How to Sedate a Cat for Grooming

Grooming a cat can seem like an all-out war at times. However, it is necessary to ensure hygiene and keep your cat looking fresh.

To spare cats the anxiety and effort of holding them down, many groomers choose to sedate cats. And there are multiple ways to do this. There are even some that owners can use at home!

Here’s everything you need to know about sedating a cat:

How To Know If Your Cat Needs Sedation

Everyone knows cats get grumpy when someone invades their personal space – especially when cutting their hair or trimming their nails. 

But some cats become more anxious and stressed than others do, making the grooming process much more difficult. 

These overanxious cats will usually display the following combination of symptoms when being groomed:

  • Loud meowing or crying
  • Pupils becoming dilated
  • Flattened ears on the head
  • Twitching/Rippling of skin on the back
  • Constant head shaking
  • Flicking tongue onto the nose
  • Trying to bite

Making your cat stressed or anxious frequently can also prove detrimental to their long-term health. Overstressed cats may seem okay, but the stress can lead to physical illnesses and behavior problems. 

Loss of appetite and being sick more often than usual are two signs of an overstressed cat. If you suspect that your cat has chronic stress or anxiety, look for the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and constant weakness
  • Rapid weight gain or loss
  • Prolonged illnesses
  • Poor coat health
  • Eating non-edibles like plastic or rocks (a condition called pica)

If you notice these symptoms in your cat, it makes sense to sedate them before grooming. Not only will it prevent injuries to your cat when they try to escape, but it also makes them happier and more content in the long run. 

Ways To Sedate A Cat

Most people think that only anxious cats need sedation before grooming. However, you can also treat minor anxiety in cats by using natural sedation methods.

Your vet or groomer might administer some medicines to sedate your cat for serious cases. This route is faster and more effective but should only be performed by a professional.

Here’s a detailed explanation of all the ways you can sedate your cat when grooming:

1. Natural methods

Going natural is the first choice for most cat owners. It’s safe, easy, and works at home. The biggest benefit of using a natural method is that it has zero side effects. 

Natural methods are ideal for cats with mild anxiety or stress while grooming. Plus, you don’t need any permission or instructions from a vet to implement these techniques.

Here are some of the most popular and effective ways to naturally sedate your cat:

Cat Calming Treats

Calming treats work like a charm when you want to de-stress a nervous cat. These treats contain herbs like passionflower, valerian, catnip, and chamomile that relax the nervous system. They’re readily available and require the least effort among all other techniques.

Another plus of calming treats is that they have very few side effects. They take around 20 minutes to work and can keep your cat relaxed for nearly 4 hours—leaving plenty of time to groom your cat without making them anxious.

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Body or towel wraps

Cats love warm blankets. It provides them a sense of security and comfort, allowing vets to perform medical procedures without unnecessary fighting. However, this technique is equally effective when you want to groom your cat or cut its nails. The trick is to wrap them like a burrito with a soft blanket or towel, and your nervous cat will come down within a couple of minutes.

You could also buy a body wrap like ThunderShirt, so you don’t have to forcefully roll your cat into a towel. It reduces stress by applying pressure to the chest area and leaves more room for grooming.

Pheromone diffusers

Pheromones are chemicals cats release to communicate with other felines in their surroundings. They can trigger feelings of relaxation and greatly reduce stress levels. You can purchase synthetic pheromone diffusers or sprays like Feliway to reduce anxiety in cats before grooming them. The only downside to using pheromone diffusers is that they can take several hours before taking effect.

Bach rescue remedy

An excellent method of sedating cats without any side effects is with Bach Rescue Remedy drops. According to the brand, you can use these drops to reduce stress caused by loud noises, new environments, and visits to the grooming salon. The formulation is all-natural and doesn’t make cats drowsy like other sedatives. You administer it by adding some drops into your cat’s food or water bowl. 

