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Home > Ask A Vet > Trazodone for Cats: Warnings, Doses & Potential Side Effects (Vet Answer)

Trazodone for Cats: Warnings, Doses & Potential Side Effects (Vet Answer)

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Written by

Dr. Lindsay Bisset

Veterinarian, BVSc

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Even the calmest of cats may experience stress and anxiety while traveling to the veterinary clinic and during an exam. This can make it difficult for the veterinarian to perform a thorough exam. It also means that some owners avoid taking their cats to the vet altogether, as they find the experience overly stressful—for both themselves and their cat. As a result, many cats miss out on preventative care and early disease detection.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Sedation or anxiety-reducing medications, such as Trazodone, can help make a potentially stressful situation much more comfortable for your cat.

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What is Trazodone?

Trazodone (brand names Desyrel®, Molipaxin®) is a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI) antidepressant. It works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.

Serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone”, is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between nerve cells and helps to regulate mood.

Trazodone has anti-anxiety and mild sedative properties. In cats, Trazodone is used for the management of short-term anxiety, such as anxiety related to travel or veterinary visits.1 Trazodone may also be used to manage noise phobias (e.g., towards fireworks and thunderstorms).

What is the Correct Dose of Trazodone for Cats?

The correct dose of Trazodone is 50 to 100 mg per cat once daily, administered one to two hours before the anticipated stressful event. Trazodone is recommended for short-term use only in cats.

Trazodone Drug In Prescription Medication Pills Bottle
Image by: luchschenF, Shutterstock

How is Trazodone Administered?

Trazodone is available in tablet or capsule form and is given orally (by mouth). This medication may be given to your cat on an empty stomach or with food. If your cat vomits after receiving Trazodone on an empty stomach, try giving the next dose with a small meal or treat.

Always follow your veterinarian’s instructions when giving Trazodone to your cat.

What Happens if You Miss a Dose of Trazodone?

For Trazodone to be effective at reducing stress and anxiety, your cat should receive a dose one to two hours before the anticipated stressful event. If you miss a dose, it may be necessary to reschedule or postpone your travel plans or veterinary appointment so that your cat may receive a dose of Trazodone at the correct time.

If your cat was prescribed Trazodone for the management of noise phobias (e.g., towards fireworks or thunderstorms) and you miss a dose, give the medication as soon as you remember. Be sure to move your cat to a quiet spot in the house while the medication takes effect.

If you miss a dose of Trazodone and are unsure of what to do, it’s best to contact your veterinarian for advice.

Potential Side Effects of Trazodone

Trazodone is generally well tolerated by healthy cats, and side effects are mild if present.2

Potential side effects include:

  • Sedation
  • Partial prolapse of the nictitating membrane (third eyelid)
  • Ataxia (loss of coordination)
  • Gastrointestinal effects (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Agitation
  • Fast heart rate

Trazodone may cause a serious and potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome if combined with other medications that increase serotonin levels in the body, such as antidepressants, Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication.3

Cat is crying, the sad gray cat
Image by: Ketochka1990, Shutterstock

Signs of serotonin syndrome include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever
  • Muscle tremors or jerking
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Agitation
  • Excitation
  • Disorientation
  • Vocalization
  • Seizures

For this reason, your veterinarian must be aware of all medications that your cat is receiving (including vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies). If your cat visits more than one veterinarian, ensure that all of your veterinarians have a complete list of the medications that your cat takes to prevent drug interactions like serotonin syndrome from occurring.

If your cat displays any of the above-mentioned signs of serotonin syndrome, you should seek immediate veterinary attention.

Trazodone Warnings and Precautions

Trazodone should be used with caution in pets with:

  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Severe heart disease
  • Glaucoma
Cat Vomit
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How quickly does trazodone take effect in cats?

Trazodone typically takes effect in one to two hours, with peak sedation occurring at two to two and a half hours after administration.


How should I store this medication?

Trazodone should be sorted in the original prescription bottle or a closed dosage reminder container at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light. Keep this medication out of reach of children and other animals.


How do I know if my cat is stressed?

If your cat is stressed or anxious, you may notice some or all of the following signs:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tail flicking
  • Urination
  • Defecation
  • Tail held close to the body
  • Ears flattened against the head
  • Crouching down
  • Freezing
  • Trying to escape
  • Vocalization
  • Hair standing up
  • Aggression

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Conclusion

Trazodone is a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI) antidepressant. It has anti-anxiety and mild sedative properties. In cats, Trazodone is used for the management of short-term anxiety, such as anxiety related to travel, veterinary visits, or noise phobias (e.g., towards fireworks, thunderstorms).

Trazodone is considered to be safe and is generally well-tolerated by healthy cats. Side effects are mild if present. The most commonly reported side effect related to Trazodone administration was sleepiness.

Trazodone may cause a serious and potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome if combined with other medications that increase serotonin levels in the body. For this reason, your veterinarian must be aware of all medications that your cat is receiving—including vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies.


Featured Image Credit: Hunt Han, Unsplash

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