can empower our cats to have some control of their environment – to enable them to get help when they need it. That’s the power of self-selection.

What can you do to use self-selection with your cat?

Simplest answer – give them a choice. Give them more than one scratching post. Give them different places to sleep, (as best you can with the space/home you have).

Now let’s take it up a gear – offer them a herb garden. Allowing them to self-select on a herb garden gives them power – to deal with their own emotional/physical state.

If you have a small blanket down with herbs on, the cat can take itself to the remedies if its feeling down, stressed or in pain. You’re giving your cat some control over its environment.

You could go even further and offer additional remedies to your cat – essential oils/hydrosols/aromatic waters/dried powders/minerals/macerated oils. Using the power of self-selection, the opportunities are endless.

NB: I would advise that you contact a qualified practitioner if you want to learn more about offering remedies such as essential oils to your cat.

What are the benefits of using self-selection with your cat?

You know that feeling when you get to make a choice about what desert you want, or what type of coffee you are going to order. You have the power to control your environment. We need to give more of this back to our cats. You know how anxious you feel when you don’t know what’s going on in the world around you and you can’t control anything – like the recent Covid situation?!

It’s the same for our cats. They have little to no power over their environment. Let’s change that. Let’s help them to be heard – to offer them a choice. When I started working with self-selection, I was so moved by the reaction of the cats I worked with, by seeing them feel empowered, making a choice. I tell you I will NEVER get bored of seeing a cat on a herb garden, or selecting oils. Every time I see Leo selecting spirulina (or currently Nettle macerated oil as we have down at the moment) my world just pauses, I feel such a glow inside.

What have you got to lose?

When your cat realises you are listening to them your bond and relationship moves to another level. You begin to have a real soul connection with your cat. Species doesn’t matter. Its such a powerful experience, I implore you to give it a go. Start off simple – put down a herb garden and let it evolve from there. Watch your cat thrive, not just survive.


I’d love to see your pictures of cats on herb gardens or selecting remedies.

Tag Naturally Cats on Facebook and Instagram.

Best wishes, with love

Julie-Anne x

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Suggested additional reading:

COMING SOON: Nayana Morag and Julie-Anne Thorne – The Aromatic Cat. How to support your cat using Essential oils, Hydrosols, Herbal oils and Dried herbs. A holistic approach for feline guardians. (Working title)

Cindy Engel – Wild Health. How animals keep themselves well and what we can learn from them.

Caroline Ingraham – Animal Self-Medication. How animals heal themselves using essential oils, herbs and minerals.

Caroline Ingraham – How animals heal themselves. Self-selection, giving animals the choice to select their own natural remedies.

Nayana Morag – Essential oils for Animals. Your complete guide to using aromatherapy for natural animal health and management.


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