So you’ve been trying to figure out why your cat has been fighting with your other cat for weeks, maybe even months. Or maybe they’ve been peeing on your favorite rug for some time and now your home smells like a giant litter box. Before we think about re-homing, let’s consider behavioral modification with the help of a veterinary behaviorist and maybe even the assistance of pharmacological substances (aka “drugs”). Let me just reiterate that veterinary behaviorists are underutilized by my clients. Just as I think more people should seek therapists or psychiatrists for their own well-being, I also think many pets can really benefit from this undervalued service because they provide such useful long term tools to help your cat live a more fulfilled live. And if you have not seen a behaviorist’s discharge form, they’re 5 to 8 pages long because they include numerous pages of take-home techniques to help your cat be the best that they can be!
If you know what triggers your cat, my recommendation is to keep them away from said triggers until you can positively reacclimatize them. Maybe it’s another pet in the house, new visitors, or any other external stimulus. Oftentimes, if you know what the adverse stimulus is, you should make every attempt to separate your cat from it until you can slowly introduce that adverse stimulus back into your cat’s life in a controlled setting and in small doses (along with positive reinforcement like treats) until your cat is (A) desensitized to it so they doesn’t associate the trigger with something negative or (B) instead, associates it with something positive.
Don’t know the trigger? Maybe you can set up a camera at home to see what your cat(s) are doing when you’re not around that can be contributing to the undesired behavior. As a last resort, sometimes we need the help of anxiolytic medications (anti-anxiety medications) along the way to help acclimate your cat. Understand that every cat tolerates each medication differently, so as in people, just because something works for one cat doesn’t mean it’ll work the same for another. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error.
Here are my top 4 cat behavior-modifying drugs:
These can be given as a spot treatment and repeated regularly.
- Gabapentin: In humans, this medication is used a neuropathic pain modulator, which means it’s indicated for nerve pain. In cats, this is a great maintenance pain medication. However at higher doses, it can also be used as a mild anti-anxiety drug so it can help make cats more happy and less fearful/more calm. I give this to my little scared Lando before I take him into the hospital to calm his nerves for his diagnostic tests.
- Trazadone: This medication is also a human drug and an anti-depressant. It is more of a sedative for cats though and oftentimes will make your cat more sleepy.
These need to be taken for 3-4 weeks to take effect and subsequently must be weaned off slowly.
- Kitty Prozac/Fluoxetine: For those cats who just are stress balls on a daily basis, this might be a great option to try. It’s my favorite and my go-to chronic medication for behavioral conditions in cats. I’ve heard that it can alter your cat’s personality. An owner told me that it made her cat generally less engaging and more sedate, which for some owners might be desirable, but for other owners, it can be a little disheartening. Ultimately, she and I talked about weaning her cat off the medication, but for many other owners this medication has been a godsend.
- Clomipramine: This medication is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA). It is used for the treatment of obsessive–compulsive disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, and chronic pain in humans. In cats, it can be used to treat obsessive compulsive disorders, anxiety, and urinary behaviors from stress. I’ll be honest, I don’t often use this medication unless Fluoxetine is ineffective, but it’s nice to know that there is an alternative medication in the event that my first choice is not effective.
If you’re going to choose the medication route, you need to check with your veterinarian to make sure your kitty is a good candidate for these medications, to see which medication is best for your cat, and to ensure that they are on the proper dose to achieve the desired effect. It oftentimes will require some trial and error to determine what is most effective in making your kitty a much more happy one. For any chronic medication, I also highly recommend that you run some preliminary baseline blood work to make sure that the values are normal prior to starting the medication and to ensure that they remain normal while on the medication. Any chronic medication, no matter what it is, should be monitored with at-minimum annual blood work.
I hope that this helps to make your cat a more happy and calm cat,
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Theresa Loo