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Healthy Cats

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Treating Behavior Problems in Cats

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Which Medicines Are Best for What?

For the most part, four types of behavioral medicines are used to treat behavior problems in cats. These medicines are benzodiazepines (BZs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

The following table shows different cat behavior problems that have been successfully treated with a combination of medicine and behavior modification:

Behavior Problem

Medicine Type

General timidity


Litter box problems caused by anxiety


Urine marking




Compulsive behavior, such as excessive grooming


Cognitive dysfunction


Medicines for Treating Sudden Severe Fear, or Aggression

Just like antibiotics need to be taken for a while before they begin to fight bacteria, most behavioral medications for cats need to be taken daily for several weeks before they produce results. In situations where your cat is acting aggressive at the slightest sight or smell of another cat or has some other severe reaction to a fear of something else, a few weeks can be too long to wait. Benzodiazepines (BZs) can reduce your cat’s reactivity immediately. BZs produce results as soon as they’re taken, so they can treat fear or aggression within a few hours.

Some common BZs are diazepam (Valium®), alprazolam (Xanax®), chlordiazepoxide (Librium®), lorazepam (Ativan®) and clonazepam (Klonopin®). BZs work by increasing the activity of a chemical in the brain that interferes with activation of the fear networks.

Dose Effects

You can only know if a drug is working if you have an idea of what effects to expect. The following list offers expected reactions in cats to different doses of benzodiazepines:

  • At low doses, BZs decrease the intensity of excessive behavior and reduce excitability.
  • Moderate to high doses of BZs can reduce anxiety and increase playfulness, but they can also produce impaired movement and thinking, including disorientation. BZs affect some of the same parts of the cells in a cat’s brain as alcohol does in a human brain, and they produce similar effects. High doses can produce increased restlessness and anxiety, particularly when an animal is already stressed when given the medicine.
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