How to Sedate a Feral Cat

By Jane Meggitt

Sedating a feral cat is not a task for the inexperienced. Your job as a caretaker is to trap the animal and transport the feral cat to the vet for spaying/neutering, shots, an examination or medical treatment. Veterinary technicians or other trained personnel should perform the actual sedation.

Unless you have a prior arrangement with your vet, take a feral cat to a spay/neuter facility accustomed to dealing with ferals. Since you never know when you will trap the cat, making an appointment is difficult. Spay/neuter facilities may have open-ended times in which you can deliver the cat. Get all the appropriate information from the facility ahead of time.

Trapping the Cat

Before attempting to trap a feral cat, start providing food, so that the cat establishes a regular schedule to come by for a meal. Set up the trap away from the placement area, so that you don't frighten off the animal. Setup consists of:

  • Lining the trap with newspaper for feline paw protection
  • Checking the trap's trip plate to make sure it works correctly
  • Baiting the trap with smelly, enticing food such as sardines or tuna, placing it at the very rear of the trap
  • Putting a small amount of the food at the front of the trap to lure the cat inside.

Once your trap is set up, bring it to the placement area and leave it on solid ground. You may want to cover the back end with a sheet or similar large piece of material so that the cat perceives it as a shelter. Don't put food out for the cat the day prior to trapping, although you should provide water.

While you should watch the trap until the cat enters, this isn't always practical. Check back frequently, staying out of sight of the cat if possible, so that you can retrieve the cat once he's inside. Either pull the sheet you left on the back of the trap over it, or bring a sheet with you to cover the trap. This may calm down a frightened, wild animal.

While putting liquid sedatives into the food in the trap is a possibility, it's not the best method. The cat may not eat food with such medication in it, or the medication may wear off by the time you reach the trap. It's also difficult to judge how much oral medication is necessary to truly sedate the cat.

Preventing Escape

Before the cat is sedated at the veterinary clinic, it's crucial to ensure he can't escape from his trap. One common method involves placing the trap on its end, so the cat remains at the bottom and the trap door is at the top. Have plenty of old bedding or towels on hand. Open the door at the top sufficiently so that the bedding or towels can be stuffed into the trap quickly. The cat stays at the bottom, unable to get out because of all the cloth above him, but unharmed because the material is soft. Ideally, the cat is pushed against the side of the trap, with little area in which to move.

Feral Cat Sedation

Prepare an injection of the appropriate sedative beforehand. Often, a combination of sedative, analgesic and anesthetic is used, so the cat can go into spay/neuter surgery as soon as possible. Once the cat is pinned by the materials within the trap, a vet or vet tech can inject the cat intramuscularly. Within a few minutes, the cat should relax and go to sleep, and at that point can be removed from the trap and prepared for surgery.

Post-Surgery Practices

After the cat has gone through surgery, return him to the trap before he wakes up. He should stay overnight at either the facility or a safe area -- such as your garage -- until he is thoroughly awake the next day. Return him to the site of his capture once he is alert, unless that isn't possible. If the cat must be relocated, keep him confined in a secure area for at least two weeks until he becomes acclimated before releasing him.