I Disagree with Jackson Galaxy On Psychiatric Medication for Cats

Jackson Galazy

Jackson Galazy

I disagree with Jackson Galaxy on psychiatric medication for cats. I’ll explain why. The disagreement may be because he’s an American and I am British. British people have different points of view on administering psychiatric medication to domestic cats. In Britain, it is extremely rare to consider psychiatric medication as a means to alter the behaviour of a domestic cat. It is more common in the USA.

Jackson Galaxy is the host of the American television programme “My Cat From Hell”. I’ll be perfectly honest and state right away that I don’t like the name of that television programme. I may be alone on this but the name of the program gives the impression that domestic cat behaviour in the home can be so bad that the cat is considered to be evil. That is an entirely incorrect point of view and a misconception.

I’ll get to the point of this article. On the today.com website there is an article entitled “Could your kitty have a chemical imbalance? ‘Cat From Hell’ star talks pet meds”

In the article, Jackson Galaxy speaks about a kitten whose name is Coco. Jackson says the kitten was “dangerous”. A strong word. Coco is a kitten who appears on his television show. He says:

“She hits a certain age, she snaps, is just something that’s kind of common.”

Jackson carried out some evaluations on Coco and concluded that she, “had a chemical imbalance”.

He decided to introduce some mood-stabilising medication. Coco became much more workable, he states.

Jackson Galaxy support his decision by saying that:

“The thought that we would deny help for the mental health of our animals, when we wouldn’t do the same for ourselves, is a little sadistic in terms of standing on ceremony and saying, “No, we should not drug our pets”.

He believes that the veterinary profession is now at a position where medication can help cats. He believes that psychiatric medication has moved beyond simply tranquillising cats to altering a cat’s mood.

A veterinarian, Dr Sarah Brandon, says that mood enhancing drugs for domestic cats such as Prozac are low cost and easy to give and can greatly improve the quality of life of a cat. She does, however, recognise the fact that some medication can result in negative side-effects. She concedes that the objective is to give the lowest possible dose while controlling the behaviour in question.

Galaxy, himself, does concede that problems of cat behaviour are not always about the cat. Sometimes, he says that the human can be part of the problem. He believes that the causes of cat behaviour problems are split about evenly between cat owners and the cat themselves.

In the case of Coco, he made the observation that Coco’s owner had become terrified of her own cat. This human emotion would feed through to the cat herself exacerbated any perceived behavioural problems in the cat.

Well, that is the story and when I read about it I come to the conclusion that there is an over eagerness to administer psychiatric medication to the domestic cat for perceived behavioural problems. We don’t, incidentally, know what the behavioural problems are. I think that’s important and we should know about them because they impact upon how one deals with them.

My personal method of dealing with so-called “bad cat behaviour” is to first look at the environment in which the cat lives and what the cat’s owner is doing in respect of interactions with her cat. There may also be other people in the home who interact with the cat and they should be observed and interviewed to find out exactly what is going on. Then socialisation should be investigated and also health. All these boxes should be ticked conclusively before consideration is given to administering psychiatric medication. I do not think that this level of completeness has taken place in respect of diagnosing Coco’s behavior problems. I also believe that the causes of cat behavior problems are not split 50/50 between cats and people. I would say it is nearer 90% due to people. Even if the problem is due to socialisation that is, at the end of the day, a human created problem.

Also, I do not think because medication is cheap it should be given to domestic cats without an awful lot of consideration and as a last resort. This is the key observation from this interview with Jackson Galaxy. He does not seem to be treating psychiatric medication as a last resort but something that could be considered at the outset. I disagree with him.

Also, I don’t like what seems to be a rather vague diagnosis of Coco when he states that, ““She hits a certain age, she snaps, is just something that’s kind of common.” – what is that about? That seems a very vague thing to say. It may be a misquote. It seems wrong to me.

Another point is this. If it is decided that a cat is behaving badly despite being well socialised, living in an excellent environment and in good health then a cat behaviourist should ensure that the cat’s owner has correct expectations and a clear understanding concerning cat behaviour. Many people may expect their cat to do certain things and behave in a certain way but the expectations may be wholly unrealistic. If that is the case then the cat’s owner may decide that her cat is behaving badly when in fact he or she is not.

It should be recognised, by the way, that Prozac has been found to be problematic as an antidepressant for people. There was a time when it was considered to be a wonder drug but now it is dawning on people that is far from the truth and one major side-effect is suicidal thoughts. There are other negative side-effects which as far as I’m concerned put its use in doubt.

