Cat Sedative For Travel: 10 Prescription & Over The Counter Options

Traveling with cats can get pretty hairy, leading many owners to wonder about a cat sedative for travel. There are several options to choose from, both prescription and over the counter. Read on to learn more about when sedating a kitty is appropriate, and what the options are.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: December 18, 2023 | 9 min read

Cat sleeping on top of a black suitcase

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Traveling with cats is a hairy business, as many felines do not take well to the motion of being in the car. Cats experience anxiety when traveling, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary. When this situation arises, owners often ask about a cat sedative for travel. These medications can help reduce anxiety and make traveling more enjoyable for both felines and their human companions.

Traveling is stressful and can induce anxiety for owners and their purr babies. There are a few different choices when it comes to cat sedatives, and some are only available through a prescription from your veterinarian. Owners have over-the-counter options they can consider as well.

Whenever giving your cat a new medication, whether prescription or over-the-counter, it is important to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian beforehand. Take some time to research the options and learn about the side effects. Let’s get started and go a little deeper into the subject of the best cat sedative for travel.

Medicine To Calm Cats For Travel

Many humans need to take medication for traveling due to nausea, car sickness, fear, and anxiety. Felines can often experience similar symptoms or simply may be very uncomfortable and show some outbursts of unusual behavior. For several reasons, kitties might need sedatives in the car, bus, or train. Some felines are naturally anxious or fearful, while others may have had a negative experience in the past, such as a car accident or a scary trip to the vet.

Common reasons for sedation in cats during travel include:

  • Travel anxiety
  • Motion sickness
  • Aggression or fear towards other animals
  • Agitation during veterinary visits

In some cases, sedation may be necessary during travel for a cat’s safety. Cats may become agitated and afraid during a trip, causing them to want to run and hide. In some cases, they may get aggressive toward their owners. Turning to a sedative, anti-anxiety medication, or over-the-counter treatment may help.

Medicine to calm cats during travel can be prescription or over the counter. There are a few different remedies owners can try, and one should never be afraid to speak with your veterinarian about this. All sedatives, even over-the-counter ones, come with potential side effects, and it is essential to consult your veterinarian before administering any sedative to your cat. Some of the most common side effects of sedatives include:

  • Drowsiness and lethargy
  • Loss of coordination
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness

Kitties who start vomiting, have diarrhea, difficulty breathing, increased aggression, slow heart rate, or other symptoms may be experiencing a bad reaction to sedation.

Prescription Sedatives

There are a few different types of feline sedatives that veterinarians can prescribe. What your veterinarian will choose to use will depend on your specific kitty, her health, and her age, as well as the specific circumstances of your trip plans. Your vet will detail the correct dose for your cat. Always follow proper dosing instructions.


Bottle of Gabapentin on a blue background

Gabapentin is only available by prescription and is the generic name for this drug. It is commonly prescribed to kitties for traveling and works as both a sedative and to help with anxiety. Gabapentin is commonly used to treat seizures and neuropathic pain. However, it can also be used as a sedative in felines. Gabapentin works by binding to a specific type of calcium channel in the brain, which helps reduce nerve activity.

It is also used as an anticonvulsant drug to treat seizures and chronic pain in humans. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, veterinarian use of this drug is not listed on the label but is allowed. This is called “off-label.” While often prescribed for pain management and seizures, it can also be used to treat anxiety and as a sedative during travel.


Depressed cat looking out the window

Trazodone is an antidepressant that is commonly prescribed to sedate a kitty for traveling. This drug works to ease anxiety by regulating the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. Serotonin promotes a sense of well-being. This works as both a sedative and to reduce anxiety. This drug is tolerated well by cats but should not be used in felines that have liver, heart, or kidney concerns. Trazodone is generally used in the short term and is also prescribed during orthopedic recovery periods.


Benzodiazepines are a group of drugs that are often used to treat anxiety and insomnia. They work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. The increased level of this neurotransmitter works to keep the cat relaxed. Examples of benzodiazepines commonly used in cats include diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan). Benzodiazepines are also medications commonly taken in humans. Kitties must take a much smaller amount. These are only available by prescription and should not be used for kitties that suffer from liver or kidney disease or those who are pregnant.


Clonidine is a medication commonly used to treat behavioral disorders such as separation anxiety, loud noise phobia, and anxiety surrounding travel, veterinary visits, or medical treatment. This drug works to soothe anxiety and is helpful as a pain reliever and muscle relaxer. In some cases, it is used to treat inflammatory bowel disease.

Over The Counter Cat Sedative For Traveling

If you do not want to go to the vet and put your kitty on a prescription sedative for travel, you will be happy to hear that several over-the-counter options are often very effective. Of course, discussing using any of these with your veterinarian beforehand is important to ensure it’s safe for your kitty’s unique health needs.

Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)

Benadryl, a commonly used medication for humans, can also be used for cats to calm them during a trip. It is not a sedative. Rather, this is an antihistamine that can have a sedative effect. This is available over the counter. Diphenhydramine, the active antihistamine ingredient, is safe for healthy adult felines over six months old. Speak with your veterinarian about the correct dosage. Usually, the dose will be about 1 mg per pound of weight. This may be given up to three times a day. However, discussing your cat’s individual dose with the vet first is best.


Melatonin is hormone felines produce naturally. It is secreted from the pineal gland and occurs in response to dark or dimming light. Melatonin helps the body regulate sleeping and waking habits. When increased by supplements, it can help with soothing anxiety and as a mild sedative. Melatonin comes in liquid, pill, and capsule form, as well as in calming treats and chews. It is very effective for short-term use and in situations like travel. It can interact with some medications, so always discuss it with your vet before adding this to your kitty’s regimen.


