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Aggression/Anxiety/Fear Behavior Health

Gabapentin: Miracle Drug for Anxious Cats

Discover how gabapentin helps overly anxious cats have more normal lives.

If you follow me on a regular basis, you know I work with a lot of disturbed kitties. Sometimes, they are just so scared and shy, they barely move. Others so aggressive, they lunge, spit and try to bite me on the regular. That’s why I’m a fan of gabapentin.

I want to share why you don’t need to be afraid of gabapentin and how it’s another tool we have as cat owners and fosters to use when needed. This drug helps our furry friends either go through basic things, like a car ride to the vet, or more complicated psychological issues from neglect or abuse. During my series on Medicine & Cats, I covered gabapentin a bit, but I wanted to devote an entire post to explaining what life is like for overly anxious cats, and how this drug helps them cope and heal.

Disclaimer: I’m not a vet or certified behaviorist. Please do not administer drugs to your cat without your vet’s blessing and a prescription. I will share my experience to hopefully arm you with knowledge you can use to have conversations with your vet if you think your cat needs gabapentin for any reason.

“Don’t move your hand. Your breathing is very concerning to me. Why are you blinking? I don’t think I’m safe.” – Lucy

The Mind of an Anxious Cat

So often, people hear my cat Lucy is on gabapentin twice a day, and there is instant shock, questions, and sometimes judgement.

“Don’t you feel bad keeping her on medicine all the time?”

“That can’t be healthy.”

“Does she have to be on it forever?”

orange and white cat with dilated pupils
“I don’t know who you are, but you can stay right there, weirdo!” – Sunshine

What people don’t understand is that cats like Lucy and my current foster Sunshine are fighting anxiety sometimes constantly. Imagine feeling like this …

Being unable to even recognize a familiar person (like an owner) because your anxiety has you completely blinded.

Constantly questioning everything in a room (including inanimate objects) because you don’t know if you need to fight or run to save yourself.

Getting subconsciously triggered by smells or sounds.

Being frequently scared and not know why.

Not sleeping soundly because you’re always on guard.

This is the life for these cats – constant anxiety. So often, they are victims of abuse or neglect, end up in shelters or foster programs, and are completely misunderstood. Owners and fosters are at their wits’ end from often anxiety-induced aggression. And I understand why. It’s frustrating and confusing.

orange and white cat sleeping
Sunshine dreams of mice and birds while knowing she’s safe.

What if there was a pill to control that anxiety, make the cat feel safer and calmer, allowed them to get meaningful rest, and actually see things for what they are? And what if the pill has minimal short- and long-term side effects? Wouldn’t it make sense to at least try it?

What’s Going on in the Brain?

What drives the anxiety in the brain? Obviously, what’s supposed to happen is an increase in excitability when there is a threat so that we (or cats) can get away from it if necessary. Fight or flight. Sometimes, we perceive things that aren’t actual threats as threats. For humans, it’s believed to be hereditary or caused from traumatic events.

Is it the same in cats? The hereditary piece is so hard to study because we often don’t know a cat’s father. One thing we do know that causes anxiety is repeated abuse and/or neglect. It can change the brain, and it will make a cat more easily go into fight or flight. A cat will be more sensitive to those excited signals in the brain, even when the abuser isn’t present.

The result is ongoing symptoms like these:

  • Constant stare downs if you are in the room – Regardless of how big the room is and regardless of how close you are to the cat.
  • Dilated pupils – Non-stop dilation.
  • Growling – Very consistent, even if you aren’t near the cat.
  • Hissing – Sometimes at the air, and not even directed at you.
  • Twitching the tip of the tail – Even at rest, if not in REM, the tip is twitching.

Take a look at Lucy and Sunshine, each on their first day in my home. Turn the sound up and you’ll hear the growling:

Lucy also had flea allergy dermatitis, which is why she had patches of red skin.

