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The use of gabapentin to reduce stress in cats

3 June 2019 – News

Owners’ concerns about the stress their cats suffer while being transported to vet appointments and during the appointments themselves mean that some cats don’t receive the veterinary care they need.  Gabapentin is already used to treat chronic pain and epilepsy but may also be an important tool to help reduce stress in cats before and during the veterinary consultation.

In a study, twenty mixed-breed and healthy cats with a history of stress caused by travel to the vet and by and veterinary examinations were scheduled for two veterinary visits, one week apart. Before each visit, owners were instructed to administer a capsule, the contents of which were not revealed to them. Some of the cats received a placebo before the first appointment and a 100mg gabapentin capsule before the second.  The other cats took the gabapentin capsule before the first visit and the placebo before the second.

Owners, veterinarians and assistants present during the consultations and two independent experts who watched the consultations via video were asked to score each cat for signs of stress, without knowing which capsule it had taken.

The results showed that gabapentin was effective in reducing stress and aggressive behaviour both during transport to the vet and during the examination. Owners perceived its effectiveness to peak 2-3 hours following administration. Sedation was the most frequently noted side effect but ataxia and hyper salivation were also reported. To avoid over sedation, especially in smaller cats, it is important to adjust the dose.

The study concluded that use of gabapentin before travel, together with gentle handling by the veterinary team, can really make a difference to a cat’s anxiety during a veterinary visit and, in so doing, improve their owner’s experience of the visit.  This is likely to be beneficial to the cat’s welfare because it makes more regular health check-ups more likely.

Haaften, K.; Forsythe, L.; Stelow, E.; Bain, M. Effects of a single preappointment dose of gabapentin on signs of stress in cats during transportation and veterinary examination. JAVMA, Vol. 251, No. 10, November 15, 2017.