Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I enjoy your person’s Catster tips very much. I have a 6-year-old female Abyssinian. She is spayed and lives indoors with two male cats. We moved from Kansas to Arizona in 2006. About three months later she began to groom herself excessively, especially on the tummy, where all the fur is gone except for peach fuzz. I feel it is from stress as we moved several times the first three months we were in Arizona. Is it OK to give her a very small amount of Zoloft? The tablet I have is 25 mg, but I do have a pill splitter for a smaller dose. We now have a 10-month-old Holland Shepherd which is adding to the stress. He does not hurt her but she is aggressive to him. Any help you can provide would be appreciated. She also overeats and I’m not having much luck in getting her slimmer.
Siouxsie: Lilian, you should never give your cat medications designed for people unless directed by your veterinarian to do so.
Thomas: We’re not veterinarians, so we couldn’t in good conscience even think of recommending a type or dosage of any kind of meds to use in a cat. Even if we were, we’d want to have you bring your cat in for a checkup before prescribing anything. But we do have a couple of ideas on how you can help your cat while you’re waiting to see your vet and discuss the problem.
Dahlia: Although veterinarians have prescribed certain antidepressants for “off label” use in cats with anxiety-related behavior problems, we haven’t heard anything about vets specifically prescribing Zoloft.
Siouxsie: Not all antidepressants work in exactly the same way, and each one has a slightly different set of side effects. Overdoses can cause serious problems, and only your vet will know what dosage to use to get the proper effect without overdosing.
Thomas: Your vet will be able to rule out any health problems that might be resulting in her excessive grooming, too.
Dahlia: If your cat’s problem does turn out to be behavioral or emotional in origin, your vet will probably suggest other courses of action before resorting to chemical antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
Siouxsie: In the meantime, you may be able to help decrease your cat’s anxiety level by using Feliway Comfort Zone, a synthetic version of “happy cat” pheromones. Originally created to help put a stop to urination and spraying problems, users and veterinarians began to see it had a positive effect on other forms of anxiety-based behavior such as overgrooming and fighting.
Thomas: Mama has used Feliway in our house, with great success. It helped me feel less stressed and scared when I was getting used to my new “forever home” and my sisters, and it helped Siouxsie to stop beating up on me. She also used a Feliway diffuser when we moved to our new home a year or so ago, and it made the transition a lot easier.
Dahlia: If you order your Feliway from CatFaeries (the company we linked to above), your order will come with inserts describing the best way to use your products for your cat’s particular situation. They also sell flower essences and the like, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. The flower essences may also help to reduce your kitty’s stress levels.
Siouxsie: Just as a side note: We don’t get paid to recommend certain companies or products. We only recommend them because we’ve purchased products from them and have been very satisfied with the products and the service we received!
Thomas: Another thing you can do to help your kitty feel less stressed is make sure she has a room where the dog can’t get to her. Put a baby gate in a doorway to one of her favorite rooms and make sure she’s got some toys, a litterbox, her favorite bed, and some water and food dishes. That way she can come out and socialize with the dog and the other cats if she wants, and she can keep to herself if she prefers that.
Dahlia: If you’re not already doing so, keep the litter boxes in a place the dog can’t get to. There’s nothing like being caught with your pants down, so to speak, by a big, nosy dog! And then they eat our poo! Yuck!
Siouxsie: Oh, and to help your cat lose weight, if you’re free feeding, switch to portion feeding instead. Also, if you keep her dishes away from the dog — either on an elevated surface or in the room with the baby gate — she may be less inclined to overeat because she won’t feel so worried that the dog is going to eat all her food.
Thomas: And play can be a great stress reliever and weight-loss tool. Things on a string are really fun. For some great tips on helping your cat lose weight, we recommend My Fat Cat by Martha Garvey. It’s a small, simple, and straightforward book that should help you get your cat back in shape.
Dahlia: Good luck, Lilian. Please let us know how things turn out.