Anyone who’s ever traveled with a cat can attest to how exhausting it can be for both human and feline. Between the constant meowing, attempts at escape, shaking, and vomiting, it may seem easier to just leave your cat at home. Sometimes, though, traveling with a cat is unavoidable. One option for improving the experience for all involved is to use cat sedatives for travel.
To cut through the confusion, we’ve outlined the best veterinarian-recommended cat sedatives that are available by prescription, as well as over-the-counter.
Keep in mind that cats are individuals, so some sedatives may not be a good fit for your best friend. Work closely with your veterinarian to find the best solution, and always check first before giving your cat new supplements.
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- Best Prescription Sedative for Travel: Gabapentin
- Best Prescription Anxiety Tablet for Travel: Trazodone
What Are Cat Sedatives?
Cat sedatives typically refer to prescription medications that help our feline friends feel calmer. They fall into two primary categories: Anxiety reducers (referred to as anxiolytics) and sedatives, which induce sleepiness, says Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, medical director at Bond Vet, based in New York City.
“Some medications have a combination of both effects, while some only cause one or the other,” she says. “For severe anxiety, veterinarians will typically choose a medication that has anxiety-relieving effects (or both effects) rather than just something that makes a cat sleepy without relieving anxiety.”
Prescription cat sedatives are typically available as tablets; or as capsules that can often be opened and sprinkled on food or water. Some pharmacies can compound pills into chews or liquid form for easier administration.
Non-prescription options like supplements, calming treats, herbal remedies, and pheromone diffusers are also available (and we’ll outline a few below). However, over-the-counter products can vary in effectiveness and quality control.
Why You Might Need a Cat Sedative for Travel
Sedatives can benefit cats in a number of travel situations including trips to the veterinarian, car rides, airplane trips, and during hotel stays. Cat sedatives for travel might be a good option if your feline has previously displayed signs of anxiety during car rides, veterinary visits, or other stressful events.
Signs of anxiety can include extreme vocalization, shaking, urinating in the carrier, vomiting, diarrhea, and aggression, says Dr. Katie Pagán, a partner veterinarian with Heart + Paw in Fells Point, Maryland. “If your cat is exhibiting any of these signs you could consider a sedative,” she explains. “Sedatives are designed to calm them down and make them sleepy enough where they do not mind traveling.”
Other signs that you may want to consider a cat sedative for travel include restlessness, a decrease in appetite, or mood changes, says Dr. Fadl. “Severe anxiety might include attempts to escape or open-mouthed breathing, although the latter can also be associated with underlying heart or lung conditions,” she adds.
Vet-Approved Cat Sedatives for Travel
The type of cat sedative for travel your veterinarian prescribes will vary. “Specific recommendations depend on the individual cat (their level of anxiety, their age, overall health, and other factors) and what the length and condition of the trip will be like,” says Fadl.
If opting for a non-prescription remedy, check with your veterinarian first, since some products can interfere with medications and health conditions.
Best Prescription Sedative for Travel
Our Pick: Gabapentin
Gabapentin is the generic name for one of the most commonly prescribed cat meds for anxiety. It’s also used to treat chronic pain and seizures in cats. Though scientists are not completely sure how gabapentin works, studies have shown it to be an effective anxiety reducer in cats-including in community cats who need to be trapped, neutered, and released; as well as cats who experience stress during veterinary examinations.
“This medication will make cats sleepy, but also has some anti-anxiety effects that make cats calmer,” says Dr. Susan Jeffrey, an associate veterinarian at Odyssey Veterinary Care in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.
Gabapentin is available in tablet or capsule form, though your pharmacist may be able to compound it into a chew or liquid.
- Gabapentin is one of the most commonly prescribed cat sedatives for travel
- It has both sedative and anti-anxiety properties
- Veterinarians say gabapentin is generally well tolerated in cats
- Gabapentin is available only with a prescription from your veterinarian
- Side effects that may occur include excessive sedation, temporary incoordination (ataxia), vomiting, hypersalivation, diarrhea, and decreased appetite
Best Prescription Anxiety Tablet for Travel
Our Pick: Trazodone
Trazodone is another medication veterinarians commonly prescribe to sedate a cat for travel. “These drugs can help with anxiety and provide some level of sedation, and they tend to have less side effects than stronger sedatives,” says Dr. Fadl.
