Ask the NorthStar VETS Vet: Living with an anxious cat and long-term use of Prozac (fluoxetine)

Q: One of my cats has been on daily Prozac for a year now (she is currently 3yo). Is it safe for her to take this medication for the rest of her life? What can I do to help her feel calmer, so that less medication or even no medication will work?

A:To answer your first question, in an otherwise systemically healthy cat, Prozac (a.k.a. fluoxetine) is generally a safe drug at recommended doses. The likelihood of it causing any long-term adverse health effects in your cat is low. As with any medication, Prozac does have a long list of potential side effects from decreased appetite to seizures and many others. The likelihood of these side effects occurring is generally very low and will usually subside if the medication is stopped. Having said that, no drugs are 100% benign and cats on long-term medication do need to be monitored.

If your cat were to have certain pre-existing conditions such as liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, glaucoma, a seizure disorder, or other medical issues, there may be some increased risk associated with fluoxetine administration. In such cases, the decision to use fluoxetine, or not, should be made on a case by case basis and based on a consultation with your family veterinarian, sometimes in conjunction with a veterinary behaviorist. (It is also important to note that discontinuing fluoxetine therapy abruptly can sometimes cause problems so it is not advisable to do so unless specifically recommended by a veterinarian.)

The answer to your second question is a bit more complicated. Assuming that fluoxetine was prescribed to treat some level of anxiety resulting in unwanted behavior (i.e. aggression, inappropriate urination or defecation, or fearfulness), behaviors resulting from generalized anxiety can vary from pet to pet. There are many strategies that can be employed to try to manage these problems and what is ultimately effective will vary from pet to pet and be dependent upon a variety of factors (i.e. presence of underlying medical conditions, underlying cause of the anxiety, the patient’s unique environment, the presence of other household pets, etc.). The most effective strategies are often multi-modal involving manipulation of the patient’s environment to eliminate/minimize stressors, behavior modification, and the use of medications. An appropriate medical work-up should also be performed to rule out any non-behavior related medical problems as well. You should speak with your family veterinarian to be sure this has been done.

There are so many variables to consider that it is impossible to give you any good specific advice other than to recommend that you talk to your veterinarian about whether or not consultation with a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist is in order at this time. While there are many trainers and animal behaviorists out there, there is value in consulting with someone who is a veterinarian and has completed the necessary work and extra training to become Board Certified in this field. This may be especially true for patients, like your cat, that are still having issues despite having already sought out veterinary advice and tried the options available at the pet stores. Dr. Ilana Reisner is a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist and is available for consultation at NorthStar VETS if, after speaking with your family veterinarian, you collectively decide this is in order.

Unfortunately, true behavior issues in pets can be some of the most frustrating and difficult problems to manage. The level of success is often most dependent on the level of commitment, consistency, and patience the pet owner has in following through with what is often a complicated and long-term plan. With proper direction and perseverance, most behavior issues can be managed well, or at least improved upon.

George Motley, VMD
George Motley, VMD
Emergency Department Supervisor

Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

The information presented on this web site is not intended to take the place of your family veterinarian’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your own veterinarian to determine what is right for your pet. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. We can not and do not give you medical advice via this blog. The information contained in this online site and emails is presented in summary form only and intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge. The information should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation or advice of your veterinarian. We do not recommend the self-management of your pet’s health problems.

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