When is the right time to try medication? I feel like I hear that a lot either on web boards or in person (though mostly in passing) pretty frequently. Or I hear the opposite that medicating dogs is the devil and awful.
Unfortunately I really can’t answer that question…the “when is it the time” question. There is no universal answer and it totally depends on each individual situation. What I can do is talk you through my experience with making the decision to give one of my cats medication for a behavioral reason.
For some background, we adopted Joey in 2006 when he was 7 years old from the humane society–he was there because of a nasty divorce. We had to put our cat Meeko to sleep in April because of an illness we were not able to resolve before he started to suffer. Panther, our then 9 year old female cat seemed a bit lonely since she and Meeko were the best of pals so I wanted to bring home an older cat to be her new pal. I went to the shelter in Aug of 2006 and found Joey on the bottom corner cage he was said to be good with dogs and good with other cats. We played with him for a bit and he seemed independent and not a huge lap-cat (which is what we were looking for) so we adopted him.
Panther took a while to acclimate to him but he settled in really nicely. He lived with us beautifully for 2.5 years with no problems. In spring of 2009 we noticed him spraying in the house… a lot. We didn’t notice any stray cats and there weren’t any changes in the home. We checked for a UTI and he was fine. We invested in Feliway (calming pheromones for cats like DAP is for dogs), made sure to utilize enzymatic cleaners, moved litter boxes around to potentially make them more appealing, and were mindful of changes in routine for him. We saw a reduction in spraying for sure after just a few days and about 6 weeks later the spraying stopped completely. There was nary a tail twitch in sight for 10 months.
But again, almost a year to the day, we noticed him spraying again. We had kept one Feliway diffuser going all year but we plugged in our other 3 and filled them all to make it like a kitty nirvana in our house. This time it didn’t seem to help much and he continued to spray a lot. We took him to the vet, checked for a UTI (it was negative) and our vet prescribed a type of steroid that is typically helpful in treating spraying. We gave the steroids as prescribed in a topical form that was rubbed into his ear (which was pretty cool actually). We didn’t see a significant change from the steroid use and about 8 weeks after it started, the spraying stopped again. These first two years he was focusing his spraying efforts on windows, glass doors, and one chair, which indicated to me that it was pretty much territorial marking.
This year, however, was very different. The previous two years his marking started in early April but this year his spraying didn’t even start until mid-July. Learning from our mistake (or presumed mistake) previously, we kept 3 Feliway diffusers going for the whole winter in hopes of staving off the spraying. We prematurely thought we were out of the woods when July rolled around and there were no marking issues. Unfortunately we were not that lucky and when he started spraying again it seemed very different. He was spraying our indoor plants, cabinets, interior doors…. pretty much everything he didn’t spray previously and he wasn’t spraying doors/windows. The drastic change in the pattern of his spraying and the timing had me concerned so we took him into the vet to check for a UTI and to talk about other options–since he was spraying in places we weren’t generally checking, it took us a while to notice it.
Turns out he had a UTI so we started him on antibiotics and hoped this would resolve the spraying since it seemed to be medically induced. After the course of antibiotics we saw a drastic reduction in spraying but we would still periodically find evidence. Sometimes it was just once a week, sometimes every other week, it was much less frequent but it was still happening. We were very lucky that the room he typically marked was hardwood so cleaning was a breeze and it did not retain any smells but he had also marked in the kitchen a few times which was pretty problematic for us.
After a month or so of infrequent spraying, I twice found puddles on the ground that were not typical of spraying. The latter puddle seemed a little peachy in color so I immediately called the vet thinking another UTI. We went and he clearly had a UTI but I spoke to the vet about the possibility of utilizing Prozac to curb the spraying since even when he didn’t have a UTI it was still happening. The vet went through the whole history–litter box situation appropriate, Feliway, regular routine, UTI checked, tried the steroid and agreed the next step would be to give Prozac a try.
Joey’s been on antibiotics and a conservative dose of Prozac for 7 days now and other than not being happy about being medicated, he’s doing really well. I read all the side effect information and am keeping an eye out for issues but it’s been going really well.
The decision to put Joey on a serious medication was not taken lightly and was only even pursued after reading a well known veterinarian’s results of research (*not the actual research but the vet’s explanation of his research) showing Prozac being an effective treatment in territorial marking in 90% of the cats involved. Prior to considering a serious medication we made changes to our lifestyle to accommodate him–changing litter box layout and style, keeping a better routine, and letting him spend more time outside on our porch. We used aromatherapy using Feliway diffusers and spray to try and curb the behavior. We treated medical issues that may have been causing it and used a topical steroid to try and solve the behavior problem. When all of our other efforts failed, we broached the subject of Prozac.
I am pretty confident that this is how I would approach using medication for behavior modification for any of my personal dogs. I would try changing my behavior or the environment, try homeopathic remedies (aromatherapy or music for example), address potential medical reasons (thyroid testing), and if all of those steps still leave the dog unable to cope/work/think, then I would research the possibility of using drugs to take the edge off to do training.
I can’t answer the big question for you but I hope you found some value in reading about my experiences with putting Joey on Prozac. Oh, and trying to quarter a tiny Prozac pill his hard!