CBD Hemp Food Delicacy for Dogs and Cats in dishes with the green leaf of hemp close up

Cannabidiol (CBD) can be used to calm cats down and may have a mild sedative effect. It can be found in oils as well as CBD treats and is safe for feline use. CBD can help with anxiety, overactivity, and anxiety and has been used as an anti-inflammatory. Some products mix CBD and melatonin for a stronger effect.

Bach Rescue Remedy

Bach Rescue Remedy is a natural remedy that contains flower essences that are thought to help reduce anxiety. This product is available in a liquid form that can be added to water or food. Though the rescue remedy does not cause drowsiness, it has a calming effect, making travel easier for them.


Feliway is a synthetic copy of a pheromone that cats produce when they feel safe and secure. These pheromones work naturally and have a calming effect. Feliway is available in a spray or diffuser and can be used to help reduce anxiety during car rides. This also comes as a spray, collar, and in wipes. This product is drug-free, which appeals to many owners.


Zylkene is a veterinary supplement made from alpha-casozepine, derived from cow’s milk. This non-drowsy formula has been shown to help balance out the stress reactions of cats and dogs. Lactose and preservative-free. This comes in a capsule form that owners can open and sprinkle on food or in water. This one does not work right away, so owners must start giving it about 5 to 7 days before a trip.

Cat Tranquilizer For Travel

A veterinarian must prescribe tranquilizers. These should only be used in very extreme situations. Tranquilizers most often require an injection to be administered. These are usually used before anesthesia. Injectable tranquilizers are rarely prescribed for travel and are usually only done in special circumstances. These are more commonly used in a medical setting.

Acepromazine maleate is a feline tranquilizer that is used by vets. This is injected into a vein, under the skin, or in a muscle and takes about 45 minutes to work. It can be given in tablet form in some circumstances. Most often, it’s used in a clinical setting. Acepromazine is a tranquilizer that works by decreasing the activity of the central nervous system. This drug is often used before surgery or for long-distance travel.

Lidocaine hydrochloride, also called lidocaine HCL, is another injectable feline tranquilizer. Lidocaine HCL is used by vets as a local anesthetic that gives an epidural-like effect. It can be used to numb an area before stitches and is used to treat an irregular heartbeat in some kitties.

How To Give Your Cat A Sedative

There is no one specific way to give a kitty a sedative. The method is often dependent on the sedative used. Some may need to be wrapped in a treat, pill pocket, or hidden in food. Others can be sprinkled into water or on kibble. Discuss the instructions with your veterinarian to ensure you give your kitty the proper dose.

Should I Sedate My Cat For Flying On A Plane?

Sedating cats for flying is not recommended. Of course, it may be appropriate for an individual pet, but in general, this is not a common practice. This is partly because felines cannot regulate their body temperature when sedated, and most of the time, pets are not flying next to their owners. Sedation lowers heart rate and respiration and leaves kitties unable to brace against shifts in the cabin. Sedation is not a great idea if your kitty cannot be supervised the entire plane ride.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) explains that sedating felines during flight can increase their risk of respiratory distress and heart concerns. It is rather unusual for a vet to recommend fully sedating a kitty for flying, and some airlines will not accept sedated pets.

How To Calm Cats While Traveling

Cat in a crate at night

Even with sedation or calming aids, felines can still experience anxiety and excitement while traveling. Owners can employ a few different methods to help calm them. Most kitties eventually calm down and fall asleep during car rides but may act up during stops or when left alone in a vehicle.

  1. Crating your kitty is advisable for riding in the car or any other form of transportation. This is for her safety and yours. Keep a soft blanket, treats, and toys inside the crate to keep your kitty occupied. Consider a travel appropriate litter box as well.
  2. If going on a long trip, practice traveling with your cat ahead of time. You can start by taking short car rides to get her used to the movement and sensation.
  3. Try out calming methods and aids before traveling. This is important to see how your pet reacts and if there are any negative side effects.
  4. Try to keep yourself calm, at least while your pet can sense your feelings. She will model her behavior after you; if you stay calm, this will help her do the same.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are cat sedatives safe?

Yes, when given properly and in the right way, these are safe for kitties. Owners should consult with a vet and always follow dosing instructions.

How will I know if I should sedate my cat for travel?

This is a hard question to answer because there is no one correct answer for everyone. This depends on your pet, her needs, and your travel situation. Discuss it with your vet early rather than right before your trip if you are concerned. You will need to do some research and prepare ahead of time to make travel a safe and enjoyable experience for yourself and your purr baby.

Can kittens have sedatives?

Kittens under six months should not be given sedatives. It’s always best to avoid sedating kittens if possible; most vets advise against it. Training your purr baby to tolerate traveling rather than relying on sedatives, especially for kittens, is better.

How long do cat sedatives last?

This will depend on the sedative, the dose, and how often a dose is given. Additionally, felines react differently, so what has a strong effect on one may not do the same with another. Doing a trial run before travel is a good idea to see how your pet reacts to sedation and how long the effects last.

Final Thoughts

Sedating a cat for car travel is a common way owners can make travel less fear-inducing for cats. There are both prescription and over-the-counter options. Not all work the same for every kitty, so owners will need to keep that in mind. The type of sedative that will work best for your pet depends on several factors, including the severity of their anxiety and any underlying medical conditions. Prescription sedatives are generally the most effective and tailored to your cat’s needs. However, over-the-counter sedatives can be useful for mild anxiety or cats that experience mild discomfort or whose owners only need the sedative for traveling purposes.

cat tangled in a plastic bag

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