Medication Used to Sedate a Cat

By Cuteness Team

It seems like cats are never not sleeping. And that's because they do sleep a lot — most average 14-16 hours per day. So it might be difficult to think of a scenario when you'd want a cat to sleep more, but there are quite a few circumstances that do call for sedation, such as for travel or medical procedures.

Cat laying down in a relaxed position
"Wow, I feel so sleepy!"
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Close up of Red Cat Curled Up Sleeping in Bed
Cats may need to be sedated for travel or for medical procedures.
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Understanding how sedatives work and which situations they should be used for your cat are an important part of being a pet owner.

Cats who are aggressive or anxious and ones who obsessively spray are also candidates for sedatives. If you think your kitty needs a sedative, the ASPCA advises that it is imperative that you only sedate him using prescribed medication, and under your veterinarian's care. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your cat.

Cat lying on bench in backlight at sunset
After sedation your cat may be relaxed enough to travel.
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Inhalable Medications

In the Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook , Debra M. Eldridge describes different forms of medications used to sedate cats: halothane, isoflurane and sevoflurane are all medications in gas form. Not many cats will sit still long enough for a mask to be placed over their mouths and noses, and then for the medication to take effect. Typically the cat is placed in an acrylic box into which a combination of oxygen and the gas is pumped. The mixture must be balanced and adjusted for the individual cat. Eldridge also reports that the cat's weight and facial structure must be factored in. Additionally, some breeds are more sensitive than others to anesthesia.

cat in doctor arms
Always check with a vet to see what medications are appropriate for your cat.
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Sedation Via Injection

Acepromazine, diazepam, xylazine and ketamine are sedatives that are administered through injection. The vet determines the correct dosage based upon your cat's weight. Cats tend to be sensitive even to ordinary amounts of some drugs, though, so it's common for a vet to divide the calculated dose into several small doses and administer them separately until the drug takes effect.

Oral Sedatives

Sedatives in pill form are likely the only tranquilizing medications you would personally give your cat unless your vet has trained you to give injections. Pet Education reports that buspirone and alprazolam are pills commonly prescribed for feline sedation.

Gray cat eats a pill by hand
Giving your cat medication can be challenging, but hiding pills in treats or food can be a good solution.
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Cats aren't known for willingly taking medication, so getting a sedative down your kitty's throat can be difficult and could end up in bloody scratches and hurt feelings. Try hiding your cat's sedative in a treat or his food. If he's too clever to fall for that, kneel over your cat on the floor, with one leg on each side of him. You should both be facing the same direction so you can place the thumb and middle finger of one hand on either side of his jaw to gently open his mouth. Use the forefinger of your other hand to place the pill as far back on his tongue as you can. Allow him to close his mouth, but don't let him run off before you see that he's swallowed his pill and hasn't spit it out.

Common Side Effects

No medications are free from side effects. As presented in the McCurnin's Clinical Textbook For Veterinary Technicians, common consequences of sedatives in cats include vomiting, hypotension, increased appetite, anxiety, hallucinations, disorientation, diarrhea and restlessness. Sometimes sedation is considered a side effect of a drug, as with buspirone that also indicates increases friendliness in cats.

Young cat looking from the pet carrier at the vet ordination
If you are travelling with your cat and want to give her sedatives, always check with a vet first and never give any unprescribed medication.
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Over the Counter

Some people forgo consulting a vet when they want to sedate their cats for something routine such as travel, and opt to medicate their kitties with an over-the-counter antihistamine such as diphenhydramine. Even though you can purchase them, these drugs are manufactured for humans and can actually negatively affect your cat.

You should never take it upon yourself to medicate your cat without talking your veterinarian first. Sedation is one side effect, but others can include: dry mouth, problems urinating, vomiting and/or diarrhea, loss of appetite or anxiety and agitation. Additionally, Colorado State University cautions in their Veterinary Drug Handbook against using diphenhydramine with cats who have glaucoma.