How to Sedate a Cat for Travel

how to sedate a cat for travel

Everybody’s cat will react different to traveling.  Some cats will travel without any issues at all.  Then there’s cats like mine that will give you every problem in the book.  Sometimes It is necessary to sedate your cat if they are very jumpy, have increased levels of anxiety, or if they just don’t take traveling very well.

Whatever the reason, I’m here to inform you about the options that I have learned to help you with sedating your cat.  Here’s a complete guide on how to sedate a cat for travel.

What Are Cat Sedatives?

Cat sedatives are used to help make your cat sleep or calm down. This is highly effective in scenarios where your cat may be unable to relax or is stressed out. This makes cat sedatives the perfect choice for relaxing your cat while traveling.

When Should You Sedate Your Cat for Travel?

You may need to sedate your cat for a long trip like in a plane, train, or even going to the vet.  Sedating a cat for travel will help maintain your cat’s behavior.  In terms of behavior, sedating your cat will help ease your cat’s anxiety levels which can prevent many issues that high anxiety can cause.

Having a high level of anxiety can cause difficulty breathing, be stressed out, urinate or defecate, and cause motion sickness in cats.

Some cats just do not do well during travel.  They will usually meow and moan the whole trip due to the added stress and anxiety they are going through.  Sedating your cat will help put your cat into a calmer state.

So calm that they may just nap for the entire duration of the trip.  Okay… Maybe they wont nap for the entire trip unless you give them too much medicine on accident, but they will be in a much more submissive state and easier to deal with.

How to Choose the Right Medication to Sedate Your Cat

The first step you can take is to talk to your vet.  Even if you plan on buying an over the counter medication, it is still smart to run it by your vet to make sure he approves of it.  Choosing a poor quality product can be more harm then good as well as dangerous to your cat’s health.  Any animal that will be undergoing sedation should first be medically examined to make sure they are healthy enough. This is especially important if you plan on traveling with your cat on a plane. Planes are very cramped and can give your cat an increased amount of stress and anxiety.

The first type of cat sedative I would recommend trying is a simple cat calming spray. I was surprised at how cheap and portable this cat calming spray was on Amazon. It’s very easy to use and it doesn’t require your cat to ingest anything. You simply spray your cat’s carrier or the area he will be in and let it soak in. Make sure to use a cat carrier that is the perfect size for your cat. Always spray the area about 30 minutes in advance to make sure your cat isn’t over exposed to the spray. This means no worrying about whether or not your cat got a proper dose if he ends up throwing up if you were using an oral medication.

Another option to sedate a cat for travel is to use oral medications.  Oral medications usually have a longer onset time.  They are also usually a lot harder to give to your cat. There are many variables that can go wrong with oral medications.  Your cat may not swallow the medication, or if they vomit you won’t know how much medication they actually ingested. Your cat may even experience side effects like an upset stomach or other much more severe side effects. One upside to oral medications is that they can be extremely effective at sedating your cat which can make for a very easy trip.

How to Give Your Cat an Oral Sedative

Make sure your within the time frame based on the type of sedation you are using.  You want to give the medication enough time to kick in before the stressful event you will be exposing your cat too.  If you are using a cat calming spray, simply spray an area.  This area can be a bed, cat carrier, or a blanket.

The key is to spray an item that your cat will be lying down next to.  If you are using a pill or liquid form medication, start by wrapping your cat in a blanket.  Once your cat is wrapped go ahead and follow these steps to sedate a cat for travel:

  • Put your thumb on one side of your cat’s mouth, and your forefinger on the other side
  • Apply pressure until your cat’s mouth begins to open.
  • With your free hand, press down on the lower jaw to further open your cats mouth.
  • Place the pill or squeeze the liquid medication into your cats mouth on the side of a cheek
  • Make sure that your cat swallows all of the medication.  Go ahead and slowly release your cat’s mouth from your hands.  Lift up your cats face and point his nose upward.
  • Gently rub on his throat to encourage him to swallow the pill or liquid medication.  A good tip is to gently blow in his face which will help him swallow.
  • Go ahead and reward your cat with a treat to praise his good behavior.

Here is a helpful video on administering an oral medication to your cat:

Are There Alternative Methods to Administering the Medication?

Yes.  There are other delivery methods you can use if needed.  It can be difficult to give a cat an oral medication because it just isn’t natural.  Here are a few other methods of medication that are available for your cat so you can decide which one best suits you and your cat.

