Antidepressants for Cats

Some kitties need antidepressants because of behavioral problems.
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If your kitty is acting strange, or stranger than usual, it's time to visit the vet to see what could be the matter. To treat some behavioral problems, your vet might prescribe a human antidepressant for your furry friend to help alleviate stress and calm him down.

Why Antidepressants

Your kitty might behave in a way that's troubling or unpleasant. Examples include excessive grooming, destructive scratching, aggression, extreme shyness and inappropriate elimination. Several medications that were developed for humans can alleviate psychological problems in felines that might be causing those unwanted behaviors.

Your vet will recommend the correct dosage for your furry buddy based on the cat's size. The dose will be much less than for a human.

Such drugs are a last resort. They should be used only after trying to enrich your kitty's environment or alleviate his stress.

What Kinds

Tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are two types of antidepressants commonly prescribed for our feline friends. Tricyclic antidepressants include amitriptyline, clomipramine and doxepin. These drugs increase your kitty's levels of serotonin and norepinephrin, which help regulate his emotions, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors include fluoxetine and sertraline. They also affect and help to regulate the levels of serotonin, a chemical that's a type of neurotransmitter in the brain.

How Long

Depending on your kitty's situation, your vet will prescribe antidepressants for him for either a limited time or for the rest of his life. Tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors must be given daily, and their effects are not immediate. Expect about a month before you notice changes in your cat's behavior, according to the Veterinary Behavior Clinic.

If one brand of tricyclic antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors doesn't work with your kitty, another might. You might need several tries to achieve the desired behavioral results.

Side Effects

Antidepressants don't come without potential side effects for your kitty. And because of health reasons, they're not appropriate for all felines.

Tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are metabolized by the liver and then excreted through the kidneys, according to the ASPCA. This makes them inappropriate for felines who have kidney or liver problems. Your vet will monitor your furry buddy's kidney and liver function yearly through blood tests to ensure that the drugs are not harming these organs.

Tricyclic antidepressants can increase your kitty's thirst, and they can contribute to or cause house soiling. You might also notice that these medications have a sedative effect on your usually feisty furry friend, or that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors make Fluffy more irritable than usual.

Consult your vet if your kitty is taking any other medications, because antidepressants could interact negatively with them. Even some foods, such as cheese and foods containing L-tryptophan, should be avoided while your kitty is on antidepressants, according to petMD.


Give your kitty the dosage of antidepressant that your vet prescribes. Giving more could poison your feline friend, leading to increased heart rate, seizures, tremors and death in severe cases, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. The help line also warns that some kitties find antidepressants, including venlafaxine, very tasty, so the pills should be kept in a cabinet out of your furry friend's reach.

If given in the proper dose daily and used with behavior modification techniques, antidepressants can help reduce or eliminate unwanted behavior by your kitty. Although these drugs haven't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in kitties, your vet can legally prescribe them as an "off-label" usage.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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