Observations on a sedated cat, and links to Chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic in humans

Written by: Captain Skellett // April 10th, 2013 // Drugs

What a year! I’ve been around the world (Canada, USA, Argentina, Chile, Denmark, Germany, France, Ireland, England, Hong Kong) to be finally reunited with my kitty cat Phobos back in Adelaide, Australia. I know most pirates have a parrot, but I prefer my pets fluffy.

I had just over a month in my home town (during which time I haven’t blogged so much, as I was seeing everybody back home and the house I was staying in didn’t have internet access), and then had to move again. This time to Melbourne, a larger city full of trendy coffee shops, where my partner is studying at University.

It’s a seven hour drive from Adelaide to Melbourne, and the cat would be coming too. Oh dear. Phobos is not one for cars. Like me, she prefers fresh air and sunshine to exhaust and headlights. She’s not good at hiding her displeasure. On the short trips we’ve taken before, she spends the entire time mewling most heartbreakingly, building up into a reverberating crescendo of “RAAAAAaaaaaaAAAAAaaaawaaarrrrr” and then panting for air. It’s quite upsetting.

That, for seven hours? Forget it! So we went to the vet and got some cat sedatives.

The vet gave us some ACP 10mg tablets, the active ingredient is Acepromazine. It is used for pets, including cats, dogs and sometimes horses. In the UK it’s not allowed to be used in horses intended for human consumption, which is hilarious in light of all the ruckus lately about humans eating horses without intending to. Perhaps a little anti-anxiety medication in the “steaks” would not have gone awry?

I shouldn’t jest, I was in the UK when the story broke and I’m pretty sure I accidentally ate horse. I must remember not to eat meat in the UK… you’d think we’d remember that from the mad cow outbreak in the 80’s. Speaking of mad cow, the fourth case in the US was identified in April 2012 in California, perhaps a month before I was there last year. Sure, it was in a dairy cow and bovine spongiform encephalopathy is not passed on by milk, but still…

Anyway, back to the cat! I gave her one tablet and within 15 minutes it had kicked in. Her eyes became unfocused and her third eyelids crept up. I’m glad the vet warned me of that one, it looked creepy – a layer of pinkish white arising from the corner of her nose and covering about a third of her eyes. The third eyelid has a protective function and it’s visible if the eye is injured, as a side effect of sedation, and during deep sleep.

Next she lost some motor control of her back legs and tail, like she had to move her whole hips to get her legs to move forward. Later she would start stepping backwards when she tried to curl into a ball, until she hit a wall and then stopped. She looked like a cowboy kitty.

The real test was when we got her in the car. She had a halfhearted meow or two, tried to look out the window, and then sat on my lap and rested quite peacefully. Acepromazine is an anti-anxiety drug, and she really didn’t seem anxious at all. Every hour or so she’d go for a little walk across our lap and quickly get worn out and go back to sitting with us or sleeping.

So it seemed good to me. She seemed less stressed.

Acepromazine

Acepromazine

As we were driving, and it’s a long drive, the topic changed to how much easier it was for the cat to be calm, not really for us but mostly for Phobos herself. What about with kids, then? We both knew that some kids are pretty loud and upset on plane flights (not all, but some), and we’ve heard of people who sedate their children with some cough medicine (or even stronger stuff.) It seems pretty unethical to me, on first glance and being childless myself. So why is it different to sedate a cat?

Perhaps it’s partly an age thing… I’m not sure I would sedate a kitten, for example. I have no problem with adult humans sedating themselves on flights, in fact I have a friend who does it due to extreme anxiety and sinus pain. But that’s also a question of consent, and even a grown cat can’t consent to taking drugs.

The next logical step in this conversation was “Do cat sedatives work on humans too?” And now I’m settled in Melbourne with high speed cable internet, I can tell you the answer for Acepromazine is yes, as it was used as an antipsychotic in humans during the 1950’s. However, it is no longer used in humans, and one of the reason’s that it is prescribed by vets is because it is much less likely to be misused recreationally than a morphine-based drug.

Chlorpromazine

Chlorpromazine

Although it’s no longer used as an antipsychotic, the closely related Chlorpromazine is. Chlorpromazine (or Thorazine in the US) has been used since the 1950’s, about the same time that Acepromazine was briefly used. The drug became very popular and was aggressively marketed, but it’s far from perfect. It’s one of the drugs given to patients in Ken Kesey’s book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That book is very critical of society’s reliance on drugs, and the overuse of medication to control mood and make patients compliant.

I agree, I think there is an overprescription of behavioural and mood drugs. All drugs have side-effects, and they should be taken seriously – especially if someone is taking a drug long-term. Also, in my opinion, western society today has a particularly strict view on “normal” and people who don’t fit in with the norm are medicalised.

Chlorpromazine is still used long-term as a treatment for schizophrenia, and I’d rather not give an opinion on that because it’s such a complex issue. However, a long-term usage as prescribed by doctors is surely different to the descriptions in One Flew which was decades ago, very extreme, and let’s not forget, fictional. Both are different again to a short-term one-dose of the closely related Acepromazine to a cat.

It’s hard (often impossible) to know what’s happening in an animal’s head. Hell, it’s hard enough to know what’s happening in your own head sometimes! It’s entirely possible that she hated the experience, that she felt vulnerable and dissociated and confused – but there’s no evidence that this was the case. However, I do know (as far as it is possible to know) that she hates being in a car when she’s not sedated because she cries and cries. So for such a long journey I think the benefits outweighed the risks.

Altogether, I was pleased with Acepromazine. Phobos has completely recovered and is back to her usual inquisitive, scampering self.

Captain Skellett

I be Captain Skellett. Me blog started in April 2009 when I was working full time and didn’t get a chance to talk science. Now I have changed jobs and talk science all the time, but that doesn’t stop me blogging. More About Captain Skellett   Google

   

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