  • You can buy pill guns that let you drop the pill toward the back of your cat’s mouth.  I’ve used pill guns on my cat to great success. I recommend this pill gun from Amazon. It’s extremely convenient and easy to use while allowing you to administer more than one pill at a time. A pill gun greatly increases the chances of your cat swallowing the medication.
  • Another method you can try is giving your cat the pill with some food.  Simply smash the pill up into your cat’s wet food and serve.  You can also try wrapping the pill in cheese or a treat that your cat enjoys to sneak it into him.  Some pet stores actually sell treats that have a hold where you can place a pill which makes it convenient.  I call it a waste of money.
  • If you just don’t have any luck with giving your cat medication in pill form then you can try a liquid medication.  The only downside to liquid medication is if you don’t get all the liquid down your cats stomach.  If for some reason some of the liquid sedative didn’t make it into your cats stomach I strongly advise you to not give him more.  Giving your cat more might cause an overdoes since you don’t exactly know how much medication got into his system.
  • This final method you can try involves your cat to wear a collar.  These are special types of collars that are enhanced with pheromones to help with calming.  An example is this collar from amazon.  I personally have never used a collar designed to calm a cat, but the amount of positive reviews this product has says something.

How Long Does It Take for the Cat Sedative to Kick In?

Different medications and dosages take different lengths of time to kick in.  Try reading the back of the label of the sedative you are using.  Most of the time it will let you know the drug onset time.  Oral medication can usually take 30 to 45 minutes to kick in while a spray can take effect after only 15 to 20 minutes.

How Long Do Cat Sedatives Last?

The spray that I recommended can sedate your cat for a long car ride or a plane ride.  This can range from an hour or two to a few hours depending on how much product is sprayed.  Be sure to NOT spray the product directly on your cat.  The spray is to be used on either the carrier, crate, bed, or blanket.  Your cat will ingest this medication from the scent.  Be sure to let the spray completely dry before placing your cat in the area of the spray.

Pills and liquids have a similar time of effect.  The main difference is they take a little bit longer to kick in since they have to go through your cat’s digestive system first. If you plan on using an oral sedative then it is best to give it to your cat 30-45 minutes before going out to give the medication some time to work.

Are Cat Sedatives Safe?

When trying to sedate a cat for travel, all sedatives have their own safety and health risks.  For sprays, never spray the product directly on your cat.  With pills be sure to not overdose your cat by following the instructions on the back of the label.  One of the most common concerns with sedatives are blood pressure.

Sometimes they can lower blood pressure to a dangerous level.  This usually happens if you overdose your cat with the sedative.  Some symptoms of low blood pressure may be a very groggy and disoriented cat.  If you see your cat walking around the house and bumping into things or not walking in a straight line he might have had just a little too much.

Putting your cat in a relaxed state can also lower his heart rate.  This in turn will cause your cats breathing to be short and shallow.  To observe this watch your cat’s stomach as he is breathing.  You will notice it expand and contract rather quickly instead of being slow and controlled.

Sedatives are meant to relax and calm your cat, but if misused they have the potential of being fatal.

Prescription Sedatives

If if you talk to your vet you can get a prescription for a strong medication.  The main downside of these products are price.  Typically prescription medications tend to be on the pricier side.  On the contrary, the good thing about purchasing a prescription medication is you will have your vet’s knowledge about a product since they are the ones prescribing it.  They can even you how to properly administer the medicine to your cat.

Your vet will also give you a small lecture about any side effects your cat may have and what signs to look out for in case of an allergic reaction or other side effects.

Natural Cat Sedatives

You may or may not have heard of these two plants called catnip and Valerian.  Catnip comes from the plant Nepeta Cataria while Valerian comes from the Valerian plant.

Only about 50 percent of cats will respond to the exposure of catnip.  In the eyes of a cat, catnip resembles urine.  Once they come in contact with it they do things like roll, paw, drool, or act frisky as if they were in heat.

If your cat ingests this herb it will act like a natural sedative.  The side effect associated with catnip is induced if your cat smells the herb.  Smelling it can cause your cat to act different by running and jumping around the room.

Valerian works similar to catnip except it is much stronger and lasts longer.  If your cat does not respond to catnip then you can try using this plant instead.  Just be careful because if you give your cat too much it may make them groggy and lethargic.  Its effects are similar to catnip.  It can make your cat act crazy if they sniff it, but will have a nice sedating effect when ingested.

I personally do not have any experience with these two types of plants, but these options are out there if you want to try and sedate your cat naturally.

Always Consult with Your Vet Before Giving Your Cat a Sedative

Anytime you plan on self medicating your cat I always recommend to make sure you take a quick visit to your vet.  Your vet can get your cat’s baseline vital stats to see if they are healthy enough to go ahead and use these types of medications.  Vets will also give you their recommendation when it comes to dosing your cat with liquid, pill, or spray form medications.  Usually an older cat (a senior cat) will be at a greater risk than a younger cat.

It is also not advised to give a kitten that is younger than 6 weeks any type of sedatives.

Final Thoughts

Sedating your cat before traveling may be necessary so it’s good to know all the options that you and your cat have to choose from.  I would suggest that you first test out how your cat responds to a quick ride around the block in your car.  I learned a lot from my cat when I took him for a little test drive.

This is when I actually decided that I was going to give my cat some form of medication before leaving the house for long car rides.  Sometimes it is not necessary to use all this medication on your cat for a short trip.

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