Is it a good idea to use a tranquilizer or sedative on a cat?

Question: We are bringing our 6-year-old Himalayan cat with us when we move to Guatemala. I have heard that it is not a good idea to use a tranquilizer or sedative on a cat, but he doesn’t travel well and won’t even go into his carrier. What do you suggest?

Answer: Several types of sedatives can be given to cats, but the effects vary with the individual pet. The most common are acepromazine and diazepam (Valium), both provide a relatively wide margin of safety. The effects of these drugs vary with the cat’s age, weight and general health. For international travel your cat’s veterinarian will need to issue a certificate of health so you can ask at that time about an appropriate sedative.

It would be beneficial to run a trial, you can give him the prescribed dosage and observe him over the next four to six hours to determine if the desired effect is achieved. Putting him into the carrier and taking him on a car ride should give you an idea of how the medication is working. You would like him to be sedate and calm, not dopey nor unconscious. From the trial dosage, you will be able to adjust the medication to get the proper effect. Be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian.

Importantly, a small dog or cat can travel in the cabin with its owner and can be sedated, especially if he is anxious and might makes noises that would bother other passengers. It is NOT recommended to sedate or tranquilize pets that would be traveling in the luggage area of the aircraft. Although airlines transport animals in areas that are pressure and temperature controlled, the sedative effect of the medication does not allow the animal’s normal body response to function normally.

The airlines have definite policies as to what constitutes a proper pet carrier for air travel. Generally, the carrier is made of sturdy fiberglass/plastic with a metal door and numerous air vents. The carrier should be large enough to allow the pet to stand up and turn around without being cramped.

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