Study: Gabapentin Reduces Stress in Cats Before Veterinary Visits

Cats can suffer from severe fear and stress when being transported to the veterinarian or while being examined once there. New research indicates that use of the medication gabapentin can significantly reduce signs of stress and increase compliance with the veterinary exam.

Gabapentin is an inexpensive medication originally developed to control seizures in humans. It is also used to control neuropathic pain in humans, dogs, and cats. While it is not labeled for use for anxiety, it is increasingly used for that purpose in human and veterinary medicine. It does not have a strong taste and is usually well accepted by cats when given in liquid form or with treats. (Note that some liquid formulations contain the sweetener xylitol, which is toxic to dogs although not known to be toxic to cats.)

Despite its increasing use in animal practice, research into its efficacy in cats has been recent and limited. In this study, published in the Nov. 15. 2017 issue of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 20 healthy pet cats, ranging in age from 1 to 16 years and with a history of signs of stress when at the vet, were brought by their owners for two veterinary visits one week apart.

The cats were randomly assigned to receive 100 mg of gabapentin or a placebo capsule containing lactose powder before the first visit. The capsules were given 90 minutes before they left for the vet. The treatment was reversed for each cat prior to the second visit.

Once they arrived at the veterinary hospital, each cat was examined and had his or her blood pressure read. Owners also rated the cats’ stress scores during the trip to the hospital as well as during the exam. The veterinarians rated the cats’ compliance with the process. The owners, the examining veterinarian, and observers were all blinded to which cats received the medication and which the placebo.

Findings included:

  • Owners gave significantly lower stress scores during transportation and examination to the cats who received gabapentin.
  • Veterinarians rated the cats treated with gabapentin as significantly more compliant during exam.
  • For 20 percent of the cats, examination was possible only when they were medicated with gabapentin
  • Sedation was a commonly reported side effect, particularly in smaller cats.
  • Some ataxia, hypersalivation, and vomiting were reported, all of which resolved within 8 hours.
  • Owners reported the peak effect of the medication occurred 2 to 3 hours after administration, suggesting that dosing the cats 90 minutes in advance, as was the case in the study, may have been less than optimal.

In their discussion of the study results, the authors concluded:

Overall, the present study yielded good evidence that oral administration of a 100-mg gabapentin cap­sule to cats 90 minutes before transporting them to the veterinary hospital led to a significant reduction in stress-related behaviors during transportation and examination. Gabapentin administration also de­creased aggression and increased compliance of cats during veterinary examination.

Karen A. van Haaften DVM; Lauren R. Eichstadt Forsythe PharmD; Elizabeth A. Stelow DVM; Melissa J. Bain DVM, MS, Effects of a single preappointment dose of gabapentin on signs of stress in cats during transportation and veterinary examination, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, November 15, 2017, Vol. 251, No. 10, Pages 1175-1181. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.251.10.1175.