Friday 8 October 2021

Ethical rule in using pharmacotherapy for cat behavioural problems

Pharmacotherapy for cat behavioural problems means treating certain behavioural problems in cats with drugs. Medical problems can cause behaviour changes, for example, due to endocrine imbalances or neurological disorders. These are quite specific but sometimes cats might benefit from antianxiety medication. 

I think that this sort of medication such as amitriptyline (off-label for pets) or Valium (off-label for pets) is more problematic when given to cats (only give these drugs under vet supervision). A cautious approach should be taken because these drugs cannot provide a magical cure and they should only be used in conjunction with a program to modify behaviour plus, perhaps, a repositioning of the cat caregiver's expectations as to what is 'normal cat behaviour'.

Ethical rule in using pharmacotherapy for cat behavioural problems
Ethical rule in using pharmacotherapy for cat behavioural problems. Picture: Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

The ethical difference between using pharmacotherapy for cats versus for humans is that cats cannot give their informed consent. That is obvious and perhaps it's stupid to say it but what it means is that their caregiver should only agree to drug treatment if it is entirely for the benefit and welfare of their cat and not because the owner wants behavioural modifications to suit themselves.

I'm sure that there are lots of instances when owners have false expectations. They want their cat to behave in a certain way but they don't. Perhaps they try and force the cat to do certain things which makes matters worse. This is expectation management based on education. You will find that most cat behaviourists tackle so-called feline behaviour problems by first addressing the expectations and knowledge of the cat's owner. That in itself can straighten out lots of "bad cat behaviour".

Clearly, there are some genuine cases of cat mental health problems which can benefit from drugs but they should be assessed very carefully and a drug therapy treatment regime should always be prescribed under the direct supervision of a qualified veterinary behaviourist.

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