In Part 2 of my edited conversation with TV’s cat behavior guru, Jackson Galaxy, he bravely takes on the topics of mood meds, how many cats = too many, and whether our own issues contribute to our cat’s behavior problems.
Jackson’s views on psychiatric medications for cats
Jackson explains how his thoughts on this topic have evolved over the years, but before you assume he’s black and white on it, do read his thoughts all the way through.
Liz: Okay. I wanted to know what your thoughts are about the use of psychiatric medications for cats?
Jackson: “It’s funny, because when I started I was dead set against anything I would call interference.
And over the course of my career…the use of psychotropics has evolved immensely. We’re not, you know, shooting off pharmaceutical rockets and hoping we hit the moon anymore…
Secondly, in my case it was pure ego…
our obligation…is that we should be as integrative as possible, and use whatever is at our disposal in order to achieve balance…”
But there’s a right way and wrong way
“The way that psych meds have been used in cats before has been completely counterintuitive. Because I believe in easing them into a new reality…
Now, that being said, we now know that, more times than not, if a cat has extreme territorial aggression Prozac works.
Now, the idea is, I can help… Prozac can help get that cat to a place where…they can look around the world and go ‘oh wait a minute I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to defend. This isn’t The Alamo… I don’t have to mark. I don’t have to chase you off. I don’t have to beat you up.’
Great. Now we’ve got you in that place. Now I’m going to start with a cognitive course of action and then we’ll get you off these drugs.
That’s the way that I look at them now. They’re wonderful tools, if used right.
I don’t believe in drugs like for instance, Amitriptyline, which is a system depressant. I don’t believe in sedating cats. Because you’re not going to achieve what you want.
…Cats are prey animals so in the wild…let’s say they have a sprained leg, they are going to pull up their effort to be vigilant because they could be killed.
…But for chemical imbalances – and by the way you’re gonna see one this season on My Cat from Hell - there is no other choice on this cat.
No other choice…I defy anyone to tell me otherwise, because I know a lot of holistic vets who have this very black and white view. ‘No won’t do it. Never prescribe it.’ Really?
Because honestly this cat that I was working with…I guarantee one thing: She would have been surrendered to a shelter because of the level and the unpredictability of her aggression and she would have been killed. So, now she’s not.”
Liz: If it works…
Jackson: “It works… And I just admit at this point that my refusal to swim in these waters was based purely on ‘I should be able to solve this myself,’ and in the meantime who suffered?”
How often does it get that bad?
Liz: What do you think the percentage is where a psychotropic medication would be needed?
[Jackson mentions the cat from upcoming episode of his show. He describes her as bipolar.]
Jackson: “…but in fifteen years of doing this I have met very, very few like her.
But in the meantime, for instance, when we’re dealing with cats with territorial aggression problems I will always go towards the natural…approach first and foremost. But you have to gauge…when the cats are getting burned out on the process and when the people are getting burned out on the process.
Because you’re always one-step away from that cat leaving that home. And again, slippery slope and then they get killed.”
Cat says “You mean I can turn around, and bitch-slap the bully?”
“So. For instance, we use Prozac on the ubber dominate bully cat and Buspar on the cat that is getting terrorized.
The idea is that Buspar has been proven to bring up self esteem and to restore some kitten-type behavior and again the pariah cat needs to know, ‘wait I don’t have to take this..at any given moment, I can turn around while I’m being chased. I can stop, turn around, and bitch-slap the bully.’
And that only has to happen one time.
Because when that happens one time, the relational dominoes begin to fall.
As opposed to what people might think, I don’t whisper to anybody. I can’t tell a cat to stop running and slap the bully. I can’t do that…
Fortunately, again, different modalities: … flower essences…[and] obviously home psychology has benefits. Acupuncture has behavioral benefits, and in this case, Buspar.
I redefine their relationship for a moment in time; get them to see that they’re not mortal enemies. Get those dominoes falling and then work on a plan of action.
That I’m doing…in cases where I feel like I have a ticking clock. You know, people are impatient.”
Jackson: “Now, I have to ask you, hearing that from me..are you disappointed hearing that?”
