Gabapentin for Veterinary Visit Anxiety

Study shows this common pain medication helps reduce fear

Most of us are on the lookout for ways to make veterinary visits easier on fearful and fractious cats. A recent study, conducted in France and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, shows that the pain medication gabapentin may offer some hope.

Owners volunteered 55 healthy cats for the study (29 were considered calm kitties by their owners and 26 were, well, less than happy). The 29 calm cats did not get medicated but provided a control group. The 26 fearful cats took part in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. That means neither the owners nor the treating veterinarians knew if a cat received gabapentin or a placebo.

Each cat had two veterinary visits, one with gabapentin and one without. The owners had to give the cats a capsule two hours before the veterinary visit. Surprisingly, all owners felt it was easy to give the cats capsules.

The cats were rated on nine behaviors during their veterinary visits. These behaviors started with removal from their crates, covered a full physical examination (including palpation and examination of the eyes, ears, abdomen, and mouth), and having their temperature taken. It ended with return to their carrier. Cats were scored as to any attempts to bite or scratch the veterinary staff.

The results show that gabapentin was very effective in that 20 out of 26 fearful cats showed definite improvement. Equally important, none of the cats got worse after the medication. Some cats did show side effects such as drowsiness and ataxia (uncoordinated movement). All the cats recovered without any treatment in five to 10 hours. Note: Ideally, gabapentin should not be given to cats with kidney disease as they might not metabolize it well.

As stated by the researchers, while this study offers hope that gabapentin may help frightened or otherwise difficult cats cope with a veterinary visit, it does not eliminate the recommendation for using fear-reducing techniques, such as training an individual cat to go in his carrier and to tolerate handling, to help anxious kitties.

Marie Krusska DVM et al. “Clinical evaluation of the effects of a single oral dose of gabapentin on fear based-aggressive behaviors in cats during veterinary examinations,” JAVMA Dec 1, 2021,Vol. 259, No. 11.