But how is this different from just a regular cat hissing or a shy cat with dilated pupils? It’s different because the above symptoms occur nearly constantly in cats that are victims of ongoing neglect and/or abuse. Many times, it seems the cat flips a switch out of nowhere and turns into a demon. The symptoms are so excessive, there appears to be no apparent pattern to their behavior (there are always triggers, but they’re hard to spot).

How Gabapentin Helps Anxious Cats

How does gabapentin help with excitement in the brain? To my surprise – nobody knows. The best hypothesis is that gabapentin blocks calcium in what would typically signal the release of excitatory transmitters, telling the calcium “You shall not pass!”

orange and white cat on scratcher
Sunshine has started scratching her scratcher, which means she wants to claim objects in the space and spread her scent.

Gabapentin was originally used to control seizures in humans, and then neuropathic pain. Although not labeled for anxiety, the benefits cannot be ignored. A recent study in cats showed that administering gabapentin before an annual vet visit allowed cats,that normally couldn’t be examined to get examined and receive vaccinations. This decreases the stress for the cat obviously, but also the owner, vet, and vet staff. All really good things.

Side note: The study gave cats the 100 mg gabapentin 90 minutes before the event. I recommend giving it 120 minutes (2 hours) before. The dosage may be different for your cat. Please consult your vet.

Why Is Gabapentin so Great? Few Adverse Side Effects

Minimal short-term side effects have been reported in cats, but they include sedation, ataxia, vomiting, and diarrhea. All typically resolve within 8 hours, and remember, the sedation can be a good thing for stressful events. Also, I’ve found that lower doses of gabapentin can be given if the side effects are too intense.

A note on this: GI upset is not uncommon in cats who are anxious. I wouldn’t be surprised if the vomiting and diarrhea reported is more related to initial anxiety than the gabapentin. Just a thought!

I could not find any long-term negative side effects in my research, but more studies need to be performed to really know (there haven’t been a lot of studies on gabapentin in cats). The main reason there doesn’t appear to be long-term side effects is that gabapentin isn’t really metabolized, and is excreted by the kidneys. It sort of goes out the way it goes in. Obviously if a cat has kidney disease, gabapentin could put a further strain on the kidneys, so a lower dosage may be recommended.

Black and white cat walking on wheel
Lucy manages her stress and anxiety with gabapentin AND physical activity, like her cat wheel.

How do you know if gabapentin is too strong for your cat? Relaxed and napping is okay … totally stumbling all over the place is not. If your cat is doing that, they likely need a lower dose OR another medication. The anxious cats I use it on will still run and play while on it, so I know it’s pulling down the anxiety, but not knocking them out for hours on end. Please talk to you vet about proper dosing for your cat.

Here’s Lucy on gabapentin:

Why Controlling Excitability Helps Anxious Cats

Imagine you can’t think straight, and you are so terrified, you just want to run, or are prepping to fight for your life.

Does that sound healthy? Enjoyable? Obviously not. That’s why I think it’s so important to give extremely anxious cats some relief with gabapentin. By preventing excitability from reaching high levels, they’re able to think more clearly. The goal is that when they are calm, I can teach them that I’m not scary. The environment is safe. And we can even play and have fun. They can watch birds outside or take a nap. Slowing down things in the brain helps them relax.

After working with them, they can often be weaned off the gabapentin; however, if their case is severe, like Miss Lucy’s, daily gabapentin is likely her medicine for life.

Orange and white cat with toy
Sunshine has started playing and loves toys like this one.

Are there visible differences? Yes. When Lucy or Sunshine take gabapentin, their dilated pupils disappear. They curl up into balls to take naps and show their bellies. They are calmer and happier – but they still have their personalities. If I accidentally do something that triggers them, the growls, swats, and hisses return, but are on a much more manageable scale. It also makes it easier to recognize what triggers each cat, because everything is slowed down. Their excitement more quickly dissipates and returns to normal, where as without gabapentin, anxious periods last longer.

Are Lucy & Sunshine Really Happier?