Trazodone is an antidepressant that reduces anxiety in cats by regulating their level of serotonin – the neurotransmitter that promotes a sense of well-being – in the brain. In one study of 10 cats with a history of displaying anxiety during veterinary examinations, those who received a single dose of trazodone exhibited fewer signs of stress than cats in the placebo group. It comes as a tablet or capsule, but your pharmacy may be able to compound it into a more palatable form.
- Trazodone works as both a sedative and anti-anxiety agent
- It’s a commonly prescribed cat sedative for traveling with a cat
- Veterinarians say it’s generally considered safe and is tolerated well in cats
- It’s available only with a prescription
- Trazodone is not a good option if your cat has heart, liver, or kidney failure
- In some cases, trazodone may cause increased agitation
- Other side effects may include vomiting or diarrhea
How to Give Your Cat a Sedative
How to administer a sedative to your cat depends on the sedative. Gabapentin, for example, most commonly comes in capsule form, says Dr. Pagán. “Some cats will take it wrapped up in a pill pocket or owners can also break it open and sprinkle it into wet food. Compounding pharmacies are great as well – they can make it into any formulation such as liquid, quick dissolve tablet, or a flavored treat.”
If pill pockets don’t work, consider a cat piller, offers Dr. Fadl. It’s a “small plastic stick designed to hold and administer a pill to a cat without you having to put your fingers in their mouth.” If you’re unsure of how to administer liquid medication to your cat, our guide has you covered.
When to Administer Travel Sedation for Cats
It varies, but “most are required before you start traveling because it’s more effective to prevent anxiety rather than trying to calm a cat after they are already stressed,” says Dr. Fadl. “Some are given a couple of hours or so before you travel, and some have the biggest benefit if started the night before.”
Non-prescription cat sedatives for travel usually require more time to take effect.
Test the sedative at least a few days before your trip to ensure it’s effective, says Dr. Fadl. “Don’t wait until the last minute.”
And if you’re having difficulty administering a pill to your cat, Dr. Fadl recommends asking your veterinarian to prescribe a medication that works for a longer duration so you don’t have to give it as often.
Should You Give Cats Sedatives for Plane Travel?
Sedatives are not recommended for plane travel, Dr. Fadl says, “Especially if a pet can’t be directly monitored, since some medications affect the pet’s ability to regulate their body temperature.”
If you are familiar with how your pet responds to a specific medication and can carry your cat onto the flight with you, you may discuss with your veterinarian if you can use the medication for plane travel.
Tips to Calm a Cat During Car Travel
Cats are creatures of habit, so leaving a familiar home can cause anxiety. Yet, many cats do well by car once the journey has begun, says Dr. Fadl. “They might vocalize (meow) for a while, but then settle down and sleep.”
Dr. Fadl says allowing a cat to gradually become accustomed to the car and carrier can reduce anxiety.
“Start by placing the carrier out in the home a few weeks early. If your cat explores, sleeps, or plays in the carrier, offer them attention and treats. Use Feliway products in the carrier to help your cat understand it’s a safe place. Once your cat starts to get used to the carrier, gradually add additional steps, such as closing the carrier door for a minute, then carrying your cat to the car and back, then turning on the car engine, then driving around the block with your cat.”
Cat Sedatives FAQs
Are cat sedatives safe?
Provided they’re given as directed, prescription sedatives are generally considered safe for cats, says Dr. Fadl. “However, there are potential risks with any drugs and some situations in which sedation might not be recommended. For example, cats with underlying health conditions may process medications differently than a healthy cat and experience more side effects.” Plane travel is generally not advised unless you can monitor your cat. Ask your veterinarian for guidance.
Since non-prescription remedies vary in effectiveness and quality and can interact with other medications or conditions, discuss them first with your veterinarian.
Are there any side effects to cat sedatives?
Side effects are possible with any drug, says Dr. Fadl. “The most common side effects seen with sedatives are probably excessive sedation and (much less commonly) an abnormal response in which a cat becomes agitated rather than relaxed.”
Make sure to test any sedative prior to traveling to ensure there are no adverse side effects.
Does pet health insurance cover the cost of sedatives for cats?
Pet insurance coverage varies by provider, but most companies allow pet parents to customize a plan to meet their budget and needs. For example, Spot Pet Insurance offers plans that cover medications prescribed by a licensed veterinarian to treat covered conditions.
Can kittens have sedatives?
Veterinarians rarely prescribe sedatives for kittens. “It’s best to avoid this if possible, especially since kittenhood is a good time to train your pet to get used to their carrier and car rides and potentially prevent a lifetime of travel anxiety,” says Dr. Fadl. However, if needed, your vet can discuss the pros and cons of sedating very young cats with you.