Amitriptyline (anticholinergic drug) for cats may increase risk of feline dementia

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Amitriptyline (Elavil) is administered to cats with ‘behavior disorders’ such as inappropriate urination and destructive behavior and for medical conditions such as cystitis, separation anxiety and more. It is an anticholinergic drug. It inhibits acetylcholine activity. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical transmitter).  In people, amitriptyline is used for all kinds of conditions such as reducing anxiety and relieving chronic pain.

A recent study by the University of Washington, published in JAMA Internal Medicine on the long term use of anticholinergic drugs by people, concluded that these drugs raised the risk of dementia in people aged 65 and older by 50%. This is not unexpected because treatments for dementia in people are designed to boost acetylcholine activity.

No one has written about this subject yet. I have just joined the dots and decided to put out a warning. The use of amitriptyline in people and cats is very similar. It is reasonable therefore to conclude that the results of the study may apply to cats as well.

My impression is that this sort of drug should be used with a great deal of caution as there are stories of cats reacting badly and when you add in the possible increased risk of dementia, amitriptyline as a ‘solution’ to behavioural problems becomes even more unattractive. In addition, for amitriptyline, cardiac side effects can be seen.

4 thoughts on “Amitriptyline (anticholinergic drug) for cats may increase risk of feline dementia”

  1. Amitriptyline is a very old drug and was, initially, marketed for depression around 1960. It really wasn’t all that effective, so over the course of many years, the pharmaceutical company came up with more and more uses for it. The list of uses exceed 40 and include IBS, sleep disorders, migraines, eating disorders, OCD…. And, then, the drug was expanded into the 4 legged animal world. OMG!
    AstraZeneca, finally, stopped making it as they were coming under fire for having so many medications out with questionable “off-label” uses assigned.
    Amitriptyline is still widely available as a generic from several companies.
    However, I would never allow a cat of mine to receive a drug that had so many trumped up benefits. No drug is “all purpose”. And, the list of side effects exceed the list of benefit claims as well. Dimentia should be red- starred for this drug.
    In my opinion, there have been only a few “wonder drugs” ever invented. One is aspirin, and it has and, only has, claimed 2 important uses, ie. pain and fever.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more, Dee. It is amazing how many times we read of drugs like Viagra suddenly being recommended for arthritis or something totally unrelated.

      Drug companies are some of the most profit driven in the world.

      When I read about peoples’ experiences in giving their cat amitriptyline the drug seems wholly unsatisfactory even when excluding dementia. The side effects seem to be too common and too strong.

      • It’s terrifying that we, sometimes, blindly accept what our healthcare professionals prescribe for us and our pets.
        My belief is that any good vet will, clearly, let us know what they believe may be a problem, present all treatment options available, and do whatever they can to help us make an informed decision.
        Unless we ask for their opinion, they need to be quiet and respectful.
        We love our cats; they don’t. They may like them, simply, because they like animals, but they aren’t embedded in their heart as they are with us.
        Vets, just like surgeons or psychiatrists have no right to impose their will on us or assume that we are ignorant.
        I believe, also, that vets and all healthcare workers have a responsibility to assist us with cost containment whenever possible. We’re not so daft that we can’t carry our own cat’s urine or stool specimen in or that we can’t get a blood sample.

        • Unless we ask for their opinion, they need to be quiet and respectful..

          I had a row with my vet about three weeks ago. As far as I was concerned she was bullying me and arguing with me.

          I told her that and she shut up. Vets should listen to the customer if he/she is a good customer. If the cat owner lacks knowledge then the vet has a duty to guide (sometimes firmly in the interests of cat health).

          However, if the cat owner has knowledge and is caring the vet should do as instructed.


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