Treating Behavior Problems in Cats
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®).
SSRIs like fluoxetine and sertraline have been successfully used to treat a number of anxiety-related behavior problems, such as fearful avoidance of the litter box, fear of other cats in the household or aggression toward other cats. SSRIs are also useful in reducing compulsive behaviors, such as excessive grooming.
SSRIs are metabolized in the liver and excreted through the kidneys. Even if your veterinarian does a pretreatment blood test to check liver and kidney health, be sure to let him know of any medical problems your cat has or has had in the past. It’s a good idea to have your cat’s liver and kidneys rechecked each year if she’s kept on an SSRI.
SSRIs shouldn’t be used with MAOIs because the combination of these two types of drugs can increase serotonin to unhealthy levels.
SSRIs need 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. SSRIs are rarely effective the first day and, in fact, can increase anxiety in some cats before they begin to have therapeutic effects. Because SSRIs create changes in the brain, they must be taken for at least six weeks before they produce results. Treatment should continue for at least four months before a decision is made regarding the success of the drug.
Because SSRIs take a few weeks to take effect, some people also treat their cat with another medicine, such as a benzodiazepine, when they begin treatment with an SSRI.