Cat on Prozac - any advice?
January 26, 2010 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any experience putting a cat on Prozac?

It's been about five months since we adopted our two fuzzballs, and we're still having behavior problems with our older one, Max. He's about 1.5-2 years old at this point, and while he's calmed down a little bit over the past two months or so he's still attacking the other cat and nipping at us.

Our younger, Doppler, only comes out during the day when we put Max in the office. When they're both out together they will eat together and very occasionally sleep on the couch together, but most other times Max is out for blood. Doppler has finally started putting up some resistance, but he still spends (in our opinion) too much time hiding under the couch.

Max is also a bit of a contradiction towards us - he's incredibly needy (cries when left alone or locked up in the office), but will often bite if we try to pet him and show some attention. He scratched a friend of ours at a party this weekend after nuzzling her leg looking for attention. My girlfriend is afraid to pick him up or generally deal with him unless he's very relaxed.

Long story short, we brought both of them to the vet about six weeks ago and they both have a clean bill of health. We talked about the behavior problems and the vet suggested putting Max on Prozac (especially after our first attempt at Feliway did not produce any noticeable change). Since then, we've tried using the Feliway again - we put it in the office where he spends time while we're at work, and it seems like there's been a small amount of positive change.

The options at this point, then are to a) put him on Prozac or b) return him to the rescue. They already offered to take him back after we called them several months ago to talk about his behavior problems, but we're both feeling incredibly guilty just thinking about it. (They also seemed very surprised that he was acting up like this, as he apparently was an adorable little lovebug in his foster home.)

As far as the Prozac goes, the vet would put him on it for 3-ish months to start and mentioned he could be on it for his entire life. Is this something we should be considering? What are the possible changes to Max's behavior? We're feeling a little lost about the whole thing and any advice (or any other suggestions to get him to stop being such a murderous lout) would be greatly appreciated.
posted by backseatpilot to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My dog (a 10lb chihuahua) is on Prozac for OCD and it has worked wonders. He would rub his eyes and lick his paws obsessively, to the point of hurting himself. He had to wear an e-collar 24/7. After ruling out allergies, mites, etc, we tried prozac and he's cured! He also had some leash aggression toward people and dogs (but fine off leash), which is significantly reduced with the prozac. I would definitely suggest trying it before abandoning him to the shelter (if he has behavior problems, he will likely be hard to place with a new family). For a 120 day supply it's about $60 (he takes 5mg/day, and since he's about the size of a cat Max's dose would likely be similar).
posted by melissasaurus at 7:38 AM on January 26, 2010

Best answer: I put my fully adult cat on Prozac briefly (she was about nine at the time) because she was having litterbox and 'anxiety' issues. Once those cleared up, we took her off the Prozac. I don't remember any drastic behavior changes.

That said, your kitten is still a kitten. More accurately, he's an asshole teenager. We had one cat who didn't really calm down until he was nearly three. Max needs more playtime with the two of you. You need to wear him right out during a play session. It sounds like he's not giving you PET ME signals, he's giving you PLAY WITH ME signals. Get him a feather on a stick and go crazy. Wad up pieces of paper and let him chase them all over the floor. See if he's into the 'chase me' game - some cats are, some are not. When he attacks Doppler, try to distract him with a toy. You might have some success with a spray bottle for the attacks, just make sure you aren't spraying the other cat.

Some cats take a long time to grow out of kittenhood. It sounds like Max is one of them. His behaviors don't sound all that terrible or abnormal to me, honestly. He seems to be needing more active attention from you than does Doppler.
posted by cooker girl at 7:45 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agreed on the exercise, even if you also do Prozac. That "pet me...CHOMP" behavior can be an excess of energy, and sometimes can be overstimulation. My old dude does that after 5 minutes, but when he was little it was sometimes just 30 seconds. I learned the head twitch that came just before the bite and would stop then.

