The best approach in treating a cat with a behavior disorder is to
identify the underlying cause of the abnormal behavior and treat that cause
using environmental and behavioral modification. In general, it is best to use
drugs only when other methods have failed. The drug should be withdrawn from
time to time to see if the problem behavior recurs.
Because of the potential for dangerous side effects, behavior drugs should
only be prescribed and monitored by a veterinarian. The use of these drugs
should also be part of a comprehensive behavior and environmental modification
program. Many of these medications are not approved for use in cats and may
also require compounding to get an appropriate dosage.
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Before any medication is administered, the cat should have a complete
physical examination and blood workup to identify any underlying medical
Tranquilizers are useful for calming an injured or frightened cat and for
relieving anxiety attacks caused by moving, shipping, mating, or other
traumatic experiences. A side effect of tranquilizers is that they block
cortical inhibitory impulses. That means a tranquilized cat may stop using the
litter box or may bite and scratch at the slightest provocation. It can be
difficult to do behavior modification with a tranquilized cat.
Acepromazine (Promace) has a general depressive effect. It acts on the pain
center and relieves anxiety. It is difficult to do any behavior modification
with a cat who is tranquilized, though, so this drug should only be used very
short-term. It should not be the first drug of choice and many behaviorists
Diazepam (Valium) is less depressive and much preferred for most behavior
problems requiring a tranquilizer. However, diazepam has been shown to cause
serious liver problems in some cats and should not be used routinely. Cats
taking diazepam need frequent liver enzyme evaluations. This drug is successful
for 55 to 75 percent of cats with inappropriate elimination problems, but the
behavior resumes when the medication is stopped. Since diazepam is not an
appropriate drug for long-term use, it is therefore not the best choice for
cats with inappropriate elimination problems.
Medroxyprogesterone (Provera), megestrol (Megace), and other progestins have
a calming effect and depress the pain center. They are useful in modifying aggressive behavior,
particularly behavior with a sexual component. Effects are similar to those of
Progesterones also are effective in treating urine marking and spraying,
destructive scratching, compulsive self-grooming, and cannibalism. Side
effects include cystic endometrial hyperplasia, mammary hyperplasia, pyometra,
adrenal gland disease, weight gain, excessive drinking and urination, and diabetes.
Because the side effects are serious, these drugs have fallen out of favor
for use in behavior problems with cats. When needed, they should be used only
as short-term adjuncts to behavior modification.