Yes, Lucy and Sunshine are happier since being treated with gabapentin. I’ve taught Lucy how to walk on a cat wheel and how to walk with a harness in the park. They both play, have fun and escape anxiety by chasing and batting around toys, and being cats. Another thing they love to do is sit at the window and watch the birds. They even purr when I’m petting them, whereas initially, they could barely be touched.

Lucy and Sunshine’s progress isn’t because of the gabapentin, but gabapentin provided the space for progress. That’s how I would like people to look at it. It’s an option when a cat’s anxiety appears excessive. It’s a way to calm the cat down so you can interact with them or help them relax for a vet visit. It doesn’t cure anxiety, but it helps manage it when nothing else seems to work.

Whether you decide to use it as a one-off or want it for longer-term use, please consult a vet and/or certified cat behaviorist. Good luck!

Did you miss my article on how to work with shy and scared cats? Check it out here.

By LizsKittyBootCamp

I foster cats and kittens, specializing in behavioral cases.

17 replies on “Gabapentin: Miracle Drug for Anxious Cats”

When my cats suffer from anxiety I also have had the vet prescribe them gabapentin. It provided enough of a runway for them to regain their momentum and sink back into a calmer, more natural routine. My lovies are now doing much better and their love for mama shines thru!

Thank you for reading my article. Sounds like you know exactly what I’m talking about. I think it’s so important to make the conversation around it more positive and help people understand that it just helps get them where they need to be. And sometimes, they just need it a few times. Your lovies are so lucky to have you!

Thanks for the article. I recently adopted a foster cat the shelter had decided to euthanize after I had cared for her for 4 months. She takes 100mg of Gabapentin 2x daily and is a completely different animal on this medication than of it. She growls constantly off it, while she accepts chin runs, comes when called, and rolls around belly up in the sun. She’s taken this med the whole time I’ve had her, and no one ever advised me that it could cause ataxia. She slips and stumbles when she walks all the time, which I thought was physiological. (She is quite stiff and possibly arthritic despite her young age.) Could you describe what you’ve seen when a cat become wobbly on Gabapentin? I’m wondering if we should experiment with a lower dose to see if she still gets the mood benefit without the wobbles.

Hi Katie. Thanks for your comment and reading the article. It really makes anxious cats so much happier, doesn’t it? And thank you also for adopting! Typically if it’s too high of a dose, the back legs get especially wobbly and they seem off balance. They sort of walk like they’re intoxicated. I’ve only seen this with my super senior, so I don’t give it to him. My resident who is on it still runs and plays, and my foster who’s on it intermittently does the same, so it’s def not every cat. I would DEFINITELY check with your vet (bc I am not), but if your kitty seems to be walking straight and not off balance, she is probably okay. Some cats do great on a lower dose of 50 mg, so you could always try 50. Again, be sure to check in with your vet. Thanks again so much for reading and commenting. Good luck and lmk if you change anything and how it goes.

So, I have had Tyger for 4 years and his son Jasper for 3. Both are neutered males and fat happy cats. In January I took in Jasmine whose owners were leaving state and going to leave her outside. She has caused such craziness in my house. She attacks the cats and the dogs. She literally fights my 6 month old Cane Corso and they are ROUGH. She has sent Tyger to the vet from hurting him so bad. Poor Tyger could not walk. He had multiple puncture woods on his leg and had to have antibiotic shots and pain meds. Tyger and Jasper constantly hiss when Jasmine is near them. I have bought the calming pheromone collars and plugins. They are EVERYWHERE and didn’t help at all. My vet is AMAZING. She suggested gabepentine. So we have done it 3 days now. Jasmine seems super super out of it. I kinda feel bad. We are doing capsules. I am going to attempt to try a smaller dose. Kinda hard to do with a capsule though. Sound normal?

