Most cats do not look forward to a trip to the veterinarian for medical care or even a pedicure. This can be quite stressful for the kitty and the owner. The car ride in a cat carrier alone can be scary. Once the cat arrives at the office the technicians and staff are comforting and try to make the cat feel safe. However, it can still be a stressful experience especially when physical exams, blood draws and vaccinations are in order.
Thankfully, we have an excellent antianxiety medication called gabapentin. This medication is commonly used in people as a treatment for diabetic neuropathy. One of the side effects is a mild sedation. This is especially true for felines and works to reduce anxiety. We prescribe specially formulated 50 mg “tiny tabs” for smaller or older cats and 100 mg capsules for larger kitties. Owners are instructed to give gabapentin in two doses. The first is 12 hours before the appointment and then repeated two hours prior. Pill pockets can be helpful or some owners mix the medication with a small amount of baby food and then give via an oral dose syringe.
We have been using gabapentin for several years as part of the Fear Free protocol and it has worked great for the cats and, ultimately, the technicians. A recent study in France published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association confirms that gabapentin helps frightened cats cope with the stress of the veterinary visits. In this study, 26 fearful cats were volunteered for a placebo-controlled, double-blind study. The results showed that 20 of the 26 cats were much more relaxed and docile with gabapentin. Also, it was noted that none of the cats who took part in the study were worse after gabapentin.
Gentle handling and kindness are always the best approach when working with nervous cats. Technicians are trained to be extra kind and careful but it sure helps to have a little gabapentin on board.