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Should you sedate your cat for travel?

If your cat is very frightened of traveling, she may benefit from sedation. However, you should be aware of the risks and drawbacks of sedating your cat, also.
Courtesy of Patrick Mitchell

Since it's summer, it's time to think about vacation and traveling. More people travel with their pets now, instead of leaving them in the care of a sitter or kennel, but most cat owners know that cats don't tolerate travel very well. It's often tempting to sedate your cats, and it might seem like the thing to do, since it means they'll sleep through the most traumatic parts of the journey. But is sedating your cat for travel safe?

According to PetPlace, there are some advantages to sedating your cat for travel. If you know she's terrified of riding in the car or on a plane to the point where she might get sick, she would probably benefit from sedation. Sedation might also be a good idea if you've had trouble with her behaving in such a way that she's hurt herself, or someone else, in the past while traveling.

The Cat Hospital of Portland says that sedation is often safe, and is appropriate for cats who might be too nervous to eat or drink while traveling in a car. For one day, this isn't a big deal, but they say that a longer trip could result in malnourishment and dehydration. They do recommend mild sedatives for cats where this would likely be a problem, to ensure that they eat and drink occasionally throughout the trip.

PetPlace mentions that there are some risks and disadvantages to sedation. Most pets will eventually calm down, and even go to sleep, during long car or plane trips. Sedatives can also be harmful if your cat is going to fly in the cargo hold of a plane. The cargo hold is cold, and a sedative will lower her blood pressure, making her more susceptible to hypothermia. Even in summer, the altitudes at which planes fly are very cold, and there's no climate control in the cargo hold.

Because of this, and because of potential side effects and drug interactions, many vets recommend that people not sedate their cats for travel unless it's absolutely necessary. It's also important to avoid using something like Benadryl or other human medications to sedate your cat, unless your vet gives you the okay for a specific medication. Human medications can be dangerous for pets, especially when they're not administered under the supervision of your vet.

So, before you decide to sedate your cat, it's important to talk with your vet. Make sure that he understands your cat's behavior while traveling, along with past problems, because he's in a better position to determine whether sedation is more likely to help or harm your cat.