Thanks for your comment. I’ve seen cats be out of it the first few days and then it levels out. For other cats, the capsules (usually 100 mg) are too strong. For those cats, I’ll give 50mg or 75mg (you can get the 50mgs in pill form). For the capsules, you can def open them up and remove some of the meds, and put the capsule back together. Just check with your vet before you do anything. I personally like to see anxious cats relaxed, but not super high, so I adjust the dosing until I hit the perfect balance. You want Jasmine to be her, just a better, calmer version of herself 😍. I hope this helps. I would def run her behavior by your vet and see if they think a smaller dose males sense.

Hi, thank you for your article, it was very useful. I was searching for more information about how long you can give gabapentin to a cat.
My 4 yrs old cat has been suffering months ago from IBS, esophagitis, a lot of diarrhea, food intolerance..
His symptoms appeared after we adopted another kitten, also a male. Both were tested and they were negative to transmitted diseases… so … the vet think the symptoms could be enlarged by stress of competing with the new kitten for food, affection, territory etc.
It was very difficult to stabilize him, now he is eating hypoallergenic food and takes twice a day 50 mg of gabapentin.
He is on gabapentin for almost 3 months and I really do not know for how long it can be given without causing side effects on kidneys or other organs.. Except your article there is nothing on the internet about the use in cats with anxiety for the long term. If you have some references they will be very usefull. Thank you.

Best regards,

Hi Ioana. Thank you for your comment. I have such a hard time researching these topics bc you’re right – not enough is researched or written about them. You can check with your vet, but it’s my understanding that there aren’t any long term side effects. However, if your cat is diagnosed with something else, like kidney or liver disease, the dosage may need to be change or the cat may need to be weaned off of it. It’s my understanding that it’s a very safe drug. While humans aren’t the same, my grandmother was on it for over a decade to help with a condition she had with a nerve in her jaw that caused tremendous pain. Here is one article from a pharmacy that discusses side effects in pets, but there isn’t really anything remarkable: https://www.wedgewoodpharmacy.com/learning-center/professional-monographs/gabapentin-for-veterinary-use.html

I hope this information is useful. You are definitely doing the right thing to help him feel better. 50mg is a low dose, and if it helps him be comfortable and your vet is okay keeping him on it, I would too. It’s a remarkable drug. I would follow the advice of your vet and if you are questioning them, maybe see a 2nd vet. Do whatever you need to to get the answers you need and feel okay around medicating your kitty.

Thank you so much for this article. We recently “rescued” a somewhat friendly stray cat and brought him inside after having him neutered. He goes back to the vet in a couple of weeks to have some painful, broken teeth removed. I put “rescued” in quotes because he is extremely shy and fearful inside and I’m questioning that we’re doing the right thing. We have two other cats and the new cat is sequestered in a room so as to not overwhelm him. He was so stressed the first couple of nights that he was literally panting. The vet prescribed gabapentin for all three cats to get us through this period (the other two know something’s up and are pretty anxious kitties themselves). I’m hoping this will bring everything down a notch or two for everybody. Can I ask what dose your kitties get? I know it’s all individual but am trying to find a balance between drooling sedation, which the initial dose produced, and not being calming enough.

Hi Meredith. I’m so glad you enjoy the article. Thank you for helping that poor kitty. He may improve after his dental … I’m sure he’s in pain. So for Lucy, my worst, she gets 100mg 2x a day. It doesn’t dope her up but helps her go from a 10 to a 6. If 100 is too strong, I would try 50 mg. Lucy has major issues and 50 doesn’t really do much for her. I have fostered smaller cats and 50 was perfect for them. I hope this helps. Please reach out any time. And as always, make sure you keep your vet in the loop. I can share my experiences but am not a vet, so just be sure your vet is aware of your plan and is okay with it. Thank you again for helping this precious cat. If you want some suggestions to help him become less fearful, I wrote an article How to Work with Shy and Scared Cats: https://lizskittybootcamp.com/2020/05/18/how-to-work-with-shy-and-scared-cats/

It’s takes you through a step by step process on how to help them, along with videos from two of my hardest foster cases. It may be stuff you already tried, but I wanted to share anyway.