Some kittens can run themselves ragged, and others need help. I'm fairly certain that he will be a different cat within a month if he got 2-3 really hard playtimes a day. Age will take care of the rest.

I would exercise him separately from Doppler 1-2 times a day, but also have a dual round of "get the laser pointer" or something also, so they can play together. Doppler may only watch from his hiding place at first, but a cat's prey drive is generally so high that he's only going to be able to resist it for so long.

It is hard to exercise a kitten enough; it may take two people and a battery-operated feather-shaky-toy-thing just to come close.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:09 AM on January 26, 2010

Response by poster: It is hard to exercise a kitten enough

That seems to be our experience so far; we've tried running him ragged but we end up tiring out before he does. Then he's just riled up and starts yowling again.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:11 AM on January 26, 2010

My 9-year-old kitty is on prozac because she was peeing on the carpet. She is not fond of our 4-year-old cat and got even more ticked at life when we had a baby.

We tried feliaway diffusers and collars before this.

And IT TOTALLY HELPED. For $10/month for pills a $6/month for the pill pockets (cuz prozac is bitter, apparently) and a little pill chopping, we have no more pee.

posted by k8t at 8:24 AM on January 26, 2010

A friend's cat had a problem with peeing on the stove. Prozac has calmed her right down (the cat, not the friend). They have tried taking her off Prozac a couple of times, but it led to stove-peeing, so it looks like she's on for life. They are not totally happy about this, but count it a small price to pay for a) having a happy cat and b) being able to use the stove without filling the house with ungodly stench.
posted by Adridne at 8:53 AM on January 26, 2010

Is he really agitated, hissing, and/or raising his fur when he bites you? If he's seriously viewing you as a threat, then you're right to go the medication route. If not, he might be doing what he thinks of as friendly playing but just not understand that he's coming off as kind of a dick.

Our cat loves play fighting, and sometimes it he does accidentally swipe you hard enough to break the skin. At first, we weren't sure how hostile he was being, but once we understood the spirit in which he was acting, we were able to deal with it in a way that leaves no hard feelings on either side.

If we don't want to play, we can get our cat to understand this by holding a finger in his face and not moving. At that point, he usually takes a half-heartedly bite at it, then walks away or lies down. Biting is no fun if no one is dodging it or reacting otherwise. If we decide to play with him and want to be done, we can drive home that it's over by putting him on his back or side and holding him down for a few seconds on the floor or in a lap. Doing that anytime he gets carried away and bites too hard has also helped him understand what's out-of-bounds.

And if you do want to indulge his sporting nature and don't want to risk being scratched at all, you can fight with him with gloves on or with your hands under a blanket.

Disclaimer: I've only had a cat for 4-5 months, and I'm not at all certain that all cats will react the same way as our cat.
posted by ignignokt at 8:55 AM on January 26, 2010

I have experience putting a cat on Prozac, but I was wondering whether your vet talked to you about the other reasons your cat might be a "pet me I love you now I will bite/scratch you!" sort of animal. We have one of those, and figure it's just her personality, but we're also seasoned cat owners with no problem coping with the oddballs. Sometimes pet-me-don't-pet-me behavior is due to alpha status -- i.e., it's the cat's way of putting you in your place. Prozac won't help with that, but behavioral therapy can. That's harder to deal with. Sometimes, however, that kind of thing is due to hypersensitivity of the skin, which can actually be mental. As in, physical affection is just too overwhelming after a few seconds or minutes. Prozac might help with that.

