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Gabapentin: Helping Those Fearful or Anxious Cats Before Clinic Arrival?

van Haaften KA, Forsythe LRE, Stelow EA, Bain MJ.  Effects of a single preappointment dose of gabapentin on signs of stress in cats during transportation and veterinary examination. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2017 Nov 15;251(10):1175-1181.

Stress associated with transportation, examination, and diagnostic procedures is a major barrier that often prevents pet cats from receiving regular veterinary care.  Multiple strategies have been explored to reduce stress and increase compliance during veterinary visits, including behavioral conditioning, low-stress handling (Fear-Free Initiative), and fast-acting anti-anxiety medications.

Gabapentin is a medication that has traditionally been prescribed to treat seizures or chronic pains.  Its exact mechanism is not entirely clear, but it is thought to modulate the pain pathway in the central nervous system.  Besides traditional treatment, it was found to have anti-anxiety properties in humans, and it was not long afterward before anecdotal reports appeared regarding its use to help with travel anxiety in cats.

Van Haaften and coworkers at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis devised a random, blinded cross-over study of twenty healthy anxious and/or fractious cats to determine whether oral administration of a single 100-mg dose of gabapentin by cat owners prior to a veterinary visit would be effective at reducing anxiety during travel and improve compliance during physical examination. Efficacy assessment was based on owner perception, veterinarian assessment, and behavioral expert video observation.

Owner-assessed cat stress scores during transportation and veterinary examination, and veterinarian-assessed compliance scores were significantly lower when cats received gabapentin than when they received the placebo.  Owner-perceived peak effect of gabapentin was approximately 2-3 hours post administration.  After the cats returned home, some cats (~ 40%) were wobbly. Side effects resolved within 8 hours after gabapentin administration.

In conclusion, oral administration of a 100-mg gabapentin capsule to cats 90 minutes before travel was safe and effective in reducing anxiety during transportation and examination.  Furthermore, the researchers recommend 20mg/kg gabapentin, instead of 100mg/cat, to be given orally ~ 2-3 hours beforehand for short-term anxiolysis in cats.  Cat owners should be warned that cats may be mildly sedated or wobbly up to ~ 6-8 hours after receiving gabapentin. [GAO]

See also:
Pankratz KE, Ferris KK, Griffith EH, Sherman BL. Use of single-dose oral gabapentin to attenuate fear responses in cage-trap confined community cats: a double-blind, placebo-controlled field trial. J Feline Med Surg. 2017 Jul 1:1098612X17719399.