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I Disagree with Jackson Galaxy On Psychiatric Medication for Cats — 25 Comments

  1. I don’t know what the term “snap” means either.
    I’ve never felt the need to medicate any cat in order to alter them into what I want or expect. That just seems crazy to me, because it just falls in line with all the other things (declawing) people do to cats in order to suit themselves.

    • Agreed. Completely. I have never got near to thinking that cats need mood enhancing drugs. I does seem as if they are prescribed to get a cat to perform as the owner wishes, like declawing as you say.

      If that is the case, then shame on Galaxy. I think he should be more against mood enhancing drugs for cats. He could be criticising their use.

  2. Both de-clawing and psycho drugs are mainly to feed the business community with more dollars. It seems the public in America are easily manipulated to spend their money on pretty bad things.

  3. Thanks to “P.O.C” that i am reading for the first time about “Psychotic Drugs” for controlling a pet cats behaviour.The title “MY CAT FROM HELL ” is total negative publicity to the common cat that is already a subject of many superstitious beliefs , most notably the black coloured cats which were considered a witches companion.

    • Thanks Rudolph. I believe that mood enhancing drugs tend to be overprescribed for people in the UK and possibly in America and this can lead similar overprescription for pets.

      • Michael , this village is known as “Velas Village” which is in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra about 6 hours drive from Mumbai.A classic Indian coastal fishing village famous also as a “Turtle Hatchery”, a major tourist attraction. This was a old cat in a small village shop.

  4. It’s sad enough – it’s horrendously sad – to kill a cat with pentobarbital – never mind the pastel-tinted euphemism ‘putting to sleep.’ It’s a terrible thing to do because the cat has no say: its life is not its own. Your years-long companion is yours to kill, if you so choose. And if it’s sweet-natured, it will purr in your arms with affectionate trust as the needle goes in: it will purr until the poison begins to flow through its veins and its loving expression sags into ‘What is this? Oh! What’s HAPPENING to me?’ tragic shock and betrayal.

    Timothy Leary was an eloquent advocate of LSD in his San Francisco heyday. Thing is, when the ‘trip’ isn’t ‘bad’ what does it do but provide a prismatic display, a vision of paradise for sensualists unable to reach a natural high through productive or creative endeavor? What did it ever do to improve the lives of the users once they’d emerged from their hours-long trance? They were still hippies with no marketable skills, they were still down-and-outers living on food stamps,riddled with STD and toes itchy with ringworm infestation from wandering aimlessly barefoot through their Mecca: S.F.’s Haight-Ashhury.

    If anyone has the stomach to get through the book – an impossible challenge – ‘Looking for Mr. Goodbar’ (underlinings and italics are seemingly impossible in this format) describes a pot party, and the description is what might be expected. Marijuana was recently legalized in Washington State, as it has been in some twenty other states throughout this country. Garrison Keillor, the decades-long host of ‘Prairie Home Companion,’ a popular radio program in the U.S., said it all when he said ‘Marijuana makes you stupid.’

    What’s more, it’s par for the course in the U.S. for persons in later life to jellybean-pop 18 pills and more daily. Can any of us remember our grandparents or great-grandparents needing all these pills to make it through the day? Even without the daily poppings, many of them enjoyed good health into advanced old age.

    It’s equally true some drugs are miraculous: vaccines and pain-suppressants are in the fore. A dental cavity can give you a foretaste of hell until a dentist injects your jaw with Novocain (though it’s no longer called that). Moments later, he can plunge a steel probe down to the root and you don’t feel a thing, no more than you feel a thing when he grasps the tooth with his forceps and twists and pries for eight or ten minutes, your head bobbing and blood gushing.

    Oxycontin (not sure of the spelling), the drug of choice these days for addicts, is another pharmaceutical miracle. With the right dosage, a person with terminal cancer is all but perfectly comfortable right up to the end.

    Psychotropic drugs are a different matter. They’ve stupefied users or rendered them berserk: they’ve destroyed their teeth, their health and their lives, and increased the rate of crime and traffic fatalities. And to force these drugs on children and animals is criminal except in circumstances light-years beyond any other known means of amelioration. They work fairly well in stabilizing paranoid-schizophrenics. But to diagnose as ‘ill’ and use this quick fix on noisy or otherwise lively kids is off the chart. As for kittens that ‘snap’…the description doesn’t deserve to be dignified with a comment. Light-minded people can be diabolical in their abuse.

    As for the residue from these thousands of prescription and recreational drugs –aquatic life is on the way out. The rivers and lakes teem with hermaphrodite fish and five-legged frogs.