Liz: I guess I am, because I’m an idealist…I’d like to think that it’s never really necessary. And of course, I’m just naturally skeptical about psychiatric medications, but I also really appreciate hearing it because I trust your judgment – you have so much more experience with all of this than I do…I mean, you’ve figured out that’s what works sometimes.
Jackson: “…When I started to realize that I was being a little ego-based in my refusal to approach these things, it was [the naturally-oriented cat community’s] disapproval that I feared.
I think the problem with psychiatric meds, human and animal, is rampant misuse, and over prescription. And Oh, you’re depressed? You had a bad day? Here. That, I’ve been through.
I mean, the book details that stuff where because of my own addictions, my own demons, what I was going through...for seven years, I operated behind the fog of pharmaceutical cocktails that almost killed me.
So, if I can come out of that and say, Hey I’m telling you this works [with cats]…”
Liz: So you feel like maybe for you it wasn’t necessarily the right thing, but there are occasionally cats and people who need this kind of help.
[We talked more on this, but I had to cut it for brevity.]
You, me, and everyone your cat knows (aka cats-as-energy-magnets)
Liz: Do you think that sometimes a cat’s personality and behavior is influenced by a human’s influence and personality?
Liz: Like if their human were to take care of something personally distressing, they wouldn’t have to do so much ‘Jackson homework’ to get their cat to change.
Jackson: Right. Of course.
It’s not even have we ever seen it, it’s when have we not seen it?
Cats are energetic magnets, energetic mirrors, energetic sponges. They are incredible, you know.
We all have stories about how when we are at our sickest our cats come over and lay on us. When we’re heartbroken, they come over to us without crying and wailing.
They sense this dis-ease and they try to fix it. I mean, that’s the nature of the purr. The nature of the purr is they’re either trying to fix themselves or trying to fix somebody else….Studies have been done about the effects of the specific cycle of the sound of the purr and it is a comforting healing sound effect.
…It becomes a part of every one of my consults: ‘What’s going on in your world? Got laid off recently? How’s you’re relationship. How’s your world?’
Because what I’m seeing is the effects of dis-ease projected.
And so that’s why when we work with flower essences…I have my own brand of flower essences..I tell people: ‘Three drops for your cat. Three drops for you.’
Your cat will only accept lessons of energetic stability if they come from an energetically stable place…”
Liz: Ah, that’s great. I love your answer.
[Note from Liz: I'm no fool, I know that healing our own anxiety or life situation is not easy. But it’s good to know that if we can, our cat’s weird behavior may ease up more easily. See Our cats, ourselves for a humorous story on this.]
How many cats should be allowed per square foot
Liz: I have a burning question, and it’s tough because we want as many cats to be adopted as possible, but what about guidelines for number of cats per square foot?
Jackson: “It’s funny, you’re not the first one this week even to ask me that. And here’s the thing: I don’t subscribe to those guidelines.
And I’ll tell you why. Exactly what you just said. I am way over conscious about putting a damper on adoptability.
…That being said, you have an obligation…I think you can have thirteen cats in a thousand square feet, but that house has to resemble a feline superhighway.”
Liz: A jungle.
Jackson: “Exactly. I call it the feline superhighway, because way too often what I’m coming up against is the cat traffic equivalent of Mayberry, where you have like, just one dirt road and when the milk truck wants to get by, the police car has to pull off into the ditch. That doesn’t work with cats….”
But there’s a tipping point
“But, my only caveat on this is that there’s always one cat’s prerogative to declare critical mass.
They can at any point say, You know what? Another one! Screw you! And at that point, all bets are off, and you have to take a good look at what you’re doing.
Because once that one cat makes that decision, you’ve effected the greater good in ways that you can only imagine. And you need to start revisiting the decision you made to bring that last one in.”
Liz: Oh boy. Well, that’s a big topic…are you gonna have a show on that one?
Jackson: If we get another season. Not this season. But if we get another…
[Dear AnimalPlanet gods, please give Jackson’s show, My Cat from Hell, another season!]
Do you have something to say about mood meds for cats, cat crowding, or cats being affecting by human distress?