Treating Cat Anxiety with Melatonin

Melatonin is a drug prescribed for human use that has shown effectiveness in treating mild cat anxiety. However, medication is best used in conjunction with a training program that will help your cat learn to relax and deal with his stress.

Uses of Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone and antioxidant that combats particles in the body called "free radicals," which are thought to contribute to brain deterioration. Because of these properties, melatonin is used to regulate hormone cycles. It can also be used as a mild sedative.

Because melatonin is approved for human consumption, it's available to pet owners over the counter. It should only be used with veterinarian consultation since it can have side effects, especially when used in conjunction with other medications.

In cats, melatonin has been used successfully in treatment of separation anxiety and fear reactions, such as noise phobias. Because it also has sedating properties, it can be used to calm hyperactivity at night, and to help senior dogs who become disoriented at night.

Separation anxiety, where a cat becomes stressed every time the owner leaves the house and often engages in destructive behavior, may require long-term usage. Short-term use of melatonin is also effective, such as kenneling your cat during a vacation or the week of July 4th, when noises are particularly disturbing.

Since melatonin is a hormone, not a drug, it has few side effects and can be used either for long-term or short-term use, without worrying about addiction or negative repercussions from missing dosages.

Combining with Training

Though long-term use of melatonin is not considered dangerous, using medication to treat anxiety is only managing the issue. A better long-term solution is training your cat to relax in stressful situations, thus improving his quality of life. If you use melatonin in conjunction with training, you may be able to eliminate it later on as your cat learns better coping skills.

For example, if your cat has noise phobias, place him in a comfortable place, such as a crate or calm room. Begin to play a noise CD at a low level, low enough that your cat's ears prick, but he doesn't become frightened. Play the CD for only a minute or two, rewarding your cat with his favorite treat during this time.

Gradually increase the noise as your cat becomes accustomed to each volume. If your cat ever becomes stressed, you're moving too fast. Using melatonin during the process reduces your cat's anxiety so that he's able to tolerate a higher level of noise while remaining calm. This allows your training to progress more quickly.

When you begin to reduce the amount of melatonin, reduce the volume during training and slowly build up again. This will keep your cat from being suddenly startled by the change.

Since behavior problems may get worse with time, melatonin might not always be effective. Behavioral modification is an important step in reducing your cat's anxiety. However, melatonin can be a helpful training aid that helps your cat reduce anxiety and improve coping skills.