    • I have this clear feeling that vets are doing wrong in prescribing mind altering drugs to companion animals because firstly the diagnosis is uncertain and the effects of the drugs are also uncertain. Just plain irresponsible to me. British vets don’t do this. It is very rare indeed for a British vet to prescribe these drugs.

  5. I agree with everything you have written Michael! While I admire Jackson Galaxy very much because I have watched videos and read about cats he has helped, I don’t agree that any cats are from hell. It’s always the ‘owners’ who are from hell! I say owner because they are certainly not caretakers, they don’t take care as those entitled to be called caretakers do.
    Anti depressants can cause many nasty side effects, cats can’t tell us if they feel weird or have a headache.
    I was prescribed Seroxat for reactive depression after our late mother died, after just one tablet I felt very strange, off the planet, sick and dizzy too and I was ill for 4 days.
    A cat behavioural therapist recommended anti depressants for Walter when Barbara’s husband died and Popsy came to live with us, because he was depressed and anxious and spraying, she said for at least the first week on the drug he would just be lying around and lethargic. We refused that! He could have had a worse reaction. Her alternative advice was to rehome him. As if we would do that! We don’t ‘rehome’ people with mental problems do we. So why cats? Babz and I were low ourselves at our many bereavements at that time which was why we’d asked for help. Our vet at the time had advised us to make Walter live outside! But Babz and I together worked through Walt’s problem with patience and kindness and understanding.
    Sorry but since then I do not trust cat therapists! Nor many vets!

    • I admire Jackson too because he does good for the cat. He praises the cat etc. and respects the cat (usually). But he has this wrong. I think it is because he has the American mentality regarding cat veterinary treatments. If a vet can declaw a cat then giving a psychotic drug to a cat is no big deal. It is a poor attitude. For me it lacks respect for the cat.

  6. Ruthie – are you there? Am hitting the sack (saque) myself in two minutes, but was struck by your remarks re the anti-depressant you took after your mother died. You have a virginal constitution. That is your downfall. Some explorer-intruder, years ago, gave one aspirin to a native who lived on the Orinco, and the poor guy slumped to the ground and lay there for a week.

    Once I had a stressful work situation, and was prescribed Prozac. OMG…Crikey. I felt like a toadstool stuck to a stump. One pill, and never again! Sleeping pills are equally pernicious, and of course you develop an increasing tolerance for them. Some sociologists have speculated that the movie stars weren’t necessarily suicidal — they just had to keep taking more and more to get an hour of sleep. And though sleeping pills knock you out, for some unknown reason they prevent REM sleep.

    As for the poor animals, I had a friend once who dosed her Doberman with tranquilizers day and night — without any recommendation from the vet. She couldn’t stand to hear him bark, and of course he stopped barking: he passed his days and nights lying limp on the floor.

    Good for you and Babz for helping your kids through their crises without all these infernal drugs. And one vet actually told you to ‘give away your boy?’ I’ve heard it all now… ‘Nothing surprises me any more’ [James Thurber]


    ps Will try to get up to the library Tues. to check the e-mail, but venture out of the downpour keeps up.

    • Nice comment Sylvia Ann. I like what you write. To be honest I think it is very careless and thoughtless of vets to prescribe mood enhancing drugs to cats because none of them know for sure how that cat feels after being given the pill. It is guesswork. No doctor in their right mind would do that to a person. They would have follow up meetings and ask questions and do tests etc..

    • Sorry Sylvia, I’d gone off earlier, yes the therapist said to rehome Walter, we’d never have slept again worrying about him, wondering if he was happy, supposing his new people hadn’t understood him? It doesn’t bear thinking about us being without him, so he sprayed… but furniture washes. Once a cat is ours he/she is ours for life no matter what!
      Hope you are looking after yourself!

  7. My Cat From Hell is a sensationalist title like the Neighbour From Hell series, it calls to people to sit and eagerly await watching other people’s troubles. But in my opinion there is no evil in animals, they are a product of their environment so without knowing anything of this case I still insist that something had turned the so called kitten from hell into whatever she became. Forcing unnecessary chemicals into kittens, cats, dogs or any other animal is what is evil. Making “basket cases” of cats by forcing them to have Prozac is evil. How come after thousands of years of cat companions is it now deemed necessary to pump mind altering drugs into them, seems a strange coincidence that so many humans feel the need to dose themselves stupid as well. Is this more slavish copying of so called “celebrity” stupidity.

