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Cat anxiety medication

The essentials

  • Cats can’t always hide it — Anxiety in cats can present itself in a range of different ways, from rapid breathing to increased destructive behavior.
  • Finding the right medication is key  — There are several cat anxiety medications available depending on the trigger, severity level, and potential behavior disorder.
  • There are alternative treatments, too — Increased exercise, pheromone diffusers, and calming music have proven effective in treating mild cases of anxiety in cats.

Recognizing anxiety in cats  

If you have a cat, you know all too well that they’re great at hiding things — whether it’s their favorite toy or a not-so welcomed friend that they found in the garage. They can hide how they’re feeling, too. There are a few common signs to look out for if you think your cat may be suffering from anxiety.

An anxious cat may display one or more of the following physical symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid respiratory rate or heavy panting
  • Trembling
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal salivating
  • Increased movement
  • Hiding
  • Perching in high places
  • Destructive behavior
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Marking
  • Misdirected aggression

🚨 If you notice any of these symptoms or behaviors, consult your veterinarian to get a formal diagnosis and treatment plan.

Common types of anxiety medication for cats 

Depending on the severity of your cat’s anxiety, you and your vet may consider various types of medication. Learn more about some of the most common anxiety medications to get a feel for what might work best for your feline friend. Keep in mind that some of the options on this list are serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) depressants, which are also used to treat anxiety in dogs. And, you may notice that many of these medications are considered “off-label” which means that the FDA hasn’t necessarily approved them for use on pets. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re unsafe — your vet will advise you on the best medication.

  • Alprazolam (Xanax). Vets often use this sedative/tranquilizer to treat anxiety or panic in cats. Typically, you’ll give it to your cat about 30 to 60 minutes before a triggering event. Potential side effects include sedation, increased appetite, or uncoordinated walking.
  • Buspirone (BuSpar). Cats that are prone to urine spraying or suffer from motion sickness, social anxiety, psychogenic alopecia, fear, and phobia may benefit from this anti-anxiety medication. Possible side effects may include increased affection, sleepiness, nausea, or a slower heart rate.
  • Clomipramine. This tricyclic antidepressant medication can treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), separation anxiety, and aggression. It may also be used to prevent urine spraying in cats. Possible side effects include lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and dry mouth.
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac). This SSRI antidepressant is used to treat behavioral disorders in dogs and cats. Specifically, it’s known to help cats that struggle with marking and inter-cat aggression. Possible side effects include sleepiness and decreased appetite.
  • Gabapentin. This anti-seizure and pain medication is used in conjunction with other medications to treat seizures, chronic pain, and nerve pain. It’s also been used in cats to treat fear and anxiety related to vet visits and travel. The most common side effect is sleepiness.
  • Lorazepam (Ativan). Used to treat anxiety, fear, and phobia, this benzodiazepine medication is often prescribed to treat seizures or to stimulate appetite in cats. Some possible side effects include sleepiness, muscle weakness, incoordination, and drooling.
  • Oxazepam. This benzodiazepine is used to stimulate appetite and may help treat anxiety and phobias when combined with other forms of therapy. The most common side effect is sleepiness, but other possible side effects include drooling, excitability, and increased vocalization.
  • Paroxetine. Given in a tablet, capsule, or liquid, this SSRI antidepressant is commonly used to treat aggression and urine marking in cats and may cause sleepiness and decreased appetite.
  • Sertraline (Zoloft). If your cat shows signs of aggression, this SSRI may not be the best option, but it can be prescribed to treat anxiety and OCD in cats. Some side effects may include tiredness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Trazodone. Frequently used as supplemental therapy in pets that don’t respond to conventional treatment, this serotonin antagonist/reuptake inhibitor (SARI) antidepressant is typically prescribed to treat phobia-related anxiety that’s triggered by loud noises like fireworks, visits to the vet, and travel.

My most commonly used meds are gabapentin prior to vet visits and for travel, and fluoxetine for longer-term use, especially with marking and inter-cat aggression. The rest are ‘off-label’ and we rarely use them in cats.

Dr. Erica Irish

How cat anxiety medications work

Depending on your cat’s condition and behavioral problems , your vet may consider one of two treatment options. For example, a cat that suffers from anxiety after a triggering event like a thunderstorm may benefit from short-term anxiety medication. On the other hand, a cat that deals with general, ongoing, or recurring anxiety will likely need long-term medication.

Long-term treatment

Some cat anxiety medications are long-term maintenance medications that take four to six weeks to take full effect. Typically, your cat will take these medications, like buspirone and fluoxetine, daily for two to three months to stabilize the condition. After that time, your vet may recommend weaning your cat off the medication if your cat is responding well to treatment. Other cats may need to stay on anti-anxiety medication for six to 12 months or longer to see results. Be sure to schedule yearly check-ups and bloodwork to confirm your cat is on the best treatment plan.

