We continue our blog post from part 1 on cat behavior problems and the use of medications for treating them…
Medicines for Treating Ongoing Behavior Problems
Behavior problems that involve day-to-day household issues, such as problems between multiple cats within a household, or ongoing problems, such as excessive grooming, are best treated with medicines that are given long term, such as TCAs, MAOIs and SSRIs.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were first used to treat depression in people. They work primarily by increasing serotonin and norepinephrin-two neurotransmitters that are involved in regulation of emotional activity. They also affect other neurochemicals involved in emotional reactivity. The TCAs prescribed most for cats are amitriptyline (Elavil® or Tryptanol), clomipramine (Anafranil® or Clomicalm®), doxepin (Aponal®), imipramine (Antideprin or Deprenil), desipramine (Norpramin® or Pertofrane) and nortriptyline (Sensoval). Every cat is unique behaviorally and physiologically, so while one TCA might not work well for your cat, another TCA could have excellent results.
Although TCAs were originally intended to treat depression in people, they can also reduce anxiety, manage compulsive behavior and help people with anger problems. They’ve been used successfully in cats to help treat compulsive behavior problems like excessive grooming, reduce reactivity to other cats in the household and treat anxiety problems.
TCAs are prescribed for use every day. If the medicine isn’t taken every day, it won’t work to treat the behavior problem. TCAs are not usually effective the first day-or even the first few days-that they’re taken. Because at least some of their effectiveness comes from the changes they make to the brain, TCAs must be taken for at least two to three weeks before they produce results. Treatment should continue for at least two months before a decision is made regarding the success of the drug.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) work on similar neurotransmitters as TCAs, but they work differently and with less selectivity, so they have a more general effect on the brain. Selegiline (Anipryl®) is an MAOI that seems to mostly affect the neutrotransmitter dopamine. It’s used to treat cognitive dysfunction in older cats, and studies indicate that it can slow aging of the brain.
Some MAOIs can have dangerous side effects when cheese is eaten. Selegiline doesn’t fall into this category, but because some humans have reactions to cheese when taking it, pet parents should avoid giving their cat cheese when she’s taking selegiline.
MAOIs should not be used with SSRIs because the combination of these two types of drugs can increase serotonin to unhealthy levels.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
SSRIs affect the brain chemical called serotonin. Common SSRIs are fluoxetine (Reconcile® or Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®) and sertraline (Zoloft®).
Serotonin (5-HT) Agonists
Buspirone (BuSpar® or Bespar) is the only 5-HT agonist that’s used regularly in companion animal behavior treatment plans. It’s sometimes used in conjunction with SSRIs and TCAs when treatment begins, but it’s also sometimes used by itself.
Like other medicines that act on serotonin, buspirone needs to be taken every day to be effective. If the medicine isn’t taken every day, it won’t work to treat the behavior problem. Buspirone usually takes about three weeks to produce therapeutic effects, although this period might be shortened if the medication is taken in addition to an SSRI.
Giving Your Cat Her Medicine
If you decide to use a behavioral medication to help your cat overcome a behavior problem, you might run into a challenge when you try to give her medicine. It can be difficult to get cats to swallow pills, and some cats get so upset by the pilling process that they start avoiding their pet parents altogether. To learn how to give your cat the medicine she needs in the least stressful way possible, please see our article on Giving Your Cat a Pill.
Seek the Advice of an Experienced Professional
This article is intended to help pet parents understand common behavioral medications used for cats. It is not intended as a guide to choosing behavior medications. If your cat suffers from fear, anxiety, compulsive behavior or any other behavior problem for which you’re considering behavioral medication, be sure to first consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB). These qualified animal behavior experts can evaluate your cat’s behavior problem and help you develop a treatment plan, give you advice on suitable medications, and work with your veterinarian to maximize the success of your cat’s treatment program.
At FCVC we are happy to help you determine what is the best course of action for your feline if they are suffering from a behavioral issue and if a behavioral medication is the right course of action. Give us a call so we can chat with you about your concerns.