One of the most frequent questions I get and judgement I receive is around medicating my resident and foster cats. This is the last in my series Medicine & Cats, and we’ll break down the many options on the table for treating anxiety and aggression. The goal with these animals is always to keep them as relaxed as possible, because stress will eventually show itself as physical symptoms.
Cat Study 4: Lucy
Other: Acupuncture, Exercise, Oil Diffuser, Touch Therapy
Lucy is my #1 teacher when it comes to aggression and fear. Her issue is beyond just a behavior, and is a reflection of her abnormally developed brain from earlier neglect and abuse. An overdeveloped hypothalamus causes her to go into fight or flight and be over stimulated if I breathe too deeply. She suffers from impulse control aggression, which basically means her brain is going at warp speed (like in Spaceballs) 24/7.
Gabapentin & SSRIs
Medication is one of the tools at our disposal, and there’s a reason why it should be considered. The anxiety level Lucy experiences without medicine and even at rest is off the charts. How do you tell a cat is anxious? Tail twitching, dilated pupils, hard stares (not related to play), and in Lucy’s case, she huffs, a stress response, very frequently and sometimes even at rest. Huffing is a cat’s way of pulling in has much air as possible and letting the brain quickly interpret the stimuli. After her anxiety spikes, it’s followed by aggression. My focus is to manage her anxiety, which in turn, manages her aggressive tendencies.
SSRIs like Prozac and Paxil are often used to give anxious and aggressive animals like Lucy some relief. Unfortunately, Lucy suffered from serotonin syndrome, a negative response to the increase in serotonin where the heart rate increases, so SSRIs are not an option for her.
Gabapentin is a great drug, with few side effects, and it helps Lucy relax. And when I say relax, it takes her from a 9 to a 4. It doesn’t make her tired or knock her out – that’s how bad her anxiety is – but it does at least slow her brain down a little bit. She rarely, if ever, fights the pill shooter when it’s holding the gab, so I really believe she knows it makes her feel better. Also, if she ever was groggy taking it, that would be my indicator that she was over medicated.
Acupuncture is a non-traditional form of medicine that has really helped Lucy. During sessions, needles are placed at different spots on her body, and you can see her physically relax. The effects are most obvious right after the session, but there is still a positive impact for a few weeks.
Exercise is very important for Lucy. It helps drain her anxiety and prevent aggression. I’ve trained her how to run on a cat wheel, and also go for walks at the park. She’s gotten to the point where she manages her own anxiety, and jumps on the wheel and sprints when she’s upset! This is also helpful for her to manage her GI disease, and I’ve noticed an increase in wheel runs when she has to #2.
I tried the Feliway diffuser, and while I believe it works for some cats, it didn’t have a huge impact on Lucy. Instead, I put camomile oil in a diffuser and play meditation music to relax her. She loves it, and often curls up and takes a nap.
The last thing I do is quite untraditional. I believe it’s a form of reiki, but I call it touch therapy. Again, I’ll play meditation music, and let Lucy come to me. Once she sits in my lap, I touch her near her ribcage and close my eyes, imagining my energy flowing to her heart. As time continues, her tenseuscles relax, and she often flops on to her side. If she allows, I pet slowly in the direction of hair growth, the full length of her body. After about 15-20 minutes, she typically has enough and jumps down.
My Kitty Has Anxiety Shopping List
- OneFastCat Cat Exercise Wheel – Provides indoor exercise, improving physical wellness, and decreasing anxiety.
- Feliway MultiCat Diffuser – Uses pheromones to promote calming.
- Feliway Spray – Portable alternative to diffuser.
- Sentry Calming Collar – The description says it all.
- Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser and Bluetooth Speaker – Helps with relation.
- Chamomile Oil for Diffuser – Believed to encourage relaxation in cats as well as people.
To learn more about Lucy’s condition, take a look at this previous post on impulse control aggression.
Don’t Be Scared of Traditional & Non-Traditional Medicine
Do your research. Ask questions. Remember that no one medicine or treatment is right for every cat. You need to find what works for yours. At the same time, don’t turn a blind eye to issues that make your cat uncomfortable. You are their advocate. Most chronic issues have all sorts of treatment options; and sick cats need to be treated. Your goal is to make them as healthy and happy as you possibly can – whether that’s B12 shots or acupuncture needles, there are solutions for your cat.