By happy pills, I mean anti-depressants. My instinctive response to the question is: never, no way. I don’t like pills. But am I right? I tend to think that almost all cat behavior problems are really human behavior problems. Either a person can’t accept his cat’s behavior and doesn’t know what to do so he gets the vet to prescribe happy pills or his cat is demonstrating stress related behavior and the stress is due to the cat’s owner – i.e. he is away too much, introducing strange cats or generally providing an environment that is unsuitable. Remove the source of stress and a cat will settle down.
I think it is true that almost all cat behavior problems are forms of anxiety or stress and a cat is almost always anxious because of poor quality cat caretaking, either inadvertently or deliberately.
However, and even I have to admit this, there are occasions where prescribing anti-depressants may be suitable. This may occur if, for example, a cat has had a very difficult start in life and then is cared for well but is unable to shrug off the effects of the past. In short, the cat is psychologically damaged. Under these circumstances prescribing pills is only following the sort of course people follow when they go to their doctor. Millions of people in the UK are prescribed anti-depressants. However, the truth is, they are over-prescribed.
The trouble is that in the real world some rescued cats are going to have a tough time becoming a settled domestic cat. These cats may be candidates for pills but it must be the very last resort.
I believe that all cats no matter how innately anxious they might be can be relaxed and rehabilitated through sympathetic and excellent cat caretaking without resorting to pills (Michael).
CNN reported Kate Walmsley resorted to giving her cat amitriptyline, an anti-anxiety pill that is widely prescribed for people with sleep problems amongst other conditions. I am not going to question what she did. Well, actually, I am, gently. She says that her cat’s early years or months were spent living in a garbage area. I suppose she was a semi-feral or stray cat.
After adopting her, on the occasions that Ms Walmsley went away her cat become very anxious and stressed, which caused cystitis by the sound of it. Kate Walmsley says her cat regularly got urinary tract infections. Stress plays a major role in this disease.
I am guessing, but if Kate had stayed at home her cat wouldn’t have become anxious and stressed. So the primary cause was human behavior. As there was no solution because Kate had to go away (I am guessing that that was the case) the only solution was happy pills for her cat to calm her down. This is not a case of a cat with mental health problems. This is more about an anxious cat who wants continuous human company which she had grown used to.
Perhaps the answer for Kate was to find a person who was always at home and to re-home her cat. A retired, gentle-minded couple who loved cats might have been the answer. Understandably, that was unacceptable to Ms Walmsley but, dare I say it, might it not have been more acceptable for her cat than the existing state of affairs?
The well known vets and authors of the world’s best known cat health book¹ provide the following advice on the appropriateness of prescribing happy pills for a cat.
In summary they say:
- drugs are a last resort and only used with a complete behavior and environment check up (that means humans).
- the drug should be withdrawn on “from time to time” to see if the problem has gone.
- only a vet can prescribe and monitor anti-depressants. Dosage is tricky and a cat requires a full medical check before administering.
- tranquillizers can produce side effects such as not using the litter box and biting. (comment: that seems to make them pointless).
- diazepam (valium) can cause liver problems. Not suitable for long term.
- Progesterones cause serious side effects (a long list including diabetes) – these are essentially unsuitable.
- Amitryptiline can cause cardiac problems.
- Prozac can be used for peeing outside the litter box.
- Buspirone (Buspar) stops innapropriate elimination 75% of the time. Give for 8 weeks then cat weaned off. Used in coordination with environment changes etc..
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- Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook