10 Cat Anxiety Medications

March 26, 2020
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Cats can suffer from anxiety disorders just as people and dogs can. They can experience generalized anxiety disorders or more specific anxiety issues caused by things like thunder or separation distress when their pet parents are not at home.

The first step to relieving your cat’s anxiety is to talk to your vet, and then you can discuss the need for cat anxiety medications. Here’s a list of the different types of cat anxiety medications and how they work.

Talk With Your Veterinarian About Your Cat’s Anxiety

What can you do to help your cat if they suffer from anxiety? First, your cat needs to be examined by your veterinarian to make sure there are no underlying medical problems.

Your veterinarian can discuss with you some medication options or refer to you an expert in the field—a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

No matter the direction you take, the use of anti-anxiety medication is just one part of the treatment plan. The other part involves management and behavior modification.

How Cat Anxiety Medications Work

Cat anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways, so there are both long-term and short-term anti-anxiety medications available.

Long-Term Anxiety Medications for Cats

Some cat anxiety medications are long-term maintenance medications, meaning they can take 4-6 weeks to take full effect. They also are meant to be taken daily.

If the medication is helping, the cat should be kept on it for a minimum of 2-3 months. Once your cat’s behavior is stable, they can be gradually weaned off the medication.

Some cats benefit from staying on anti-anxiety medications for 6-12 months or longer periods. These cats should get a yearly examination, bloodwork, and a behavior reevaluation to ensure that they are still on the best treatment plan for their needs.

Short-Term Anxiety Medications for Cats 

Other anti-anxiety medications are short-term; they take effect in a shorter period of time and only last for several hours.

They are intended to be used for certain situations where your cat experiences increased levels of anxiety and stress.

These medications typically do not require your cat to be weaned off them if they’re not used consistently.

Types of Cat Anxiety Medications

Please keep in mind that the use of all human medications to treat cats with anxiety disorders is off-label.

Here is a list of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications and their potential side effects. (A small percentage of cat patients may experience side effects while on a medication.)

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Fluoxetine

Indications: Generalized anxiety (moderate to severe anxiety); aggression directed towards people, cats or other animals; compulsive behavior; urine spraying; inappropriate urination; panic disorder; and fearful behavior.

Fluoxetine is classified as a selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It blocks the receptors in the brain from taking up and removing serotonin, which allows for a higher serotonin level.

Serotonin helps modulate mood and behavior. Increased amounts of serotonin in the brain can help decrease anxiety and reduce reactivity and impulsive behavior.

This medication takes 4-6 weeks to take effect and must be given once daily.

It’s typically dispensed in tablet form and needs to be cut into the appropriate size for cats. It can be compounded by specialty pharmacies into flavored, chewable tablets, capsules, or flavored liquids.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Agitation

  • Sedation

  • Lethargy

  • Decreased appetite

Most of the side effects improve after the first 1-2 weeks. If your cat’s appetite is affected, this medication should be discontinued and replaced by an alternative.

Paroxetine

Indications: Generalized anxiety (moderate to severe anxiety), aggression directed towards people or other cats, compulsive behavior, urine spraying, inappropriate urination, and fearful behavior.

Paroxetine is another SSRI that increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. It’s a good alternative for cats that become agitated or have decreased appetite on fluoxetine. It is less sedating compared to fluoxetine.

This medication takes 4-6 weeks to take effect. It must be given once daily and should not be abruptly discontinued.

This medication should be used with caution in cats with heart disease.

It’s typically dispensed in tablet form and needs to be cut to the appropriate size for cats. It can be compounded by specialty pharmacies into flavored chewable tablets, capsules, or flavored liquids.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Sedation

  • Lethargy

  • Constipation

  • Vomiting

  • Difficulty urinating

Sertraline

Indications: Generalized anxiety (mild to moderate anxiety), inappropriate elimination, and fearful behavior.

This SSRI takes 4-6 weeks to take full effect. It must be given once daily and should not be abruptly discontinued.

This medication typically needs to be compounded by specialty pharmacies into flavored chewable tablets, capsules, or flavored liquids.

The smallest tablet is too large even when cut into quarter tablets.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Sedation

  • Lethargy

  • Agitation

  • Decreased appetite

However, this medication is less likely to cause side effects compared to the other SSRIs.

Clomipramine

Indications: Generalized anxiety (moderate to severe anxiety); aggression directed towards people, cats, or other animals; compulsive behavior; urine spraying; inappropriate urination; panic disorder; and fearful behavior.

Clompiramine is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) that modulates serotonin and norepinephrine receptors to reduce anxiety and aggressive behavior.

This medication takes 4-6 weeks to take effect. It must be given once daily and should not be abruptly discontinued.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Agitation

  • Sedation

  • Lethargy

  • Dry mouth

  • Decreased appetite

This medication should be used with caution in cats with heart disease.

Buspirone

Indications: Generalized anxiety (mild to moderate anxiety), and fearful behavior.

Buspirone is classified as an azapirone, which works on the serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain.

This medication takes 4-6 weeks to take effect. It must be given once daily and should not be abruptly discontinued.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Agitation

  • Sedation

  • Increased affection towards the owner and increased confidence

Some cats that are picked on by other cats in the household may appear more confident and defend themselves instead of running away.

Alprazolam

Indications: Anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, and fear.

This medication is classified as a benzodiazepine, which promotes GABA activity in the brain.

This short-acting medication takes effect in 30 minutes. It can be given every 8-12 hours. Tolerance and dependency may occur if this medication is given daily. Slow weaning off the medication is needed if the cat has been on this medication for a prolonged period of time.

Alprazolam must be used with caution in cats with aggressive behavior. It may reduce the cat’s inhibition, which might lead them to display more aggressive behavior.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy

  • Sedation

  • Loss of motor coordination

  • Increased appetite

  • Paradoxical excitement

  • Disinhibition of aggressive behavior

Lorazepam

Indications: Anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, and fear.

This is another benzodiazepine.

That means it’s a short-acting medication that takes effect in 30 minutes. It can be given every 12 hours. Tolerance and dependency may occur if this medication is given daily. Slow weaning off the medication is needed if the cat has been on this medication for a prolonged period of time.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy

  • Sedation

  • Loss of motor coordination

  • Increased appetite

  • Paradoxical excitement

  • Disinhibition of aggressive behavior

This medication must be used with caution in cats with aggressive behavior.

Oxazepam

Indications: Anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, and fear.

Oxazepam is another benzodiazepine, which means it’s a short-acting medication that takes effect in 30 minutes. It can be given every 24 hours. Tolerance and dependency may occur if this medication is given daily. Slow weaning off the medication is needed if the cat has been on this medication for a prolonged period of time.

This medication must be used with caution in cats with aggressive behavior.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy

  • Sedation

  • Loss of motor coordination

  • Increased appetite

  • Paradoxical excitement

  • Disinhibition of aggressive behavior 

Trazodone

Indications: Anxiety and aggression.

This medication is classified as a serotonin-2A antagonist reuptake inhibitor.

This is a short-acting medication that takes effect in 60-90 minutes and lasts about 8-12 hours.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy

  • Sedation

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Agitation

Gabapentin

Indications: Anxiety and aggression.

Gabapentin is classified as an anticonvulsant. It works on calcium ion channels in the brain to reduce excitement. Avoid the use of human oral solution since it contains xylitol.

This is a short-acting medication that takes effect in 60-90 minutes and lasts about 8-12 hours.

Some potential side effects include:

  • Lethargy

  • Sedation

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of motor coordination

  • Agitation

By: Dr. Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB

Featured Image: iStock.com/w-ings