Back to your original query. Putting a cat on Prozac was no big deal. It might work. In our case, there were no major side effects other than one day of sleepiness while the cat adjusted and then a tendency for the medicated cat to overeat, which can be combated by limiting access to free-choice food. Prozac in its generic form is cheap -- I think we paid $8/mo or maybe $8 for three months. Stick the pill in a Pill Pocket if your cat likes treats. Or crush it and put it in wet food or tuna or yogurt if the cat will eat that. If your cat is having none of it, there's a sort of pill shooter thing you can buy that lets you shoot it down the cat's throat... they don't like it much, though.
posted by Never teh Bride at 9:01 AM on January 26, 2010

OK, I've been advised by my girlfriend, who has had cats for most of her life, that holding a cat down is generally not recommended. So, maybe you can end playtime (if you find out that that's in fact what it is he's doing) by doing the finger thing or shaking the surface he's on, which also works for me.
posted by ignignokt at 10:10 AM on January 26, 2010

Response by poster: He doesn't hiss or raise his fur when he attacks, and I don't think he's hypersensitive - he's more than happy to sit in my lap on the couch and be pet while I watch a movie. Some of the attacks are really completely random; he's attacked our legs a few times while we were walking past him, and more than once he's climbed into my lap while I was at my computer, rubbed all over me, and then bit my arm and run off.

He does often let us know when he wants to be pet, too - if I hold my hand out he'll bow his head. He just seems like a jerk sometimes.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:50 AM on January 26, 2010

Glomming onto this question... for those of you who have taken the Prozac route with cats... what did the vet require before prescribing? We have a 5 yo cat who became an over-groomer when I moved in 5 months ago with my cat. We've had to do two courses of antibiotics, and keep him in a collar most of the time, because he licks his belly and back legs raw. It's clearly an anxiety problem, but the vet wants to do lots of blood and allergy testing before prescribing ($500+). Are we being gouged? Note: This is in Manhattan.
posted by kimdog at 11:46 AM on January 26, 2010

Response by poster: Our vet told us she'd wanted to do a blood panel before prescribing the meds, which was around 80 dollars. Another blood panel to check the cat's liver after three months if he was going to be on it for much longer.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:51 AM on January 26, 2010

In that case, have you considered that maybe he's just kind of a jerky guy? If medication and/or behavioral modification doesn't work, could you accept him as is? We have a cat who vacillates between nice and mean, and we have a cat who's a huge bully (and also blind, oddly). The bully we see as keeping the other cats fit, since he chases them around and basically forces them to get off their fat butts. And the former, well, I knew about her quirks before I took her home, and that was actually why I took her, since no one else was going to. By now we're adept at reading her signals and don't get scratched/bitten anymore
posted by Never teh Bride at 11:53 AM on January 26, 2010

kimdog: We just had to do a before/after blood test, but just the usual kidney/liver screen, nothing more expensive. And the same cat has an allergy, but the vet recommended simply trying different foods since protein (could be poultry) is a common allergy in cats. I'd say they could be going a bit overboard, especially considering that overgrooming is a pretty common problem.
posted by Never teh Bride at 11:56 AM on January 26, 2010

Response by poster: (I apologize for continuing to jump into this.)

I'm not as concerned for myself as I am for the other cat (girlfriend may see things differently, though). We don't like having to sequester him in the office for so long every day, and when he is allowed out Doppler hides under the couch and usually only comes out for meals. Granted, this better than when he wouldn't come out at all and we had to put food in the bedroom and close the door so he'd eat, but it's really not ideal.

We adopted two cats because we (and the rescue folks) believed that Doppler really needed a buddy to keep him active and developing; the situation as it is now seems to be the exact opposite of that.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:00 PM on January 26, 2010

Best answer: Your updates seem to confirm that Max just has a LOT of energy and he's still in the kitten stage. I can almost guarantee that it will stop, eventually. Some human kids take longer to mature; some cat kids take longer to mature. The one cat I have I spoke of earlier, Woody, was a complete asshole for about three years. Totally tried to take over from the alpha cat, got into fights with the other two...he was just mean. And he didn't like us to touch him. He started mellowing out and now, at age four, he's a dream. Just a lovely, sweet cat. He pretty much ignores the oldest one (the alpha) and now only play-fights with the other two, who enjoy it very much. And he's suddenly turned into a lap cat! We played with him a lot, we broke up fights, we'd sequester him when he was being an asshole - you might try that with Max - and he's out of his jerky adolescence and is quite nice to have around.

