Should Cat Behavior Problems Be Treated with Medication?

Medications are occasionally recommended to treat cat behavior problems, but this is usually only in extreme cases. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors, aggression and inappropriate urination can be treated with medicine, but this should be tried only when all other solutions have been ruled out. Treating behaviors with medication is effective when paired with a behavior modification program but will have less success when used alone.

Rule Out Illness

A sudden behavior change can often be caused by an illness or injury. If your cat has arthritis or another chronic illness, this can result in irritability and increased aggression. Some injuries and illnesses can also mimic obsessive-compulsive behaviors and other behavior problems.

Before implementing a behavior modification plan and seeking behavior medications, have a complete veterinary checkup and blood panel. Often, relieving the symptoms of the illness or injury will reduce the behavior problems.

Pairing with Behavior Modification

Medication alone is not enough to solve a behavior problem. However, many behavior problems are caused by fear and anxiety, which can be reduced by a behavioral medication that can only be prescribed by a veterinarian.

When your cat is too stressed to respond to a behavior modification program, medication may work to reduce the stress enough to get the training started. Once the cat is responding to the program, the medicine can often be reduced and eventually eliminated to avoid a life-long dependence, which can lead to long-term health problems.

Environmental changes are an important component of this. If there is something in your cat's environment that is causing stress, do your best to identify and eliminate that stimulus. This could be another cat, loud noises, strangers etc.

Give the cat a dark, quiet room where it can retreat for solitude. Try desensitizing the cat to the stimulus by exposing it at a level that causes only very mild stress and rewarding the cat with his favorite reward for accepting the stimulus. Move slowly when increasing the stimulus. The goal is to reduce stress, not cause it.

Problems such as scratching can often be solved by adding more appropriate scratching places. Litter box problems can often be fixed by adding more litter boxes, changing the litter or moving the litter box. Your cat may have been scared in the litter box or had painful diarrhea and now associates the litter box with pain or fear. Changing the smell, feel or location of the litter box can often remove that association.

Type of Medication

Medication may be recommended once illness has been ruled out and behavior modification or environmental changes have proved unsuccessful. Veterinarians may prescribe one of four types of medications, depending on your cat's health and symptoms.

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed for anxiety or aggression, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) for cognitive dysfunction and tricyclic antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for timidity, anxiety, aggression or compulsive behavior.

There is value in using medication for behavior problems, but they should not be used as a quick fix. They often take time to show improvement and often will lead to very little improvement without being paired with a behavior modification program.