Good luck and please keep me posted. I’d love an update, esp after he gets those teeth removed.

Thank you so much for your response! I’ve been reading your site since asking my question and found your articles on lucy and the cat exercise wheel fascinating– thank you for helping these poor kitties! I will try lessening the dose and he’s going back in for his recheck after neutering soon so can talk to the vet about our concerns.

Sounds like a great plan. These cats can be really complicated and meds are a nice way to lessen their anxiety so we can work with them. It’s my passion to help cats who are almost out of options because of behavior. So many are misunderstood. Feel free to also connect with me on IG @lizskittybootcamp or FB on my page https://Facebook.com/lizskittybootcamp too. I sometimes share tips and videos on there that might be helpful for you.

I would like to know if gabipentin will also help with excessive meowing. I have an 8 year old male who just won’t shut up. Right now I am working with him with rewarding him if he is quiet for short amounts of time and extending it slowly. Sometimes that works, other times he will get is treat and then go yowl in the other room for 10 minutes. His vet says that nothing is wrong with him. He has been on anatrypiptyline and that just sedated him so much all he did was stay under the bed. He would also get mildly aggressive toward my 10 year old female cat, for example if I didn’t get up in the morning at the time he wanted his treats and his breakfast, the he would go find her and bite her in the ass or sometimes on the neck because he knew that I would get up and yell at him. Now I will get up but I will make him wait for his breakfast and he doesn’t get any treats if he starts his crap with her. Both cats are considered my emotional support cats, but 3 different times I have almost have had to relinquish him, and I don’t really want to. So now when I go to bed sometimes he will bother my female cat, tonight I had my music on so I didn’t hear what he did, if he did anything. So now I have written my vet and asked her to consider gabipentin with my male cat. I just don’t know if I should give it to him all day or just at night. I am sure that I will find out when I talk to her tomorrow. I am also going to bring him in for blood tests if I have to just to make 100% sure that nothing is wrong with him. That just gets really expensive. So I am hoping that you can answer all my questions. I know that I have written a book but I am sick of having to deal with this, and it has been going on for a long time. Any and all advice would be welcome

Hi Jane. Thank you for commenting. I’m so sorry that you are dealing with this situation … It sounds very stressful. Some cats are more vocal than others, and some breeds tend to be more talkative too. It sounds like a lot of what he does is for attention. I don’t think he’s trying to be cruel to your other cat, but like you said, he knows he’ll get your attention if he does it. To answer your question, gabapentin could help him relax, so if the meowing is due to anxiety, it’s certain worth a shot (as long as your vet says it’s okay). If the morning is an issue, I’d probably give it to him before bed. Your vet can recommend the proper dose based on his weight, and if he seems a little doped, you can always decrease the dosage. Also, I would make sure you’re giving him some one on one attention. If he likes to play, do that, or if he likes to be pet/brushed, do that. Typically when they’re acting up, I recommend at least 30 min a day. And again as I keep saying, def follow your vet’s advice regarding any medications. I can speak from experience and offer suggestions and ideas but I’m not a vet. If your vet doesn’t recommend meds, you can always try a calming collar or pheromone spray. There’s also a supplement called Solliquin I’ve had some success with. It’s made by Nutramax Laboratories. So, if medicine doesn’t work, there are other options.

So glad I found this article and wish I’d done so uh, four years ago! My kitty started meowing almost non-stop but intermittently. Took her to the vet. No help just a huge bill. Got in a behaviorist who said she was mirroring my stresses which makes perfect sense. She kept it up, however. CBD oil useless and costly. Changed her diet. When my other cat died last month, poor anxious kitty just went into overdrive on the meowing. New vet prescribed gabapentin and voila! I can sleep again. Soon maybe even w/out the white noise machine. Your article helped flesh everything out. Thank you!

Hi Claire. Thank you so much for reading it, and I’m grateful it gave you some context. Also, I’m very sorry for your loss. I hope you are hanging in there. Sending you a virtual hug.

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