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Give That Catatonic!

Claim:   Things go awry when a tranquilizer given a cat doesn't perform as expected.

LEGEND

Example:   [Brunvand, 1999]

A woman was planning to take her cat with her on a plane trip. At a doctor's appointment she asked her doctor if there was anything she could give her cat to keep it calm on the trip. After a moment's thought, the doc took a tranquilizer pill, broke off a portion that seemed about cat-dosage size, and told her to give it to the cat about an hour before takeoff.

Some time later the doctor related this to a veterinarian associate, and the vet said, "You didn't really do that, did you? Why on a cat that drug has the opposite effect as on a human. That cat will be a clawing wreck!"

Later the doctor saw his patient again, and she told him, "I took your advice and gave my cat the pill, and on the plane he was out of control, about to jump out of his skin. It was all we could do to restrain him."

The doctor didn't know what to say — luckily — and the woman continued, "I can't thank you enough for that pill, doctor. I just can't imagine how the cat would have behaved without it."
 

Origins:   The tale given above is a rather clever little story that expresses through humor the danger of medicating pets with medicines meant for people. It dates to at least the 1920s, as this anecdote from a 1926 issue of the New Yorker shows:
With the coming of September a laugh floated down from the remote Tyringham Valley in Massachusetts where have resided — of summers — two elderly spinster sisters whose principal interest centers in their cat. Last fall these estimable ladies sought a doctor friend, head of an important sanitarium there, to
explain that they were leaving for New York and were taking their cat with them, but that they simply couldn't bear to think of his being cooped up for four hours in a small basket. It was too cruel.

"Teddy is very lively anyhow, Doctor, and we wondered if you if you could not give us something to put him to sleep on the trip." The doctor obligingly guessed that he could and administered a small dose of morphine just before the train started. Then he forgot all about it. During the following winter, however, a neighbor sought the doctor with a stray cat she had found and the earnest request that the doctor put it out of its misery. The doctor administered morphine to this cat too, but to his surprise the cat had no sooner felt the morphine in its veins than it began shrieking and spitting at the doctor. It climbed up a window curtain and tore it, jumped upon the mantel, knocking over two vases, leaped out of the window and spent the next two hours scooting through the village.

Mystified and perturbed, the physician discussed the phenomenon with his associates, but there was no explanation until spring, when a junior assistant chanced to be reading up on drugs. He came to a passage which caused his eyes to bulge. Although the effect of morphine is thus and so, the medical book said, "when administered to members of the feline family it oddly has exactly the opposite effect."

"Ye gods," said the doctor. "And I gave it to Teddy."

When the two elderly ladies returned to Tyringham Valley this summer the doctor evaded them, but last week they finally cornered him, quaking, in the post office. "Oh, doctor!" they exclaimed. "We've been looking for you all summer. We can't thank you enough for giving Teddy that dose last year. Why, as it *was*," said they, "as it *was*, you never saw anything like it. He got excited as soon as the train started, broke out of the basket, rushed through the car for an hour like a mad thing, scared everybody and bit the conductor on the hand."
It's true that a number of the meds developed for people can be safely given to pet cats, dogs, rats, and others to make them better. However — and this is the big "however," the one that's really worth paying attention to — some seemingly unremarkable human medicines can be fatal to our faithful animal companions. That something is safe for us does not mean it's safe for our pets, a fact that always has to be borne in mind when considering medicating a critter without veterinary supervision.

In this legend, a message about the same drug's producing different effects in different species is framed as a humorous tale about a cat who went through a rough time but survived. Through lore, an important message is made memorable.

Barbara "in the gatto" Mikkelson

Last updated:   2 August 2011

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Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good to Be True.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (p. 355).

    The New Yorker.   "The Talk of the Town: Cat's Tale."
    11 September 1926   (pp. 17-19).