If you were to stop five people on the street and ask for their thoughts on antidepressants, you would get five different answers. Ask about antidepressants for people or cats, and you might get ten different answers! The responses from my clients run the gamut from “I wanted to put my cat on Prozac but my vet made me call you first…” to “There’s no way I’m giving my cat an antidepressant if I can live my life just fine without one.” To put it mildly, mood stabilizing drugs are a slippery slope for animal behavior consultants, veterinarians, and the clients we assist.
I was still on the fence about feline antidepressants several years ago when my cat developed a spraying problem. I had not yet completed my schooling in applied animal behavior, so he became a bit of a live-in case study. Throughout my coursework, and with lots of brainstorming with my teachers and fellow students, I tried every behavioral intervention known to cat. While the spraying decreased, it was never quite eliminated. Embarrassed that I couldn’t even help my own cat, I made an appointment with the veterinarian. She, of course, ensured that I had tried behavioral methods first. When I read off the exhaustive list of interventions I tried, she was nearly speechless but managed a, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” We had a good chuckle when I explained that I had just started my behavior consulting business. “That explains it,” she said. We discussed the medical options including which medication and the bioavailability of transdermal versus oral treatments. Together, we decided to try Prozac.
Over the course of a few weeks, my cat’s behavior improved. The spraying was finally relocated to one of the plethora of litter box options available to him. He calmed down and even became a little drowsy. Some of his quirky self-soothing behaviors also started to relax.
At the age of 15, I figured my cat would be on Prozac for the rest of his life. However, our environment changed, and we moved to a much less stressful home. He started to fatigue of his medication-masking treat and was eating less of it every day. He had a grand total of one accident in our new home. Back to the vet we went for permission to wean off Prozac. With permission granted, I slowly watched my cat transform once again. I had forgotten how playful he was to the point that I was a little worried. I had a 15-year-old kitten on my hands! I jumped onto my IAABC Cat Behavior Course Alumni group to ask my colleagues for advice. They kindly and professionally calmed my nerves while my cat settled in to his new normal. The playfulness tapered down to a manageable level for both me and my senior cat. He is now happy, enriched, and medication-free.
As a cat behavior consultant, it’s easy to feel like a failure when you or your client resorts to medication to supplement your recommendations. For me, this fear of failure prevented an important medical treatment for my own cat. After an initial veterinary examination for medical causes, behavioral and environmental modifications should always be exhausted before resorting medication. But there is no reason to feel ashamed of giving your companion animal an antidepressant to help them through a rough patch. In fact, for many families it is a viable Plan B, taking re-homing off the table. As you form your opinion on antidepressants for animals please do your research, have an open mind, and talk to your veterinarian.
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