Calming Collars

Calming collars work in the same way as pheromone diffusers. They release synthetic pheromones around your cat’s head that they inhale. The low dose and continuous absorption of pheromones help regulate mood and reduce stress and anxiety. When choosing a calming collar, ensure it comfortably fits around your cat’s neck. 

2. Medicated methods

For some cats, natural methods aren’t enough, which is where sedative drugs step in. Not only do they act faster, but they also have stronger sedative effects on felines. 

The only downside to this method is that sedatives carry some side effects and require precise dosing. Using sedatives will likely require a prescription from your veterinarian and will certainly require your veterinarian’s dosing advice.

Here are some of the most common drugs used to sedate cats for grooming:

Acepromazine

Acepromazine is one of the most popular tranquilizers used by vets to sedate pets. It has minimal side effects and gets the job done. It is not only used to sedate cats for grooming but also to calm them down during aggressive episodes. The medication is administered orally for home use.

It works by suppressing brain and nervous activity, as well as by lowering the heart rate. However, acepromazine can also have opposite effects on some cats and make them hyperactive. The drug is unsuitable for cats with heart, liver, or clotting diseases. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions to the letter.

Benadryl

Benadryl is an over-the-counter antihistamine used to treat allergies. We discuss it here because it has sedating effects on cats and has great over-the-counter availability. Unfortunately, it’s not the safest drug.

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While most vets agree that it’s safe to use in appropriate doses for cats, it’s easy to overdose your cat. Studies have also shown that it has a high chance of overexciting the cats instead of sedating them. Thus, it should only be used by professionals or with a vet’s guidelines.

Gabapentin

Gabapentin is a multi-purpose drug mainly given to cats to reduce anxiety and control seizures. One of the benefits of using gabapentin is that it takes effect within 1-2 hours and produces few side effects. It also has a very subtle taste, making it easy to give orally to cats.

The drug also doubles as an excellent analgesic. Thus, if you expect the vet to give injections, gabapentin would reduce the pain as well.

Trazodone

Trazodone is a relatively mild but fast-acting tranquilizer. It can achieve full sedation within 2 hours and reduce anxiety. What’s great about trazodone is its easily available at most pharmacies and affordable compared to other sedatives. However, most vets don’t recommend giving it to cats with heart and liver diseases. 

Alprazolam (Xanax)

Alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax, is a popular human anti-anxiety medication also used for cats to treat mild anxiety caused by loud noises or car travel. This medication may only be used under the direct supervision of your veterinarian.

3. General Anesthesia

General anesthesia is the fastest and most effective way of sedating a cat. It’s a different type of sedation as the cat becomes fully unconscious when put on anesthesia. 

Only a vet can determine whether your cat needs general anesthesia for grooming because the procedure carries some risks.

Side Effects Of Sedation On Cats

There are side effects of taking sedative drugs. Most of them will disappear within 24 hours; however, some indicate a deeper problem that needs to be looked at by a vet. Common symptoms of sedatives in cats include:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Paradoxical effects such as aggression
  • Increase in appetite

It’s best to take your vet’s advice before giving your cat any sedative drugs. They will properly monitor the vitals and treat your cat for any irregularities accordingly. 

FAQ’s

How long do sedatives work on cats?

Non-medicated methods like pheromones or calming treats can last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on the method used. As for sedative drugs, the effect is strongest 4 to 6 hours after ingestion and can take up to 24 hours to exit the system.

How to decide which sedation method to use?

You need to pick a sedation method as per the following factors:

  • Type of grooming (Nails, Hair, Ear)
  • Duration of grooming
  • Your cat’s stress and anxiety levels

A mild and natural method like body wraps or calming collars will be enough for the occasional nail trimming or ear cleaning that takes less than 10 minutes. But for complete hair trimming sessions on nervous cats, you need to consult your veterinarian.

How much does it cost to put cats on anesthesia?

Most clinics can charge anywhere between $200-$400 to sedate cats depending on the session duration.

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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