Dealing with Fluffy's Separation Anxiety

 |  Jun 11th 2009  |   21 Contributions


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This is Part 4 of a series on Fluffy's Staycation: What to do with cats who stay behind while you travel. In conjunction with this series, PetSmart is sponsoring a giveaway in which the lucky winner will win an overnight stay and TLC at a PetSmart PetsHotel. To enter, just leave a comment on this post, and on every post in this series. Each comment serves as your entry in the giveway; no more than one entry per post per household, please. Winners will be drawn at random on June 15th. Details here.

Please note: I am not a veterinarian. If you think your cat should be treated for separation anxiety, confer with your vet. Never give your cat medication that was prescribed for you.

I've always had at least one Siamese cat, and always will. They are smart, personable, loyal, vocal, and they bond strongly to their people.

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It's that last attribute that poses a problem when we want to travel. My meezer, Mao (right), suffers from separation anxiety, and it's only gotten worse as he's aged.

Mao is bonded like superglue to my husband Jeff and me, but I'm his primary fixation. Several years ago, when I traveled to Montana leaving hubby and Mao behind, Mao was annoyingly vocal and agitated in my absence, and two days into my trip he went missing (presumably, he went out to search for me). My vacation was ruined by an 11pm phone call informing me of his status.

Jeff went into warp drive putting up fliers and scouring the neighborhood to find Mao. He located him two days later. Jeff then joined me in Montana, but we had to instruct the cat sitters to sequester Mao in a spare bedroom to reduce his opportunities for escape. He was very vocal in his displeasure and I don't think the cat sitters got any sleep. Returning home, we bemoaned the fact that we'd never be able to go on vacation again.

Weekend trips were no easier. A couple of years ago, we elected to board Mao and Skeezix for a weekend trip. I knew Mao wouldn't be happy with boarding (see photo below, right), but he would at least be safe and unable to escape,

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and it wouldn't kill him to be boarded for a day-and-a-half. I also thought it would be a good practice run to see if boarding would work for Mao.

The next day we got a call from the cat hotel. Mao was not eating or drinking, so they had taken him to the emergency vet for force-feeding and fluids. He survived the experience, but I crossed boarding off our list of options.

When I was planning a trip abroad last year, I did extensive research on how to mitigate the effects of separation anxiety on pets. Jeff was staying behind to cat sit, but I knew that Mao would make him miserable while I was gone by his incessant bellowing, his agitated pacing, and his inappropriate spraying. More importantly, if he went on a hunger strike as he was inclined to do, his health could be jeopardized. It was clear we needed to do something to get him through my 10-day absence.

I'd heard about "Kitty Prozac" and made an appointment with my vet to discuss whether it might be appropriate for Mao.

My vet, Dr Stephen Schuchman, was not quick to prescribe it. He asked me why I thought Mao suffered from separation anxiety. I explained that like many Siamese, Mao was extremely attached to his owners, especially me. Even if we were just out late in the evening, Mao would exhibit signs of unrestrained joy at our return, including manic purring and sticking to us like velcro. Then we'd usually have to sit through a vocal tirade while he scolded us for worrying him. Sometimes when we were gone, Mao would engage in destructive behavior; once he pulled a bag of flour from a kitchen cabinet and distributed the contents over every centimeter of the kitchen floor.

We discussed using Feliway (we had; Mao seemed immune to it), and he grilled me on Mao's symptoms in my absence, which included refusal to eat or drink when I was gone, crying non-stop, depressive behavior, destructive behavior, aggression toward other cats, inappropriate spraying, pacing, and an obsessive need to escape outdoors and run away from home.

Dr Schuchman agreed that Mao did indeed seem to suffer from separation anxiety, and explained that although it was more common in dogs than cats, some cats--especially Burmese and Siamese--are more susceptible to it. He explained that a veterinary form of Prozac had been used with some success on pets suffering from separation anxiety or obsessive compulsive behavior, and since Mao was in good health, he would be a good candidate for the treatment. The drug would serve to keep Mao in "his happy place" while I was gone.

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The drug, Fluoxetine Hydrochloride, goes by the brand name of Reconcile in veterinary use. It takes several weeks to "kick in" and Dr Schuchman recommended starting with a light dosage and slowly increasing it to the maximum dose during the time I'd be gone. Upon my return we would gradually wean him off of it. He warned that Jeff would have to be extra vigilant not to let Mao escape outside during this period. If he went missing, he would likely suffer the uncomfortable symptoms of cold-turkey withdrawal.

Dr Schuchman added that if Mao still proved to be inconsolable in my absence, Jeff could give him a light sedative or even board him at the vet's office if he continued to refuse to eat or drink.

Long story short, the Reconcile worked very well. While at the maximum dosage, Mao slept most of the time. Jeff didn't have a problem with him not eating or drinking, and except for a short period in the morning when he bellowed to go outside, he was quiet and docile.

Many cat lovers will shudder at the thought of drug therapy for emotional disorders in their cats, but in this case, we'd run out of options. The successful Reconcile experiment gave hubby and I hope that we might actually be able to take a trip together for longer than an overnight stay without worrying about Mao's fragile emotional state in our absence.

Failing that, I'm trying to talk Jeff into taking all the cats with us on an RV trip. For that one, I might have to put Jeff on Prozac.

FIND OUT MORE:

If your cat is suffering from some of the symptoms of separation anxiety, particularly refusal to eat or drink and inappropriate elimination, you should see a vet. It could be symptomatic of another more serious disorder.

Does your cat suffer from separation anxiety? If so, tell me about it. If published in The Cat's Meow, you'll get five additional entries in the PetSmart giveaway.

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