    • Agreed completely. It seems that we are transferring our misguided ideas about mind altering drugs onto companion animals. Wrong obviously. For example, we now realise that antidepressants are grossly overprescribed in the UK by GPs. The magic pill syndrome, which damages many people. Far better to take the harder route and work out the problem through discussion and actions (for people) and analysing accurately what was and what is going on in the cat’s environment (for cats).

  8. well i dont really know what to say but i dont think id prescribe my cat those meds. I once had to give cassy when she was really traumatized but she never liked taking them. Was around the time where she was running away and turning wild. I dont think its a total answer to any behavior prob. I guess as a last resort. I been on prozac a long time ago and worked for me for starts but then i got the anxiety probs so had to go on something else. I guess it would be horrible to any pet. Its just hard to know

  9. The ‘Watermelon’ post, which has vanished into the catacombs, posed two questions:

    ‘What with the busy schedule of many people, who can find time to order the ingredients for, then grind and freeze, homemade cat food?’

    The veterinarian who writes these posts is explicit in specifying not only the health benefits but the savings in doing so. While her posts are not current (they may be several years old), the costs of feeding a cat during the final few months of its life can reach close to $100 per week – they did under this roof – when a parent is buying the (ostensibly) best canned foods available. Homemade foods cost a fraction of this sum, according to Dr. Lisa.

    How anyone can afford to take the time fiddling around with meat grinders, etc., some will do this because the costs of feeding their kids a commercial diet – added to the costs of visits to the vet – are not even remotely commensurate with their earning powers. While this veterinarian doesn’t claim that all illnesses are caused by diet, she believes many are, and that the vets profit immensely from this link.

    As any pet-parent knows, the practice of veterinary medicine is astronomically lucrative. True – a vet has to undergo something like four years of training (though some schools of veterinary medicine apparently accept students right out of high school, nor do the students have to bear up under another three-four years of internship). And yes,the tuition is expensive, and the studies are probably rigorous. But a 60-year-old vet has long since paid off his student loan and the cost of his x-ray machine. Which doesn’t inhibit him one iota from charging a client $220.00 for an x-ray it takes him six seconds to diagnose.

    People of low, average and even above-average earnings are feeling the disparity between their income and outgo, which may be why some of them prefer the drudgery of preparing homemade cat food to the costs and health risks of buying it readymade.

    Second question: ‘Why can’t commercial providers offer high quality ‘pet’ food to consumers?’

    Why would a lawnmower repair-shop charge a customer $103.00 to replace a $3.00 spark plug in a mower? Answer: Because they could get away with it and because – and there are millions of exceptions – the bulk of the human race is hardwired to have a prime interest in whatever enhances their personal gain.

    Several years ago a high-ranking American politician was brought down in disgrace because it was learned that he was frequenting prostitutes. Oddly enough, his favorite call girl was one who let him bend (not her rear) but her ear. She was a sympathetic listener to whom he confided the stresses and sorrows of his workday, a kindness neither his wife nor his family would apparently think of troubling themselves to offer him. Nor, in all probability would the fille de joie, who almost certainly simulated an interest in him and his woes, for which he paid her $5,000 an hour ($4,900 of which her employer likely pocketed).

    In a nutshell, the world overflows with people focused on their personal interests and advancement, not on the welfare – and least of all on the feelings – of others. Can even they be kind? Of course. But their kindness is selective to the core. Manufacturers and health care providers, et al. have little reason to consider the interests of anyone else if those interests fail to maximize their own.

    Is it a bore to prepare cat food? Undoubtedly. But how many hours of labor in a job or career does it take to pay the extra cost of buying it, then hauling the fur-kids to the vet because the diet eroded their health over the years?

    • I agree that the world is run by financial profit and big business and in this instance the welfare of the domestic cat is secondary to that priority. I just wonder though whether a commercial manufacturer could make a decent profit out of supplying high quality natural cat food at supermarkets for the discerning cat caretaker as an alternative to the usual rubbish. Of course it would cost much more. It would be genuinely luxurious cat food with a premium price but I’m convinced that there is a big market for that sort of cat food.

      I think the whole model of veterinary surgery is somewhat of a failure because a veterinarian has to balance making a profit with serving the interests of the patient’s welfare. Of those 2 objectives the former wins which automatically makes the process somewhat of a failure.

  10. Well, what I can say is that I never medicated any patient for MY nerves, and I’ll never medicate any cat for MY nerves either.

  11. Michael,

    I agree with you about the name of the show. I also have a “bone to pick” with Animal Planet for probably giving the show that name, and for Jackson to say “Cats have nine lives but humans have only one”. It sounds like that was strictly done for a promo-type line. I don’t believe that Jackson believes that for a moment.

