PTSD Cat Goes to Mexico
The method of our arrival in Mexico was dictated by our travelling companions; we had two cats and a dog to bring with us, and the expat network was united in saying that transporting pets by car rather than plane was the way to go. That meant a drive of over three thousand miles — first from Seattle to Texas, where we left most of our few remaining possessions with Jak’s family, and then down to Jalisco.
Our border collie, Tessa, has ridden with us before as far as Oregon, and has always been a perfect trooper. No car-sickness, no complaints, just curls up quietly in the back seat. Better traveller than any kid, ever. Even a whole week in the car didn’t faze her.
Feather, our younger cat, hasn’t been farther than the vet’s office in the three years we’ve had her, but she coped pretty well. She complained part of the time that she was in her carrier, but also spent a chunk of the trip lying contentedly in my lap. And once we arrived in the motel room each night and let her out, she was completely calm and settled. We even figured out how to get her to use the litter box during roadside stops, so that (after the first day), we were free of carrier accidents.
Sammy, on the other hand …
Sammy is about nine years old; we’ve had him for six. He came to us a broken cat, although his brokenness was not immediately obvious. I previously described some of Sammy’s quirks here: The Tale of One Bad Cat.
These days I refer to Sammy as PTSD Cat. With great sympathy, mind you, because I have PTSD myself. We have a lot in common. We both have horrific nightmares on a regular basis. We both get very anxious if appropriate food is unavailable for a long period of time. And now we are both on SSRI antidepressants.
Sammy gets half a Prozac pill daily, and it has made him a much better cat. He doesn’t pee on furniture anymore, and almost never grinds his teeth. He can go twelve hours between meals without getting anxious.
But that’s under normal circumstances. Not during a week-long cross-country trip, where he’d be in a car for up to fifteen hours per day and in a different room every night.
It didn’t take a genius to anticipate that Prozac or no, this was not going to go over well. So before we left, I asked my vet to prescribe something stronger to get us through the transition. She decided upon alprazolam (the generic of Xanax), as being most compatible with the fluoxetine.
On the morning we left Seattle, Sammy started loudly and rhythmically meowing the moment we got in the car. I gave him the maximum Xanax dosage; we listened to him cry and waited for the drug to take effect. And waited.
Eight hours later — that is, at the earliest possible moment — I gave him another full dose of Xanax. He had been meowing every couple of seconds for all of those eight hours. A few times he’d missed a beat … only to start up again a minute later, dashing our brief hopes.
I tried taking him out of the carrier and holding him on my lap (Jak was driving), but unlike Feather, he wouldn’t be still and he didn’t stop crying. We tried talking to him, and we tried ignoring him. Nothing helped.
We finally resigned ourself to the prospect of ceaseless meowing during the day. At least, we thought, once we got into the motel in Boise he would settle down. Probably not right away, because Strange Place, but eventually.
No such luck.
In the pre-dawn hours of the following morning, Jak and I discussed our options. They were not good. Sammy had continued to yowl all … night … long. He even meowed distressingly while he was bolting down his food, which was something I hadn’t thought was possible.
Neither one of us had gotten more than an hour of sleep, and that in scattered ten- and fifteen-minute increments. We were supposed to drive another ten or so hours that day; if we didn’t, it would throw off our whole schedule in potentially disastrous ways. I had carefully planned the overnight stops along our route and made reservations, a month in advance, at pet-friendly motels along the way. Not only would we have to pay for the next two nights whether we slept there or not, but we were headed into a tourist-saturated area, so finding new last-minute lodging that would accept our pets would be expensive at best and impossible at worst. And we only had one day of leeway on the trailer rental before we’d have to pay extra, plus a penalty.
Jak thought we should keep to the plan for now, and try to solve the Sammy Problem along the way. I spent about an hour on internet research, and came away with three ideas. We prepared to try them all. One required my vet in Seattle, and so could not be pursued until after their office opened at 9a Boise time. Meanwhile, we stopped at a nearby Walmart and picked up some generic Benadryl, for use as a tranquilizer of last resort, and at Petsmart, where I bought some Feliway pheromone spray.
I tried the Feliway right away. It had no discernible effect, then or at any time later. I held the Benadryl in reserve; if I could get in touch with my vet and she had a different idea, I didn’t want to possibly mix the wrong drugs.
Jak headed southeast on I-84 out of Boise, and I left an urgent and pleading message with the receptionist at the Seattle clinic. Some twenty or so minutes later, my vet called me back.
The good news is that she was both willing and able to issue a different prescription that we could pick up along our route. The bad news is that it would be more complicated than I had hoped; unlike the Prozac and Xanax, which were human drugs that could be gotten from any pharmacy, the new drug was a tranquilizer used only by vets.
I had already checked the map and seen that Mountain Home, Idaho was the largest town on our route for many hours. By this point, it was less than thirty minutes away. I had that long to find an animal hospital that stocked the drug and beg them to accept an out-of-state prescription.
To make things even more exciting, the service on our phone kept cutting in and out as we travelled. There were all of two vet hospitals in Mountain Home. The first one did not stock acepromazine. I called the second, which to my relief said they had it, and that they would fill a faxed prescription. Just as she was about to give me their fax number, I lost the connection.
We were practically in town before the service returned, but then I was able to write down the fax number and call my vet’s office back with the information.
It was a little after eleven when I came out of the vet hospital, tranquilizers in hand. By this point Sammy had been yowling for twenty-six straight hours.
Ten minutes after I gave him the first pill, he gave one last pathetic questioning meow, then fell silent. Dead to the world. He slept the whole rest of the day, only waking up woozily when we stopped for the night. About twelve hours after the initial dose, he started to meow again — by now we were in a motel room in Green River, Utah — so I hit him with it again. Out for the night.
I was so happy that I made up a little song as we drove, which I sang for Jak to the tune of “God Bless America”:
God bless acepromazine
Drug I adore
Knocked my cat out
Wiped him flat out
So he won’t keep us up anymore
With all his crying
Like he was dying
Night and day …
Thanks to acepromazine
We’re on our way!
Amazingly, after a day and a half of tranquilizers, Sammy handled the third motel night (Roswell, New Mexico) … not exactly calmly, but at least quietly. So I stopped dosing him (because really, the effects of the tranquilizer were pretty brutal) and we managed the rest of the trip on Prozac alone. He still complained off and on during the car rides, but no more than Feather did. We could handle that, as long as we got to sleep at night.
And now here we are in Mexico, having moved first into a very temporary apartment and then to a house for which we have a six-month lease. Sammy settled in immediately both times, and is back to normal — at least as ‘normal’ as PTSD Cat has ever been.