Treating Cat Behavior Problems With Drugs


Cat. His knows what he wants. Photo by Patrick Feller

Would you treat a cat behavior problem with drugs? I have never been in the position where it has entered my mind to treat a cat behavior problem with drugs. This is because I never regard cat behavior, in any form, as a problem. If a person can get themselves into that frame of mind it is much easier and more enjoyable living with a cat. It also saves a lot of hassle and money going to the vet. It is also a manifestation of my motto: respect the cat.

However, I don’t want to judge people (or cats) as there may be occasions where drug treatment is appropriate for cat behavior “disorders”. Personally I can’t resist taking a close look at the word “disorder”.  A disorder is a disturbance in normal function. We have to be careful that we make sure when we talk of a “cat behavior disorder” that we are not talking about cat behavior which we consider inappropriate or inconvenient. We also have to differentiate between normal cat behavior and abnormal cat behavior. I am not sure if people can do that accurately because it requires an excellent knowledge of feline behavior. Feline behavior is still being studied by the “experts”.  However, if a vet considers a cat’s behavior to be the result of a disorder, the next logical step is to see if the cause is something that we are doing or creating.

Cats live in an environment of our making. Perhaps a change in the environment might change the cat’s behavior? It may be as simple and as efficient as that. To avoid the use of drugs is obviously beneficial on a number of fronts the most significant of which is avoiding bad side effects. All drugs have side effects. They are not some magic panacea or cure for life’s ills.

Cat owners can do things that inadvertently stresses their cat. Then the stressed cat is liable to do things that upset the cat’s owner. The cat’s owner may then make matters worse by punishing the cat or doing something else that further stresses their cat. That scenario can only lead to one destination: a deteriorating relationship between cat and person and possible relinquishment.

Drugs to treat cat behavior disorders are a last resort. I would suspect that many vets would be reluctant to prescribe them. I can sense that this area of feline treatment may on occasion be a source of disagreement between vet and client (cat owner) because some owners will prefer to take the drug route for convenience while a good vet might resist and prefer to discuss more difficult and troublesome issues: human behavior problems!

The difficulty that vets have in treating their patients, the cat, is that the paying client and spokesperson for the patient has a vested interest in what happens. Not all cat owners have the welfare of their cat truly at heart.

This is me ranting on…in my usual style. I have a point of view that is heavily focused on us. I respect other people’s views of course.

There seems to be three groups of drugs for cats with behavioral disorders:


These obviously calm a cat. They can be used for reducing anxiety when shipping a cat or moving home etc. However, a cat’s reaction to these events are not behavioral disorders and a tranquillized cat might bite or scratch to slight provocation.

There are at least two types that are used:

  1. Valium. A drug commonly used for people. Called diazepam. This is a preferred drug for cat behavior disorders but it causes liver problems. It needs careful monitoring and a vet should always be involved. Apparently the success rate for curing inappropriate elimination problems is 55-75%. But as it should not be given routinely and as the problem comes back when it is stopped it has limited value. Also there are many causes of peeing outside the litter box which should be evaluated beforehand and which are likely to be equally successful.
  2. Acepromazine. This drug should be used short term as well.


These are used to stop spraying and “destructive scratching”.  The effect is similar to neutering a male cat. Examples of these drugs are (USA):

  1. Medroxyprogesterone
  2. Megestrol

There are serious side effects such as diabetes and excessive drinking and urination and so are to be avoided. The phrase “destructive scratching” is hugely problematic as it implies the problem is not the cat’s but ours.


A drug that is also used to stop peeing outside the litter box is Buspirone. This drug is also used to treat people for anxiety disorders. It is effective 75% of the time indicating that peeing outside the litter tray is due to anxiety. I hope the vet discusses all the possible reasons why a cat might be anxious about going to the litter tray. The most obvious reason is that the cat’s owner has introduced a new cat that the existing cat does not like or is subservient to. This might result in competition for a single litter tray. Solution: let a cat choose his own housemates and/or provide two trays, one per cat and a place to hide.

Amitriptyline is another anti-anxiety drug for people. It helps people to sleep. It can cause cardiac side effects.

Clomipramine is another human drug used for general human health problems such as anxiety, OCD and depression.

Fluoxetine. This is Prosac the well known anti-depressant. Once again this is prescribed for “elimination disorders” in cats.

I feel compelled to comment on the phrase “elimination disorders”. What are we talking about? If a cat does not eliminate in a place that we have decided is the right place for him to have a pee are we to classify this cat as having a behavioral disorder? Or do we assess him as disagreeing with us because the litter is in the wrong place or is the wrong size or is the wrong stuff altogether? Or perhaps he is unhappy because of something we have done? His behavior might not be a disorder at all.

Cats are drug sensitive. Drugs are administered by patient weight. It requires extreme care well beyond the skills of the average cat owner.

Original Flickr photo

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Treating Cat Behavior Problems With Drugs — 6 Comments

  1. I love your videos Michael, you take the welfare of cats so seriously and anyone watching should surely learn a lot from you!
    The cat is not to blame for eliminating or scratching in the wrong place, as you say it’s always something we have done.
    Sedatives, like punishment, are NEVER the answer, we need to put ourselves in the cat’s place and work out why a behavioural issue is happening and then work out how to put it right.
    All drugs have side effects and it’s unfair to force a cat to take sedatives when that cat can’t tell us if his head is aching or whatever other side effects he feels.

    • Thanks Ruth. I suspect not everyone will like them. However, I believe that people who have websites should talk to their visitors and should say what they believe without fear.

  2. I really like the videos too, I love the way you speak so seriously and the way you get the message over, this is important information, cats being cats are nor misbehaving, they are behaving as cats are meant to behave.

  3. I have a 20 cat sanctuary. One of the male neutered cats is trying to kill another male neutered cat. I’ve tried all the solutions. My vet prescribed 2.5 mg Clomipramine daily. What do you think?

    • Great question and thanks for asking it! I will presume that you have tried all natural ways of resolving the dispute. The problem is that you have rescued two males who don’t get on. Rescuing the cats is great and I love that. But the selection of cats in the sanctuary was not chosen by the cats but by chance. In nature these two males would not be together. I wonder if one could be rehomed. I am probably talking out of turn etc but I don’t think you can quieten one down by putting him on a long term drug treatment. It seems unfair and unhealthy but I guess it is better than him being euthanised somewhere. If there was sufficient space these two would not have to share the same home range. They each need their own home range. I think you should try and find a different home for one of them.

  4. The list of possible side effects from Clomipramine is scary!
    I agree with Michael, drugging the cat is not a long term solution, it wouldn’t be fair to keep him on medication for life yet if stopped, as soon as it wears off he’s sure to return to his old behaviour.
    Some cats just don’t like other cats, just like us if we take a dislike to someone we can avoid them, but cats living together can’t do that.
    I agree again with Michael, the only solution is to rehome the bully cat to someone without a cat already, he needs to be a single cat, meanwhile keep them apart rather than drug him.

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