By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH

What is sertraline?

Sertraline (brand names: Zoloft®, Altruline®, Anilar®, Aremis®, Atenix®, Besitran®, Bicromil®, Gladem®, Insertec®, Irradial®, Lustral®, Novativ®, Sealdin®, Serad®, Sercerin®, Serlain®, Serta®, Tatig®, Tolrest®, Tresleen®) is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant used to treat a variety of behavior disorders, including anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and aggression.  

Its use in cats and dogs to treat behavior disorders is ‘off label’ or ‘extra label’. Many drugs are commonly prescribed for off label use in veterinary medicine. In these instances, follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions may be significantly different from those on the label.

How is sertraline given?

Sertraline is given by mouth in the form of a tablet or liquid solution. It may be given with or without food; however, if vomiting occurs when dosed on an empty stomach, give future doses with food. Measure liquid forms carefully. To encourage eating, try hand-feeding or giving a highly palatable food. Do not abruptly stop this medication; taper slowly before discontinuing to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

This medication can take a few weeks before full effects are noted, but gradual improvements are usually noticeable after a few days.

What if I miss giving my pet the medication?

If you miss a dose, give it when you remember, but if it is close to the time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed and give it at the next scheduled time, and return to the regular dosing schedule. Never give your pet two doses at once or give extra doses.

Are there any potential side effects?

Side effects may include tiredness, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, shaking, tremors, itchy skin, or panting. Serious side effects include seizures, coma, aggression, hyperactivity, high body temperature, abnormal blood pressure, or fast heart rate.

This moderate-acting medication should stop working in a few days, although effects can be longer in pets with liver or kidney disease.

Are there any risk factors for this medication?

Sertaline should not be used in pets that are allergic to it or other SSRIs. Do not use in pets that are using monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), flea/tick collars, or cisapride. It should be used cautiously in pets that have epilepsy, liver dysfunction, or are aggressive, geriatric, weak, or frail. Extreme caution should be used when using this medication in pets that are pregnant or lactating, as effects are unknown at this time.

Are there any drug interactions I should be aware of?

The following medications should be used with caution when given with sertraline: buspirone, cimetidine, cyproheptadine, diazepam, flea collars, isoniazid, l-thyroxine, MAOIs, metoclopramide, mexiletine, pentazocine, St. John’s wort, tramadol, tricyclic antidepressants, or warfarin.

Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any medications (including vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies) that your pet is taking.

Is there any monitoring that needs to be done with this medication?

There is no specific monitoring that needs to be done while your pet is taking this medication. Checking a baseline liver and electrocardiogram (ECG) test prior to starting medications should be considered, followed by retesting as needed during therapy. Your veterinarian may monitor your pet to be sure that the medication is working. Monitor your pet for serious side effects, especially for persistent lack of appetite.

How do I store sertraline?

Store the tablet form of the medication at room temperature (approximately 77°F or 25°C) with short trips permitted in temperatures between 59°F and 86°F (15°C and 30°C). Protect from direct sunlight.

What should I do in case of emergency?

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions in contacting an emergency facility.

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