For most cats, a visit to the veterinarian can be an overwhelming experience. Even though you and your vet team do everything possible to make their visit stress free, it can still be too much for some cats. Being removed from their familiar comfortable environment, a trip in the car, new smells and sounds at the vet – any one of these things can be stressful, but combine them and it’s no wonder some kitties need a little extra help when they visit us.
In the past few years, feline veterinarians have discovered that Gabapentin can aide in examining some kitties that have previously had to be sedated. It’s been used for chronic pain safely for several years, but has only recently been recognized for its effectiveness as a great short term anxiety medication for cats. It “takes the edge off” without having to use an oral tranquilizer medication or anesthesia. Other than drowsiness it has very little risk for side effects, and a lot of kitties will eat the capsule contents sprinkled in/on their food making it easy to give at home or at the vet. Occasionally owners report more increased drowsiness which can make them a little wobbly on their feet but it generally resolves within 12 hours.
At Just Cats, we like to have owners give the medication at home 2-3 hours prior to the vet visit, since that is typically the peak time for the drug’s effectiveness. However, every cat is different and occasionally we have to modify the dosage, timing, or even give a second dose. As with people, not every cat metabolizes drugs at the same exact rate, so it can vary depending on the cat’s level of body fat, age, and diseases processes (i.e. Hyperthyroidism can speed up metabolism).
Your veterinarian will usually recommend that you try Gabapentin for your cat’s next exam if they think it will be beneficial, and either send you home with a few capsules or place a note in your file that you can pick up a prescription prior to your next visit if they don’t need another exam for a while. It is best to make your cat’s first Gabapentin exam in the morning on a weekday if possible, just in case they need a little extra time to let the medication take effect once you arrive. Sometimes we recommend you drop them off for a little while and occasionally give them a little more of the medication if needed. With that being said, it is best not to make these initial appointments on Saturdays due to our tight schedule and shortened business day. If your cat routinely gets Gabapentin for exams and does well, feel free to schedule at your convenience. If we can find the right dosage and timing, you and your cat will be much happier, and that is truly our goal!
Unfortunately in other cases Gabapentin just isn’t quite enough to relax your cat to the point where we can get our treatments completed, so the vet may ultimately recommend that your kitty be fully sedated to avoid them being too stressed. The last thing we want is for them to have a bad visit here, because it will only make the next examination even more stressful for them. If you have questions or concerns regarding your cat’s anxiety at the vet, give us a call to see if Gabapentin may be the right choice!