Thursday, January 28, 2010

Black Cats and the Fear Gene

Prozac cat

Our black cat, not at all like this one, was a stray who wandered into a church lunch one Sunday afternoon and has been at our house ever since. That must have been seven or eight years ago since the future Baron was the one who carried her in the car while I drove home.

Lulu has always been a scaredy cat. Company comes and she’s under the bed. To her way of thinking (and I use that word loosely), men are less trustworthy than women. She makes an exception for the fB, but then most cats do. They seem to be able to read the big sign he wears: PUSHOVER FOR CATS.

A few years ago, in an effort to calm her terror, I began experimenting with low doses of clonazepam. At first it was a half milligram a night. We could see a difference in her demeanor; definitely less jumpy but not exactly laid back. So I upped her dose to one mg. with her supper. That has made for quieter times at 3:00 a.m. when she’s decided I’ve abandoned her because she can’t find her way back to her cushion. Now just calling her permits her to aim in the direction of the sound and soon she’s settled down and snoring again. Yes, she does snore.

Of course those distress signals don’t resemble at all the guttural, half-purrs she makes when some mouse wanders across her path in, say, the closet. There is much scrabbling, strange squeaks and squeals. Then the lights go on, the Baron is forced to find the creature in whatever state of extremis he happens to be and heave him out the front door. Lulu doesn’t seem to mind the loss; she was only going to get up on the bed and present him as a gift anyway.

A few years ago I was talking to the substitute vet at our clinic about our scaredy cat. She explained to me that Lulu had inherited a fear gene on her Y chromosome. Only the daddies pass this trait along; it affects some more severely than others, depending on the level of genetic involvement.

This vet thought my clonazepam treatment plan was a great idea and even suggested raising the dosage. I wouldn’t mind doing that, but vet meds are too expensive.

When he heard about it, the main vet was skeptical of the whole thing. Or at least he was up until Lulu’s last office visit. I hadn’t dosed her beforehand (forgot to). When the fB brought her into the treatment room and opened the door of the carrier, the doc was treated to a vision of bare, naked Lulu. Evidently it wasn’t a pleasant encounter. On the directions sent home with her he’d written: “whatever it was you said you’d put her on, increase it. Please.”

Nothing like a fearful experience to make one a believer, hmm?


At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got a good chuckle from the story about taking her to the vet. I have had dogs for the past 30 years, but also love cats. I had one cat that wasn't mine at first, it was the first wife's before we were married. But once we had him, he adopted me as the owner.

This cat was afraid of nothing. He was pure black, and walked like a ten pound panther. We had a third floor apt in SF when I was in school, and it had beautiful full glass door that looked out on the landing to the stairs. The stairs made an L so you couldn't see into the upstairs at all. This cat would come stalking down the stairs and scare people that came to the door.

When we move to Oklahoma, he would go with us up to the highway when we went to the convenience store. He let us carry him across, then he would hunt in the field by the store until we called him. He'd come right back and get carried across the highway.

He would get up in my lap when I was studying and lay down right in the middle of my Physical Chem text book. If I moved the book out from under him, he'd stay right there, so I had to put the book on the side, and turn to read it.

Broke my heart when he died of feline infectious anemia.

One other thought. The idea of a fear gene in cats would imply that many fundamental behavioral stances may have genetic components. Of course that is heresy to the nurture-is-all crowd.


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