Anxiety Medications for Cats – Relievet

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Anxiety Medications for Cats

James Davis, PharmD - July 6th, 2022

anxiety meds for cats

Just like us, cats can suffer from anxiety.

Whether it's anxiety due to thunder or distress when left alone, stressed-out cats can destroy property and even hurt themselves.

This article covers the top anxiety medications for cats, so you can be informed before discussing them with your veterinarian.

Table Of Contents

  • What are the top anxiety meds for cats?
  • Over-the-counter Options
  • Prescription anxiety meds for cats
  • Natural alternatives

What are the top anxiety meds for cats?

The top anxiety medications for cats include diphenhydramine, fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, buspirone, alprazolam, lorazepam, trazodone, and gabapentin. Many of these drugs are also used in human medicine, though not always for anxiety.

Over-the-counter Options

The only over-the-counter medication commonly used for anxiety in cats is diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Benadryl is only suitable for short-term anxiety like travel anxiety or motion sickness. Using diphenhydramine in your cat for anxiety should be discussed with your vet first.

Dosing human medications for animals can be tricky, and it's essential to ensure you're doing the math and measuring correctly. Generally, cats will take 1 milligram (mg) of diphenhydramine per 1 pound (lbs.) of body weight. So if your cat weighs 10 lbs, they will take 10mg of diphenhydramine.

Prescription anxiety meds for cats

There are many more prescription options for anxiety in cats than over-the-counter. Many human medications used for anxiety can be used effectively in cats.

Remember, prescription medications should only be started, dosed, and used for any patient (humans or pets!) under the guidance of a licensed provider. For pets, this means a discussion with your veterinarian.

Long-term anxiety medications

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
    Uses: General anxiety, aggression, compulsive behavior, panic or fear 
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
    Uses: General anxiety, aggression, compulsion, fear
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
    Uses: General anxiety, fear
  • Side effects of SSRIs:

    - Agitation, sedation, lethargy, vomiting/poor appetite/diarrhea
  • Notes on SSRIs:

    - This class of medication takes 4-6 weeks to start working and should never be stopped quickly (cold turkey)

    - It should be tapered off slowly under the direction of your veterinarian.- If your cat does not tolerate one SSRI, one of the others may work. Each cat will respond differently to different drugs; if one drug in a particular class doesn't work, another may work just fine


    - SSRIs, including Fluoxetine, Paroxetine, and Sertraline take 4-6 weeks to reach full effect. Talk to your veterinarian about whether your cat needs a short-term anxiety treatment while the medication starts taking effect.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
    Uses: General anxiety, aggression, compulsive behavior, panic, and fear
  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)
    Uses: General anxiety, aggression, compulsive behavior, panic, and fear
  • Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
    Uses: General anxiety, aggression, compulsive behavior, panic, and fear
  • Side effects of TCAs:

    - Vomiting, agitation, sedation, lethargy, decrease in appetite, diarrhea
  • Notes on TCAs:

    - TCAs are faster acting than SSRIs. Generally, it is okay to stop them with less (or no) gradual decrease of dosing, but this should be discussed with a veterinarian. TCAs are older and considered some of the most widely used/safest anxiety, fear, and depression medications used in felines. 

Other

  • Buspirone (Buspar)
    Class: Serotonin agonist
    Uses: General anxiety, fear

    Notes: Buspirone starts working faster than SSRIs, although it can take weeks to see its full effects. Generally, it is okay to stop buspirone with a less gradual decrease in dosing, but this needs to be discussed with a veterinarian.

    Side effects: Vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, sedation

Short-term anxiety medications

Benzodiazepines

  • Alprazolam (Xanax) 
    Uses: Anxiety, fear, panic
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
    Uses: Anxiety, fear, panic
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
    Uses: Anxiety, fear, panic
  • Side effects of benzodiazepines:

    - Tiredness
    - Lack of activity
    - Dizzy/clumsy
    - Increase in appetite
    - Excitement/aggression
    - Lack of normal aggression
  • Notes on benzodiazepines:

    - Benzodiazepines are not a good long-term choice if anxiety medication is needed daily. The side effects and tolerance/dependence that develop mean they won't work as well the more they are used and the more often they are used.

