Q: My 4-year-old cat is afraid of his own shadow. During the winter, we fly south, taking the cat along with us in the cabin of the plane. The first time, I gave him a tranquilizer, which worked. The second time, the same drug made him crazy; he scratched and his eyes rolled back in his head. The third time, we didn’t give him anything and he was fine. On the most recent flight, we also gave him nothing, and he cried most of the way. Any advice? — J.C., St. Paul, MN A:
It sounds like your cat ought be getting miles for all these flights. “There are many types of drugs which fall into the category you’re calling a tranquilizer, and may include a true sedative or anti-anxiety medication,” notes Dr. Heather Loenser, of Lebanon, NJ. Since you describe your cat as anxious under the best of circumstances, a true anti-anxiety drug might be the best option. However, some of these drugs take weeks to kick in. Loenser, a board member of the American Animal Hospital Association, also notes that regardless of the category of drug you use, you need to administer it BEFORE the cat becomes anxious or fearful, or the effects will be greatly reduced.
First, confirm that your cat is not anxious about his carrier. Does he readily go inside? You can encourage him to like (or at least tolerate) the carrier by leaving it out, and periodically tossing treats inside. Feed your cat from inside the carrier. Keep something soft inside the carrier for your cat to sleep on.
Instead of giving your pet medication before a flight, you might try a gentler approach. Spray his carrier with Feliway or rub the inside with Feliway wipes. This product is a copy of a calming pheromone, which is perfectly suited for this purpose and can do no harm. Also, ask your veterinarian about Zylkene or Anxitane, both nutritional supplements which can lessen anxiety. No matter what you try, especially if it’s a drug, test it out. Go for a drive and see how your cat reacts before one of your big trips.
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