Cat visits to veterinarians have dropped 13.5% since 2006, but not because people are not interested in their cats’ health. As reported by veterinarians, cats are typically so anxious about traveling in the car and being handled in a strange place, Cat Parents are avoiding whisker-to-face visits unless their feline is sick. More and more veterinarians are prescribing trazodone for cats for pre-visit anxiety.
Trazodone is an antidepressant that enhances sleep in humans and is effective as a sedative for animals. While there have been studies on the drug’s effectiveness in cats, more research is needed to refine the results and fill in some gaps.
Trazodone for cats is prescribed by your veterinarian and can be found in pharmacies as well as online. It’s a relatively inexpensive medication, especially because it’s often given in just 1- or 2-tablet pre-office visit or pre-op doses. The cost for one tablet is about $.10, while larger supplies of 100 tablets cost between $14 and $18, depending on the dose.
Trazodone for cats is available in oral tablet form, in 50, 75 and 100 mg strengths. The usual dose for pre-visit sedation in cats is:
- 5-10 mg/kg or 50 mg average per cat by mouth
Sedation with trazodone for cats is considered “off-label” because it is not specifically approved for animals. For this reason, it is essential to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully as they may differ from the label.
Trazodone for cats should be administered by mouth on an empty stomach. If vomiting occurs, the next dose can be given with food. The medication takes effect quickly, within 1 to 2 hours for sedation, and lasts about 10-12 hours.
For pre-surgical sedation, the dose should be given the night before the surgery and then at least 2 hours before the appointment on the day of surgery.
The tablet should be placed in the mouth well back on the tongue. If possible hold the cat’s mouth shut until they swallow. If the cat spits the tablet out, try again, perhaps with a little wet food or wrapped in a small piece of meat.
In a study designed to test cats’ responsiveness to trazodone as a sedative, 6 research cats were given trazodone or a placebo. They were then observed by a “blind” observer who rated the cats’ responses to the medication. Their results showed that:
- There were no adverse effects or changes from the pre-trazodone physical exam or lab work.
- Activity reduction was noted at doses of 50 mg (83%), 75 mg (46%) and 100 mg (66%).
- The mean time at which the drug was at its peak was 2 hours.
- It was noted that the scores measuring the response to 100 mg of trazodone were not significantly different during an exam from the results with the other doses.
- More studies are necessary to further refine the methods and interpretation of the results.
- Trazodone was well-tolerated and it achieved sedation at all doses.
In another study, measuring the efficacy of trazodone for preoperative sedation, 10 cats were given either trazodone or a placebo according to their weight. In addition to observing appreciable differences in the cats’ behavior, it was determined that there were no physical changes in heart function. This supports the idea that trazodone is safe for elderly or debilitated cats.
Side effects from trazodone for cats are generally mild, and not well-documented. They include:
- Dilated pupils
- Sedation and lethargy
- Vomiting or gagging
- Heart arrhythmias
- Increased anxiety
- Increased appetite
Trazodone should be used with caution in cats who have severe heart disease, liver impairment or kidney impairment. It should not be given to cats with angle-closure glaucoma, and it may cause damage to the fetus in pregnant cats.
Trazodone (Desyrel, Desyrel Dividose, Oleptro, and Trazodone D) has been found to have undesirable interactions with many drugs, including:
- Antihypertensive drugs (Hydrochlorothiazide, metropolol sulfate, indapamide, et al.)
- Salicylate pain medications (acetylsalicylic acid)
- Azole antifungals (fluconazole, itraconazole, econazole, terconazole, butoconazole, tioconazole)
- Gastrokinetic (cisapride)
- Central nervous system depressants (diazepam, clonazepam, zolpidem, phenobarbitol)
- Group V antiarrhythmics (digoxin)
- Fluoroquinolones (ciprafloxacin, delafloxin)
- Macrolide antibiotics (azithromycin, erythromycin)
- Monoamine oxide inhibitors (phenelzine, isocarboxazid, tranylcypromine)
- Dopamine antagonists (metoclopramide)
- Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs - NSAIDs (ibuprofen, indomethacin, celecoxib, naproxen sodium)
- 5 HT3 receptor antagonist (ondansetron)
- Phenothiazines (chlorpromazine, thioridazine)
- SSRI antidepressants (paroxetine, sertraline, fluoxetine)
- Opioid analgesic (tramadol)
Allergic Reactions and Sensitivity
There are no specific allergy issues with trazodone and no reported sensitivity to it. Long-term use as an antidepressant or sedative may cause dependence.
Frequently asked questions
Is trazodone available over the counter?
Trazodone is only available with a prescription. Some veterinarians keep a supply of trazodone in their clinics and may dispense it from there.
What do I do if I miss a dose?
If it is shortly after the scheduled dose, give it right away, as soon as you remember. If it’s close to the time of the next dose, just give the next dose. Don’t double up on this medication or give extra doses.
How do I store trazodone?
Trazodone should be kept in an airtight container at a temperature of 77 to 86 degrees. It should be stored away from light.
What do I do in case of an emergency?
If the cat shows symptoms ofserotonin syndrome, which follows an overdose of trazodone or in combination with SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) antidepressants, contact your vet right away. The syndrome includes symptoms in cats that are similar to those in humans. They include rapid breathing, difficulty walking, trembling and seizures, confusion or hyperactivity, fever, and rapid heartbeat. Also, contact your vet in case of an overdose with or without symptoms of serotonin syndrome.