    As far as medication is concerned, there are so many safer and holistic ways in which to treat some emotional issues in cats. Spirit Essenses, Bach Flower remedies, etc.

    This said I believe that there are times that medication has its place.We shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Sir Hubble is on meds and it has helped him so tremendously- when the more holistic methods didn’t work at all.

    It was a trial and error method that we used to find just the right meds to calm him down sufficiently to finally stop spraying. But I don’t think that it is a panecea at all- It all depends on the condition and what works.

    But Jackson is doing a GREAT service to cats. Perhaps the “Sensational” title of the show does attract viewers. But once they are watching, they are learning a LOT. I see “Jacksonisms” when I monitor an Internet cat community. People are helping other cat guardians with the great advice and training that Jackson is offering. We have a gal on the boards who adopted a cat from a shelter who was growling, hissing, aggressive toward her and she was at the end of her rope, ready to return her to the shelter.

    We gave her a lot of support and suggestions (ala Jackson’s suggestions). A couple of days later she wrote ” she is giving me slow eye blinks” .. the cat was starting to trust her. She took the suggestions that we offered, and the cat has done a 180 and is slowly becoming a loving, sweet cat (the gentle kitty that was inside her but too scared to come out). She is using Spirit Essences, and giving the kitty lots of space to trust her even more. We saved a home! THAT is precisely what Jackson’s mission is- to preserve homes.

    I don’t know if you’ve watched the show- (There are segments available on YouTube), but his work is truly a Godsend for cats. I also suggest that folks read his book, “The Cat Daddy”, to learn more about Jackson- and how his career in helping misunderstood kitties started. It is fascinating and deeply moving.

    • I totally agree that overall Jackson is a great benefit to the cat world. He interests people who wouldn’t normally be interested in learning about cat behaviour so he can get to a whole new audience I think. I just think he has been a little bit too eager to promote mind altering medication for cats. I disagree with him but that does not mean I am right of course. I think the difference in opinion actually comes from the fact that I’m European and he is American. There are many cultural differences between us and in respect of cat caretaking many of those differences are evident.

      I agree though with you as well that there is a place for mind altering medication-quite definitely. To me, it really must be a last resort and the cat must be diagnosed as being mentally ill, which I think is extremely difficult to diagnose in a domestic cat.

  12. Michael, I need to start out by saying that I like your site, I think it is a great resource for those owned by cats. My take on Jackson’s show is a bit different than yours and some of the others expressed in comments. We have been watching his show regularly (every episode) since shortly after our older Ocicat Saphira joined our family at Christmas in 2011. I need to say that neither Saphira nor our younger Oci girl Viola is a “cat from hell”, they are just the opposite, very well behaved, and we watch the show for entertainment and to appreciate our girls for how wonderful they really are. I would estimate that a very small number of his cases result in any kind of psychotropic medications being prescribed, maybe five percent. In almost every case he identifies issues in the home environment or the caregivers treatment of their felines that causes the problems, not “bad cats”. I think the advice delivered through his program has probably helped numerous viewers take better care of their kitties.

    As I said earlier our girls are both very well behaved, but we did use his advice when we introduced Viola into our home, took things very gradually and while it took awhile, we never had any fights and within a few weeks they were both sleeping peacefully in bed with us and following us around the house together.

    And about the name of his show… “My Cat From Hell” is going to draw in a lot more viewers than something like, “Jackson helps ignorant cat guardians take better care of their kitties”. I sometimes refer to our girls (affectionately and totally kidding) as our “cats from hell”, causing my wife to come back to me in mock anger, “No, they are our cats from HEAVEN!”

    On the balance I think his show is a really positive influence on cat guardians. If he can get across his messages like “cats don’t have litter box issues because they hate you” and “punishing a cat for “misbehavior NEVER works”, I can handle a bit of drama and showmanship on his part.

    • Hi Warren, thanks for commenting on this. I agree that Jackson has done a lot of good for cats. He is a great educator and he has single handedly improved cat welfare in the US. I suppose I don’t agree with all he does and says. Also I don’t like the shows title. It was a bad choice as far as I am concerned because it lays the blame for “bad cat behavior” at the feet of cats and not people although Jackson rectifies that by nearly always or often dealing with people issues.

      The program makers had to come up with an eye catching title which it is but it is at the expense of the cat. As for drugs for cats, as we don’t really know what is going on in the minds of cats, I don’t believe we should give them psychiatric medication unless really desperate.

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