Does Your Cat Suffer from a Mental Illness? VIDEO

banzai-watching-me-derobeFor many of us, our cats are furry little people to whom we are bonded in extraordinary ways. Our conversations are full of references to our cats in much the same way as new parents and grandparents bombard anyone they encounter with baby stories.

We don’t need scientific studies to prove to us that our cats are as self-aware, moody and emotional as humans are.

But if cats do have discrete personalities and emotions, is it fair to say that they can also suffer from mental illness?

My Siamese, Mao, was the most emo, sensitive and expressive cat I’ve ever known. He was heavily bonded to hubby and me, and suffered severe separation anxiety whenever we were apart, even if just for an evening. Once, when we went away for a weekend, we took him to a kitty spa. He wailed, he refused to eat or drink, and they took him to the emergency vet thinking he was sick (this despite my detailed history on file for him, stating that he might not eat or drink much, and since it was only one night, not to be concerned about it). An in-home sitter wasn’t a good option for him because he had a history of sneaking out the door and running off to look for us if we weren’t home.

When I was preparing to go on a 10-day trip abroad (leaving hubby at home with the cats}, many long discussions were had about how Mao would react to my absence. I had heard about cat owners who’d had success in calming cats with Prozac*, so we talked to our vet about it. He agreed that it would be a good way to avoid a 10-day anxiety attack for Mao.

Long story short, it was a perfect solution. Mao spent the time I was away chillaxin’. When I returned, we tapered him off, and he was back to his old cranky self.

Some people react in horror when I describe my Prozac experience with Mao; I might as well have said that we gave him a lobotomy. Inevitably, some suggest one New Age snake oil product or another as an alternative to drug therapy — after all, Prozac is just for “crazy people.”

But here’s the thing: psychopharmaceuticals work on humans, so it’s not a huge leap to think they might also work on animals. As with humans, behavior modification and non-drug therapies should be the first step, but if that proves to be insufficient, medication can fully help resolve any mental health issues.

Laurel Braitman studies non-human animals who exhibit signs of mental health issues — from compulsive bears to self-destructive rats to monkeys with unlikely friends. Braitman asks what we as humans can learn from watching animals cope with depression, sadness and other all-too-human problems.

I’m addicted to TED Talks, which is how I discovered Laurel. Here’s her TT: “Depressed dogs, cats with OCD — what Animal Madness Means for us Humans.”

I’m not suggesting that you reach for the Prozac every time you experience a behavioral problem with your cat. But understanding that animals can experience PTSD, anxiety, OCD and other mental health disorders just as people do can go a long way toward determining how best to treat them.


* Yes, we tried Feliway, and it had no discernible effect.

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Category: Featured, Health & Wellness, Last Week, Videos, zzz Previous 3 cat articles

About the Author ()

Mousebreath Magazine is an award-winning online magazine that celebrates cats and the cat-centric lifestyle. Editor Karen Nichols is a popular conference speaker and writer, whose current project is The Cat Scout Handbook. She is also the denmaster at CatScouts.com.

Comments (2)

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  1. Bernadette says:

    I remember her talk! Really fascinating, after knowing a lot of interesting animals. I like behavior mod and new-agey stuff to start with, but if that doesn’t work then it’s better living through chemistry. A friend had a cranky middle-aged cat who was totally freaked by the street outside being dug up and a new sewer system installed over a period of weeks, and she peed on the newly-refinished floors and bit everyone and would not eat. Valium, which was what was used then, was suggested and she said she’d never drug a cat. I told her that it would not become a lifestyle, but if it took the edge off her fears and she could live a more normal life while the whole world was being torn apart outside, how could she deny it to her cat? She gave it, the cat was fine. If an animal had a physical condition that interfered with daily life and actually incurred further physical distress and there was a medication to treat it, we would not hesitate. It’s the same as the discussion of mental illness in humans and whether or not they are truly illnesses.

  2. Inge Mallory says:

    We have had one of our 8 cats on a low dose of Prozac when she was pooping and urinating in inappropriate places. While it solved part of that problem all she did was sleep 23 hours a day. We have stopped the Prozac and are trying other non drug therapies. She is sleeping less and playing more which pleases me. I do believe Prozac can be a great help when symptoms show a need for it.

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