When Should You Give Your Cat Happy Pills?

Drug treatment of cat behavior disorders
Drug treatment of cat behavior disorders
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By happy pills, I mean anti-depressants. My instinctive response to the question is: never, no way. I don’t like pills. But am I right? I tend to think that almost all cat behavior problems are really human behavior problems. Either a person can’t accept his cat’s behavior and doesn’t know what to do so he gets the vet to prescribe happy pills or his cat is demonstrating stress related behavior and the stress is due to the cat’s owner – i.e. he is away too much, introducing strange cats or generally providing an environment that is unsuitable. Remove the source of stress and a cat will settle down.

I think it is true that almost all cat behavior problems are forms of anxiety or stress and a cat is almost always anxious because of poor quality cat caretaking, either inadvertently or deliberately.

However, and even I have to admit this, there are occasions where prescribing anti-depressants may be suitable. This may occur if, for example, a cat has had a very difficult start in life and then is cared for well but is unable to shrug off the effects of the past. In short, the cat is psychologically damaged. Under these circumstances prescribing pills is only following the sort of course people follow when they go to their doctor. Millions of people in the UK are prescribed anti-depressants.  However, the truth is, they are over-prescribed.

The trouble is that in the real world some rescued cats are going to have a tough time becoming a settled domestic cat. These cats may be candidates for pills but it must be the very last resort.

I believe that all cats no matter how innately anxious they might be can be relaxed and rehabilitated through sympathetic and excellent cat caretaking without resorting to pills (Michael).

CNN reported Kate Walmsley resorted to giving her cat amitriptyline, an anti-anxiety pill that is widely prescribed for people with sleep problems amongst other conditions. I am not going to question what she did. Well, actually, I am, gently. She says that her cat’s early years or months were spent living in a garbage area. I suppose she was a semi-feral or stray cat.

After adopting her, on the occasions that Ms Walmsley went away her cat become very anxious and stressed, which caused cystitis by the sound of it. Kate Walmsley says her cat regularly got urinary tract infections. Stress plays a major role in this disease.

I am guessing, but if Kate had stayed at home her cat wouldn’t have become anxious and stressed. So the primary cause was human behavior. As there was no solution because Kate had to go away (I am guessing that that was the case) the only solution was happy pills for her cat to calm her down. This is not a case of a cat with mental health problems. This is more about an anxious cat who wants continuous human company which she had grown used to.

Perhaps the answer for Kate was to find a person who was always at home and to re-home her cat. A retired, gentle-minded couple who loved cats might have been the answer. Understandably, that was unacceptable to Ms Walmsley but, dare I say it, might it not have been more acceptable for her cat than the existing state of affairs?

Prozac for cats
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Vet’s Recommendations

The well known vets and authors of the world’s best known cat health book¹ provide the following advice on the appropriateness of prescribing happy pills for a cat.

In summary they say:

  • drugs are a last resort and only used with a complete behavior and environment check up (that means humans).
  • the drug should be withdrawn on “from time to time” to see if the problem has gone.
  • only a vet can prescribe and monitor anti-depressants. Dosage is tricky and a cat requires a full medical check before administering.
  • tranquillizers can produce side effects such as not using the litter box and biting. (comment: that seems to make them pointless).
  • diazepam (valium) can cause liver problems. Not suitable for long term.
  • Progesterones cause serious side effects (a long list including diabetes) –  these are essentially unsuitable.
  • Amitryptiline can cause cardiac problems.
  • Prozac can be used for peeing outside the litter box.
  • Buspirone (Buspar) stops innapropriate elimination 75% of the time. Give for 8 weeks then cat weaned off. Used in coordination with environment changes etc..


  1.  Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook

10 thoughts on “When Should You Give Your Cat Happy Pills?”

  1. I get a migraine maybe once every 2 years since being on the ami. I don’t drink anything but filtered water. No coffee or sodas. Mine are hereditary. Mama was disabled by age 40 due to migraines. Her brother has them and my grandmother also had them. I’m just glad the ami works.

