Any cat so anxious that she cannot relax or overreacts to stimuli like the presence of visitors or common household noises should be evaluated by a qualified animal behaviorist. A veterinarian board-certified in animal behavior or a certified applied animal behaviorist will offer advice about behavior modification that can help her cope with her fear and anxiety.
Medication may also help fearful and anxious cats get over the hump. It’s not a crutch. It’s a useful tool in the arsenal of aids to help a cat become comfortable in her own environment and be able to calm down enough to take advantage of behavior modification techniques.
Your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist can advise you about medication that might be best for your cat. (You can search for a veterinarian who is board-certified in behavioral health at the website of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists: dacvb.org.)
There are a number of drugs available, but three that are frequently prescribed to help ratchet down feline anxiety are gabapentin, buspirone, and fluoxetine. Gabapentin is often recommended for situational fear and anxiety, meaning it is helpful in particular situations that has a cat jumping out of her skin (such as a visit to the vet). It is a sedative that has analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-convulsant effects in addition to anti-anxiety properties.
For chronic (ongoing) anxiety that is not tied to a specific event, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor such as fluoxetine (Prozac) is often a good choice, says the head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, DACVB. It is a once-a-day medicine that reduces anxiety and boosts overall confidence.
Buspirone is a serotonin partial agonist that may also be helpful for anxious cats. The side effects of increased playfulness and affection are often much appreciated. Buspirone’s downside is that it is bitter and must be given twice daily. You have to be willing to adjust your cat to accepting the medication.
Remember, you are not a failure if you turn to drugs when you cannot get a cat to calm down in other ways. You are a dedicated owner who is doing everything possible to keep your pet from unbearable emotional stress. And your cat may not even need to remain on the medicine indefinitely. Training in behavior modification may allow her to come off a medication over time, or at least take a lower dose, without returning to her pre-drug level of anxiety or fear.