Short-term treatment

If your cat only experiences anxiety symptoms before or after triggering events like travel, vet visits, or thunderstorms, your vet will likely prescribe them a short-term anxiety medication like gabapentin. These types of medicines take effect quickly, only last for a few hours, and don’t require a weaning-off period if used regularly.

Pet insurance may cover behavioral therapy. Explore top-rated pet insurance companies in our article “The best pet insurance providers of 2023.”

Tips for giving your cat anxiety medication

Getting your cat the right treatment plan and prescription is half the battle; getting them to take the medicine is the other half. The idea of wrestling them every day to administer it properly can be daunting, and, if done improperly, may even increase your cat’s stress levels. Here are a few recommendations that can help, according to PennVet .

Find a secluded area — Create a calming space that’s tucked away from other pets and people in the house. This will help alleviate any stress before you even begin.

Hide the pill or capsule — Most cat anxiety medications come in liquids, capsules, or tablets, so you’ll have to see what works best for your cat. If you go with a pill, try concealing it in canned cat food or tuna and, if your cat’s tummy can handle it, plain yogurt or cream cheese.

Create a routine — Pick a specific time of day to give your cat medicine, and stick to it. During that time, offer a tasty treat, some extra snuggles, or their favorite toy and it will become something to look forward to.

👉 If your cat has a difficult time taking pills, ask your vet about getting the medication compounded into a more palatable form. 

Potential side effects of anxiety medication for cats

As with any type of medication, there are potential side effects that your cat may experience while on their anti-anxiety medicine. Make sure to alert your vet of any ongoing or alarming side effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation
  • Dehydration
  • Heavy breathing
  • Loss of coordination
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

👉 Keep your cat’s medicine (and other medications in your home) out of pets’ reach. This reduces the risk of overdose. 

Alternatives to cat anxiety medication

Cats that suffer from chronic anxiety or behavioral disorders will likely need long-term anxiety medication. But, there are plenty of alternative options to help ease stress every day — both for those who need a quick fix during a tense situation, and those who require supplemental therapy or treatment. Here are a few tactics to consider:

Try a pheromone diffuser — Pheromones are chemicals that an animal produces that influence the behaviors of another animal of the same species. And, according to a study from the University of Lincoln (U.K.) on the influence of pheromone diffusers on the interactions between dogs and cats, the diffusers appeared to be effective. There was a significant decrease in the number of times cats hid or perched in high places.

Use calming wipes, sprays, and herbal blends — With the help of some calming wipes and blends, you can mimic naturally-produced pheromones to reduce stress and anxiety.

Use an anxiety vest — Developed by behavioral scientists, the ThunderShirt for Cats is a great option, and has proven to reduce anxiety during vet visits, travel, nail trimmings, and more.

Increase amount of exercise — Engage in daily interactive play sessions to keep your cat’s mind occupied. Bonus: If your cat enjoys walking with a harness, take them for a short stroll.

Play calming music — If you’re heading out for the night and your cat suffers from separation anxiety, consider leaving some music on at a low volume. Soothing cat therapy music will promote a relaxing environment.

Offer engaging toys — VCA Animal Hospitals recommends any toy that features a moving target for chasing and pouncing. A durable scratching post might also do the trick.

Frequently asked questions

What can I give a cat for anxiety?

If you suspect that your cat has anxiety, consult with your vet to determine a treatment plan. Depending on the severity of the situation, they may recommend short- or long-term medication or suggest an alternative therapy like increased exercise or herbal supplements.

How do I know if my cat needs anxiety medication?

Perhaps the biggest factor in determining if your cat needs anxiety medication is to know what is triggering their anxiety. If your cat is only anxious when getting their nails trimmed, you may benefit from short-term medication or alternative therapy. On the other hand, if your cat suffers from chronic anxiety or panic, your vet may recommend long-term medication. The best way to know if your cat needs anxiety medication is to visit your vet for a discussion and formal diagnosis — and in certain cases, your vet may even refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

How long does it take for cat anxiety meds to work?

Different cat anxiety medications take effect at various points throughout treatment. Many long-term maintenance medications take four to six weeks to take full effect, and you typically give them to your cat daily for two to three months or up to a year. Alternatively, other short-term medications take effect quickly and wear off within a few hours.

Is it safe to give my cat anxiety medicine every day?

Please consult your vet if you have questions about giving a specific anxiety medication to your cat. Some long-term anxiety medications are prescribed for daily use while other medications, like gabapentin, are used on an as-needed basis.