Cat Sedatives: Pharmaceutical and Natural, and What You Should Know About Them


Cats may become anxious for any number of reasons. They can get stressed out over a visit to the vet, long-distance travel, or even minor reshuffling in the household. Vets often prescribe pet anti-anxiety medication to help calm the cat down in these situations. While these sedatives usually work well, they can have side effects and are generally expensive. So, some cat owners prefer to use natural sedatives with fewer side effects and less extreme results. While natural cat sedatives may be safer, they are also less potent. 

The choice of sedatives should depend on the situation, especially how agitated your cat is. Pet cats are usually relaxed creatures that don’t get bothered too easily. However, they may get anxious if frightened in some circumstances and can become extremely aggressive if they are not calmed down. We’re sure we don’t have to tell you how dangerous a cat can be when it is afraid. Every cat parent has endured scratches or even bites from their cats in such situations. These are some of the situations that can make your cat anxious or scared -

  • Visiting a veterinary clinic, including regular checkups or minor procedures like blood sampling, ultrasounds, or X-rays. 

  • Travel

  • Fireworks

  • Thunderstorm

  • Grooming procedures like trimming nails and clipping matted fur. 

  • As premedication before anesthesia

Cat parents should monitor their cat's body language to understand their emotions and recognize stress indicators. Some of the common indicators are - 

  • Tensed body

  • Flattened ears 

  • Back hair raised up

  • Dilated pupils

  • Increase in vocalization

  • Running or hiding

  • Aggression 

  • Lack of appetite

  • Inappropriate elimination outside the litter box

There are various types of cat sedatives available, and the choice should always be discussed with a veterinary professional. Prescription-only sedatives are usually the most potent and should be used if the situation warrants their use. But they have more side effects. Over-the-counter or natural products tend to be milder, and some may not have an immediate effect on a highly agitated cat. But they can be useful in some situations, especially when you’re getting your cat prepared for a stressful activity. 

Prescription Only Sedatives

Prescribed sedatives can be divided into two groups - injectable and oral.

Injectable Sedatives

Injectable sedatives are extremely potent and have the fastest effect on agitated cats. These should only be administered by veterinary professionals and should not be attempted by cat parents. These are usually administered to hospitalized cats intravenously, intramuscularly, or subcutaneously. These are some injectable sedatives usually prescribed by veterinarians.

  • Medetomidine and dexmedetomidine belong to the selective alpha-2 agonist group of drugs, and their advantage is that they can be reversed with Atipamezole (Antisedan) injection in case of an acute adverse side effect. 

  • Acepromazine (ACP) is less potent than alpha-2 agonists. They are also available as tablets sometimes, but we’ll discuss their use in a bit.

There are several other injectable sedatives used by veterinary professionals, depending on their choice and availability. Some of them are -

  • Butorphanol

  • Methadone

  • Hydromorphone

  • Buprenorphine

  • Midazolam

  • Telazol

  • Ketamine

  • Fentanyl

Injectable sedatives can be dangerous due to their potency, so veterinarians have ancillary aids like heart rate measurement, oxygen supply, and antidotes ready if required to mitigate risks. 

Oral Sedatives

Oral sedatives are available as tablets, capsules, and gels and tend to be less potent compared to injectables. They can be administered by anyone as long as they are prescribed by a veterinary professional. Some of the most commonly used are - 

  • Bonqat - The FDA approved Bonqat in November 2023 as a nerve pain medication for cats to alleviate acute anxiety and fear related to transportation and veterinary visits. Bonqat is the first FDA-approved animal drug containing pregabalin, also used in human medicine as an anticonvulsant and for treating neural pain. The drug is administered orally as a single dose of 5 mg/kg (0.1mL/kg) approximately 1.5 hours before traveling or a veterinary visit. It can be given for two consecutive days. Potential side effects include mild sedation, ataxia (lack of coordination), and lack of energy. 

  • Acepromazine - Acepromazine belongs to the phenothiazine class of medications and has been used in veterinary sedation for decades. However, the drug can cause depression in blood pressure, so it must be used with caution, especially for cats with underlying heart conditions. Another concern is that the drug has false positive results. While cats may look sedated after the administration of Acepromazine, they can still be highly anxious.

  • Gabapentin - Originally developed as a painkiller and anti-epileptic medication, gabapentin also possesses mild sedative properties. Gabapentin must be administered approximately 90 minutes before their veterinary visit to give the medicine ample time to take effect.

  • Trazodone - Trazodone has both anti-anxiety and sedative effects, and its peak efficacy is usually 1-3 hours after the dose is administered. Some veterinarians combine trazodone with gabapentin to enhance its efficacy.

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) - Diphenhydramine is commonly prescribed as an antihistamine to fight the symptoms of allergies. However, sedation is one of its side effects, so it can be occasionally used as a mild sedative in cats. Diphenhydramine should be used with caution, particularly in cats with specific health issues like glaucoma, high blood pressure, or urinary problems.

  • Alprazolam (Xanax) - Alprazolam has a relatively less potent sedative effect compared to other oral medicines. 

