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I Gave My Cat Xanax, and She Tried to Kill Me

The medication is designed to quell anxiety. Turns out certain cats don't react well to it.

 |  Jan 24th 2013  |   21 Contributions


My cat Agnes has always been strong-willed. When I took her to the vet as an 8-week-old kitten, she made her opinions on getting shots very clear. She was opposed, and she wriggled her tiny kitten body out of the hands of the vet tech and jumped across the room.

“She's quick,” said the vet tech. “She's such a smart kitten,” said the veterinarian. I quickly learned that “smart” is one of many euphemisms vets use for “Your cat is a huge pain to treat.”  

Agnes as a kitten, begging for fancy food.

I frequently call Agnes my soulmate, and we have a lot in common. We both love to cuddle (she is cuddling with me as I write this), and we're both very anxious. I manage my anxiety through therapy, yoga, and writing, and she manages hers through occasional violence.

Agnes has never been a model citizen at the vet, but things got worse when she was hospitalized for two days. When she was around a year old, my roommate had brought home a beautiful bouquet of lilies. We frequently had fresh flowers around the apartment, and Agnes had never shown any interest in them, so I didn't think much of it. One day, my roommate witnessed Agnes munching on a flower and decided she should check online to make sure lilies were safe for cats. They're not. They're one of the most toxic plants to cats, and Agnes needed to go to the emergency vet immediately. 

Every veterinarian and vet tech I talked to during that stressful time made some remark about how feisty Agnes was. They told me they wanted to give her oral medication to induce vomiting, but they couldn't for their own safety. They told me that if she were an outdoor cat, she would not be a cat that came in with “abscesses on her behind” -- because she would win every fight. When my baby was finally released to me, they explained that they had wanted to put a bandage on her leg, but “the sedation wore off and it wasn't going to happen.” 

My feisty Agnes.

I think that experience traumatized her. When she was later due for a shot and checkup, I expected her to be a little difficult, but I did not expect it to be all-out war. 

The whole experience was a bit of a blur, but the following things definitely happened: She peed on me. She pooped on the exam table. She got wrapped in a blanket and every available staff person had to come in to hold her down. She made my vet bleed. She made growling noises I had never heard come out of her before. She wasn't getting bloodwork or anything -- this was all for one vaccination. 

My vet suggested that next time we give her a mild sedative beforehand. It sounded like a great idea to me. When the time for her next appointment rolled around, I picked up her prescription the day before. She would be taking alprazolam (trade name Xanax) the night before and then again a few hours before her appointment. Alprazolam treats anxiety in humans, and it apparently works for cats, as well. I was told it would make her very calm and sleepy. 

Sober Agnes.

I put her first pill in a pill pocket the night before her appointment. She gobbled it up, and I observed her, waiting for her to get sleepy. She was in a pretty active mood in the first place, running around the apartment like she often does. But she kept on running around, and she just couldn't run in a straight line anymore. Then she tried to jump on the coffee table and fell right off. 

My cat was drunk.

I figured the clumsiness was the first sign the medication was taking effect, that eventually it would make her quiet and sleepy, and we would cuddle all night. But, instead, she just kept keeping running around the apartment and crashing into things, eating her food like she had been starving for weeks and climbing on top of me to lick my face. I identified with her -- I'm also a klutz who likes snacking and making out when I'm drunk. I may have even fallen off a table once, in my younger and less responsible days. 

But things got weird when she quickly turned from fun party drunk to angry drunk. Agnes can certainly be a fierce cat when you cross her, but beyond the occasional scratching and biting, she had never tried to seriously hurt me. But suddenly she was trying to climb up my body, hissing and growling, claws and teeth in action.

I had never really thought about what Agnes was capable of doing if she really wanted to kill me because she's my BFF and why would she? But in this moment she clearly did. I had no doubt my eleven-pound cat could do serious damage if she tried. I was legitimately scared and locked myself in my bedroom. 

Agnes gives all behavior-changing substances a wary look now.

Eventually I emerged, and her violent impulses had passed, but she was still acting crazy. Normally Agnes sleeps in my bed all night, but that night she did laps around the apartment, jumping on things and falling off. I couldn't sleep because of the constant crashing noises.

I called my vet in the morning to ask what the heck happened. Apparently a few cats have “paradoxical reactions” to alprazolam, and that means they go crazy. She would not be getting her second dose, and she would be going to the vet not under the influence of any drugs.

Fortunately, everyone at my vet's office was absolutely amazing and prepared for Agnes, and for the most part her appointment went smoothly. My vet was definitely bleeding by the end of it, but she played it off like it was no big deal. 

Agnes will probably always be difficult at the vet, and someone might bleed every time, but apparently drugs are not the answer for her. Alprazolam does work well for some cats, though, so I don't regret giving it a try, but I definitely like Agnes a lot better when she's sober.

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