  2. No way will I ever go off them again. Most of the drugs used to prevent migraines are very expensive. The ami is $4 a month and they also help a lot with my arthritis pain. There’s no way I can go back to twice a week emergency room visits for migraines as I did in the 1980’s. None of the other meds the Dr. tried on me offered relief. Except the Fiornal, which I had to take 120 a month to function. These were during the days I spent as a professional photographer. I have to have the EKG done every few years and so far I’m in good shape heartwise.

    • Elisa do you drink coffee? It caused both Babz and I bad migraines, we switched to de caff and have hardly suffered from migraines since then.

  3. Be very careful with amitriptiline. I’ve been on it for over 20 years for pain management and migraine prevention. It has 2 serious side effects. I’m always thirsty. Its also a drug you can’t stop cold turkey or it can cause serious heart problems.

    Our Sheela had to have 3 days of don’t care pills when she returned to us. She couldn’t stop trembling. The vet put her on a mild dose and a few days later she was fine. I’d never seen such a terrified cat. We thought her heart would explode.

    • A bit of advice Elisa (about humans). I read about some research on migraines and the conclusion was that pain killers make things worse. If can get off them gradually it may help. Pain killers can cause pain in high doses and in the long term.

      If you Google “Painkillers may be making a million headaches worse” you’ll find some NHS (National Health Service) stuff on this.

  4. Another reason not to give cats antidepressants is that they can be addictive, who’s to know what sort of withdrawal symptoms a cat would go through when the vet decided he/she had had a long enough course? I know that sometimes people have a horrendous time coming off such drugs, people have taken things for years only only for them to be discovered to have done more harm than good. Cats in their natural state don’t reach for the pill bottle when things get tough, let’s not force chemicals onto them.

  5. I don’t think it is ever acceptable to give a cat ‘happy pills’
    We don’t know what side effects the cat feels and it’s not worth the risk of forcing these chemicals into a cat who has no choice in whether he wants to take them or not.
    After the particularly distressing death of my mother I had reactive depression, the first anti depressants the doctor prescribed did no good at all, the second made me ill for 4 days after one single tablet.
    I hate the thought that a cat might feel the way I did, I had hallucinations, felt sick and dizzy, couldn’t eat or go on with my with life at all.
    After another bereavement our Walter had anxiety problems and the cat therapist wanted to put him on anti depressants, she said for the first week he would be totally out of it, the vet would need to experiment with the dosage until they got it right and he may need to stay on them for a long time.
    No way would we put him through that!
    With love and patience and understanding we got him through his problems with no drugs at all.
    Michael you are spot on when you say

    ‘I believe that all cats no matter how innately anxious they might be can be relaxed and rehabilitated through sympathetic and excellent cat caretaking without resorting to pills’

    • I know we think the same way. I do believe pills are not the answer. They present us with an easier course of action that is an opt out, sometimes, from the harder route of natural rehabilitation.

  6. It seems to me that even if you do as much as possible to make your cat happy, if he or she can’t go outside then he or she may well become depressed anyway, no matter how much you play. I don’t like seeing a cat give up on life and not even be bothered to play. I hope this sort of thing is usually a period. I would not want to become involved in using antidepressants. However if I had no choice then I would. For me the answer is to move somewhere they can be let outside. But this may take me years. I hope my cats will be happy enough til then. But there will be people who cannot move and who do everything for their cat and still have a depressed cat. I am beginning to think its very possible although to be fair it would seem people are usually the failure in the equation which gives a different result due to the fact.

    • It is all about us, the whole lot of it. Not matter how we reconfigure the equation a cat’s welfare and mental health comes back to people. On that basis a cat who needs anti-depressants needs them because of some thing we did somewhere. somehow. The cat is a double loser at the hands of people (a) messed up (b) takes drugs.


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