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) - SSRIs can be administered to address your cat’s anxiety in certain situations. These medications increase the serotonin levels in the brain, which creates a sense of calmness in cats.

All of these sedatives are prescription-only and should be administered under the guidance of a qualified veterinary professional. There can be various possible side effects, so the vet will prescribe appropriate medicine based on each cat's specific needs and health. They would also calculate the exact dosage accurately based on the cat’s body weight (mg/kg) to ensure safety and efficacy.

Cats under sedation and coming out of sedation require close monitoring for potential side effects. Different medications have different side effects, so you should discuss these with a vet beforehand. Common side effects can include - 

  • Vomiting or diarrhea

  • Dry mouth

  • Liver or kidney problems

  • Lack of coordination

  • Sudden fall in blood pressure

  • Chills or feeling hot

  • Excitement or aggression instead of sedation

Natural Sedatives

Natural sedatives offer a milder approach compared to pharmaceutical options, which gives the cat parents additional choices to manage their cat's anxiety. Some of the most commonly used ones are - 

  • Kava Kava - Kava Kava is a tropical herb that acts as a sedative. It can be used to sedate a cat but only under the guided supervision of an expert who knows about herbal remedies for cat sedation. It should be administered in the correct dosage, or it could be harmful. It can interact with other sedative medications like Valium. It should not be given to cats with liver problems as it can be toxic to the liver. Avoid administering Kava Kava to a pregnant cat as well.

  • Catnip - Catnip is a member of the mint family and a well-known cat sedative. You can identify it by its heart-shaped leaves and small lavender flowers. Catnip is incredibly easy to grow at home. When you break the leaves and stems, the chemical nepetalactone is released, which triggers reactions in a cat's brain that either make it calm or induce a sense of euphoria. The effect depends on how the catnip is administered. If a cat smells catnip, he/she becomes euphoric, but when they consume it, it has a sedative effect on them.

  • Valerian - Valerian is a perennial flowering plant historically known for its use as a sedative. The chemical actinidine present in it attracts cats and acts quite like catnip. Again, great care should be taken to prescribe the right amount according to the weight of the cat. Overdosing can cause extreme fatigue and stomach upsets.

  • Rescue Remedy - Rescue Remedy is a commercial product that is available in the market as an aid to sedate cats. It contains botanical essences of flowers like Clematis vitalba, Impatiens glandulifera, Helianthemum nummularium and so on. It is available in drop form and as a mist. You can pour some on the cat’s tongue or in their food in drop form. Directly spray it onto the cat’s tongue when using it as a mist.

  • Silver Vine - Silver Vine, scientifically known as Actinidia polygama, originates from Asian cultures and has been used for its sedative properties for centuries. Unlike catnip, silver vine induces more intense calmness in cats. In Asian countries, silver vine leaves and stems are given to the cats, allowing them to lick and roll in them to experience its calming effects. In the United States, it is sold in the form of a light brown powder form. You can sprinkle this powder on cloth, scratchers, or cat toys to sedate your cat. Some pet stores also offer special cat toys with Silver Vine.

  • Honeysuckle - Honeysuckle, scientifically named Lonicera, is an alternative for cats that don’t respond to catnip. You can add honeysuckle sticks, wood shavings, or sawdust shavings into or onto the cat toys so your cats can absorb the calming effects of the herb. However, fruits and berries of the honeysuckle plant are toxic to cats, so be careful and use only commercially available products.

  • Chamomile - Chamomile, scientifically named Matricaria chamomilla, soothes your cat’s nerves and naturally sedates your cats. However, chamomile should be used in small amounts, so it’s best to talk to a veterinary professional to ensure your cat’s safety.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much Benadryl does it take to sedate a cat?

It is not recommended to give Benadryl to a cat without first consulting with a veterinarian. While Benadryl is sometimes used to treat certain conditions in cats, the dosage and frequency of administration can vary depending on the cat's size, age, and overall health. While it is true that some veterinarians may use diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl) to treat certain conditions in cats and may use a dose range of 1-4 mg per kilogram of body weight, it is important to note that there is still a risk of adverse effects and that diphenhydramine is not specifically approved for use in cats. Furthermore, it is important to note that the sedative effects of diphenhydramine can vary depending on the individual cat's metabolism and sensitivity to the medication. Therefore, it is important to start with a low dose and carefully monitor your cat for any signs of adverse effects, such as lethargy, difficulty walking, or changes in appetite or behavior.

How do I sedate my cat to cut his nails?

Sedating a cat to cut their nails is generally not recommended as it can be risky and potentially harmful to the cat's health. There are other methods that can be used to help make the nail-trimming process less stressful and more manageable for both you and your cat. One method is to gradually get your cat used to having their paws handled and their nails trimmed by using positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise, and playtime. You can start by touching and massaging your cat's paws and gradually introduce the nail clippers and the sound they make. Always make sure to use cat-specific nail clippers and to avoid cutting into the quick (the pink part inside the nail). Another method is to use a towel or blanket to wrap your cat gently and securely, leaving only one paw exposed at a time. This can help to prevent scratching and provide a sense of security for your cat. CBD (cannabidiol) has been shown to have potential benefits for animals, including reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. However, it is important to note that the use of CBD for pets is still a relatively new area of study, and there is limited scientific evidence to support its effectiveness and safety.