I had forgotten about giving Woody "time-outs." It certainly helped the atmosphere of the house. The other cats didn't "feel" punished, and he was left alone to sulk or do whatever it was he did to calm down. OH! Also: think about scruffing him when he's being a jerk. But make sure you don't just yank him off the ground by the scruff. He's too big for that now.
posted by cooker girl at 12:44 PM on January 26, 2010

My male cat harassed my female cat, attacked her, tried to keep her from the food dish, etc. Seemed like he was trying to run her off because he wanted to be THE cat in the household. When we took her to the shelter (for other reasons) he settled down and became a very happy cat. Then came the baby. The cat, at age six, couldn't handle it. So that's one experience that seems to show that sometimes a cat does NOT grow out of it, when he seems to have his own inner needs.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:30 PM on January 26, 2010

I think there are two separate problems here: (1) the cat's behavior toward the other cat (2) the cat's behavior toward you. For #1, cats can take months, not just weeks, to develop a good relationship with another cat. For problem #2, that sudden biting thing that cats sometimes do to humans, I don't know why they do it but I don't think it is connected with #1.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 7:41 PM on January 26, 2010

Just thought I'd come back in to give a Prozac-administering tip. My dog won't eat it without food, so I put a dab of dog toothpaste (chicken flavor) on my finger and stick the pill in it. He licks it off, swallowing the pill, and I use the remaining toothpaste to quickly rub his teeth. He gets his meds and I remember to brush his teeth every day. Not as good as using a toothbrush, but better than nothing.

February is pet dental health month!
posted by melissasaurus at 6:06 AM on January 27, 2010

Our cat started peeing on a couch regularly (as in, nightly, to the point where we would keep a shower curtain on it overnight to make the clean up easier). We put her on Clomicalm and the behaviour stopped almost immediately. Originally she was on 1 pill/day which made her too calm, so over a year or so we backed down (with the vet's approval) to half a pill a day, now half a pill every two days. No blood tests or anything else required from our vet before the prescription. But she had blood tests previously for dental work.
posted by Gortuk at 9:20 AM on January 28, 2010

Response by poster: It's been less than a week, but things have already calmed down after we started playing with both cats more. I guess we have to get them running around and exhausted! We also got Max a "kicker" toy - a long, narrow plush thing with a tail - to give him something to attack and wrestle with when he needs to blow off some steam, and he's really taken to it so far.

We're still a little worried about Max's tendency to dominate the litter boxes, but hopefully that behavior will change as they calm down around each other.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:47 AM on February 1, 2010

Response by poster: Another update: generally things have gotten worse. When it was warm out and the windows were open, things were pretty tolerable - both cats hung out in the windows all summer, and there wasn't too much fighting.

Yesterday, however, Doppler ended up peeing all over the house, all afternoon. We had to take him to the emergency vet, and they told us he had a urinary tract inflammation, probably stress-related. Previous to this, he'd basically been staying under the bed for the past two or three weeks, except to come out for meals. We've had to start putting Max in the office again.

Despite giving him as much attention as we possibly can, Max is still being an asshole. He won't let us do anything if it doesn't involve him in some way. It's been a FULL YEAR since the cats started their behavior problems, and we're really out of ideas at this point. Doppler occasionally pooping on the floor was dealable; if he's going to piss over everything all day, one of them has to go.

We're going to consider Prozac once more for Max - we ended up avoiding it back in February, but it's really come down to trying to calm him down or getting rid of him. We really feel awful about the idea of having to give him up (especially because of all the guilt-tripping pet care websites "It's all YOUR FAULT if your cat is misbehaving!"), but this whole situation is very stressful for everyone in the household, cats and people included, and he just doesn't seem happy with less than 24 hours of constant attention.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:52 AM on October 5, 2010

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