    - Benzodiazepines are short-acting anti-anxiety medications. They take effect in 20-30 minutes and are generally only for as-needed panic.

    Regular use can lead to tolerance (meaning the medication doesn't work as well over time because the cat's body gets used to it) and dependence (withdrawal symptoms will occur if the drug is stopped quickly).

    It's important to taper the dose (decrease it gradually over time) under the guidance of a veterinarian if the cat has been using a benzodiazepine regularly for more than 7-10 days.

Other

  • Trazodone (Desyrel)
    Class: Serotonin 2A antagonist reuptake inhibitor
    Uses: Anxiety, aggression


    Side effects of trazodone:
    - Tiredness
    - Vomiting, diarrhea
    -Agitation


    Notes on trazodone:

    - Trazodone is a shorter-acting antidepressant than the SSRIs or TCAs mentioned above. It starts working in about half an hour to an hour and lasts 8-12 hours. It is generally well-tolerated. It may or may not work for every cat – and is known for causing sleepiness, so it may be best for nighttime use.

    Interestingly, trazodone has been observed to cause tiredness in cats at lower doses, which decreases at a higher amount. It may take time and working with your veterinarian to find the correct dose to help your cat with anxiety or sleep problems.
  • Gabapentin (Neurontin)
    Class: Anticonvulsant/antiseizure medication
    Uses: Anxiety, aggression


    Side effects of gabapentin:

    - Tiredness
    - Vomiting
    - Dizziness, clumsiness
    - Agitation


    Notes on gabapentin: 

    - Gabapentin has been studied for use in cats for many things, including musculoskeletal disease, anxiety, short-term anxiety, and other kinds of pain. Studies indicate that it is usually very well tolerated, with few side effects other than sedation, which is generally associated with dose level. It is not addictive, does not lead to dependence usually, and is usually well tolerated even for more extended periods. However, you should not discontinue the use of gabapentin quickly or suddenly without talking to your veterinarian.

Natural alternatives

  • Catnip

    Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, Is a plant found in the mint family. Approximately 2/3 of cats will react to catnip, where they play with it, smell it, roll in it, show a short period of excitement, and then a prolonged period of tiredness and relaxation.

    Catnip is not addictive to cats and cannot hurt them. Try it with your cat and see if it leads to greater relaxation. If it does, then it's an excellent choice. It works by releasing a smell that causes your cat's brain to release feel-good chemicals the brain already makes, meaning they do not have harmful side effects or lead to harm
  • Silver Vine

    Silver Vine, or Actinidia polygama, is a plant that works in cats similarly to catnip. If your cat is in the 1/3rd of cats that do not respond to catnip, there's a good chance they'll respond to silver vine.

    If your cat is affected by silver vine, the responses are generally as strong or stronger than those caused by catnip and can last longer. Interestingly, more cats respond to silver vine than catnip, even though catnip is more famous for the effects caused.
  • Valerian root

    Valerian Root, or Valeriana officinalis, is another plant that affects cats similarly to catnip and silver vine. It affects fewer cats than the others, and not as much, but achieves similar results.
  • Mixtures

    It's possible to obtain products with catnip, silver vine, and valerian root mixtures. These are perfectly fine to use mixed, and you are more likely to have first-time success with a mixed product working for your pet if you do not want to test each one separately.
  • CBD

    CBD, or cannabinoids, can be used in felines for calming, mobility issues, and much more. As of yet, there are no major studies on the safety or efficacy of CBD for anxiety in cats. However, many pet owners and some veterinarians have used CBD, and THC extracts from the hemp plant with success for pain, anxiety, and appetite issues with their cats.

    Starting CBD with your cat should be done under the supervision of a veterinarian. Dosing and duration of use, as well as which product to try, are guided best by your vet. It will be essential to keep an eye on your pet and work with your vet to get the best results. Finding a reputable, transparent supplier that provides third-party lab results showing what is in their products is also necessary.

Conclusion

There are many good options for anxiety in cats, from prescription drugs to herbs. Cats kept indoors often have excited, bored behavior, and stimulating them with catnip or silver vine can help calm them and give them something exciting to do, leading to a restful period and healthy activities instead of destructive behaviors.

Talk to your veterinarian and find an excellent solution to keep your kitty well-behaved!

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