What is a good cat sedative?

The choice of sedative medication for cats depends on the individual cat's health status, age, and the reason for sedation. It is important to seek veterinary advice before giving any medication to your cat, as the wrong dose or type of medication can have serious consequences. Acepromazine is a tranquilizer that can be used to calm cats and reduce anxiety. It is typically given by injection and can have a long-lasting effect. Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam or midazolam, can be used to provide sedation and reduce anxiety in cats. They can be given orally or by injection and typically have a shorter duration of effect compared to acepromazine. Trazodone is an antidepressant that can also be used to provide sedation and reduce anxiety in cats. It is typically given orally and can have a longer duration of effect compared to benzodiazepines. Gabapentin is typically used to treat pain but can also be used to provide sedation and reduce anxiety in cats. It is typically given orally and can have a longer duration of effect compared to benzodiazepines.

Can you overdose a cat on Benadryl?

Yes, it is possible to overdose a cat on Benadryl (diphenhydramine), which can cause a range of symptoms and potentially life-threatening complications. Benadryl is not specifically approved for use in cats, and the recommended dosage and administration can vary depending on the individual cat's needs and health status. Symptoms of Benadryl overdose in cats can include lethargy, weakness, difficulty walking, tremors, seizures, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, and respiratory depression. If you suspect that your cat has ingested too much Benadryl or is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.

What drug is used to tranquilize cats?

In veterinary medicine, acepromazine is commonly used for its sedative and tranquilizing effects. It can help calm cats and reduce anxiety during stressful situations such as veterinary visits, grooming, or travel. It's also used as a pre-anesthetic medication to reduce the amount of general anesthesia required during surgical procedures. Acepromazine is a phenothiazine tranquilizer that acts primarily as a central nervous system depressant. It works by blocking dopamine receptors in the brain, leading to sedation and relaxation in animals. Acepromazine is typically administered orally or by injection, although the injectable form is more commonly used in veterinary settings due to its faster onset of action. While acepromazine is generally considered safe when used appropriately, it can cause side effects in some cats. These can include low blood pressure, decreased heart rate, respiratory depression, and a drop in body temperature. Additionally, some cats may experience a paradoxical reaction, becoming more agitated or excited instead of sedated. That’s why acepromazine should only be administered by a qualified veterinarian.

How do vets sedate aggressive cats?

The combination of Ketamine (5mg/kg) plus midazolam (0.25mg/kg) IM is one of the options veterinarians may use to sedate aggressive cats. This combination is often chosen because it provides both sedation and analgesia (pain relief) while also inducing a state of muscle relaxation. Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that works by blocking NMDA receptors in the brain, resulting in sedation and analgesia. It has a rapid onset of action and provides good muscle relaxation, which can be particularly useful in managing aggressive or fractious cats. Midazolam is a benzodiazepine sedative that enhances the effects of other sedatives and anesthetics. It works by binding to GABA receptors in the brain, causing sedation, muscle relaxation, and anticonvulsant effects. When combined, ketamine and midazolam can provide balanced sedation for safely handling and examining aggressive cats.

Is it OK to sedate a cat?

Sedating a cat can be necessary and appropriate in certain situations, such as during veterinary examinations or medical procedures. Sedation is often used to reduce stress and anxiety in cats and make these experiences less traumatic for both the cat and the people involved. A qualified veterinarian should decide to sedate a cat based on the cat's individual needs and the specific circumstances. Sedation should only be used when necessary for the cat's well-being. While sedation may seem like an easy solution to manage a pet's anxiety during stressful events like fireworks or travel, it may not always be the best approach. Sedatives can calm the outward manifestations of fear or anxiety, but they may not address the underlying emotional state or help the pet cope with the situation effectively. You may need other strategies to help them feel more comfortable and secure. This can include providing a safe and quiet environment, using pheromone products like Feliway or Adaptil, desensitization and counterconditioning techniques, or behavior modification training. Moreover, sedatives can have side effects and may not be appropriate for all pets, especially those with certain medical conditions or sensitivities.  

Will Gabapentin knock my cat out?

Gabapentin is not typically known for causing significant sedation or "knocking out" cats in the same way that other sedative medications might. Gabapentin is primarily metabolized by the kidneys, so cats with chronic kidney disease (CKD) may have reduced clearance of the drug from their system. As a result, they may be more sensitive to the sedative effects of gabapentin, especially at higher doses. In cats with CKD, starting gabapentin at a lower dose and gradually increasing it over time can help minimize the risk of sedation and other side effects. This approach allows for careful monitoring of the cat's response to the medication and adjustment of the dosage as needed to achieve the desired therapeutic effect while minimizing adverse effects.

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