How to Sedate a Cat for Grooming

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

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

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

How To Know If Your Cat Needs Sedation

Everyone knows how cats get grumpy when someone invades their boundaries – especially when it’s to chop down their hair or trim their nails. 

But some felines will naturally become more anxious and stressed than others. This can make the grooming process ten times more difficult. 

Such cats will usually display the following combination of symptoms when they are held down for 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 health in the long term. Even though they will seem okay on the outside, the stress can lead to physical illnesses and behavior problems. 

Your cat will lose their appetite and get more sick than usual, which will reduce their quality of life. 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 them eligible for being sedated before getting groomed. Not only will it prevent injuries to your cat when they try to escape, but also make them happier and more content in the long run. 

Ways To Sedate A Cat

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

For really serious cases, your vet or groomer might administer some medicines to sedate your cat. 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 can be done at home. The biggest benefit of using a natural method is that it has zero side effects. 

Natural methods are ideal for cats that suffer from mild anxiety or stress while being groomed. 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 easily available and require the least effort amongst all other techniques.

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

Body or towel wraps

Cats love warm blankets. It provides a sense of security and comfort to them, 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. All you have to do is wrap them into 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 roll your cat into a towel forcefully. It reduces stress by applying pressure to the chest area and leaves more room for grooming.

Pheromone diffusers

Pheromones are chemicals released by cats 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. It can be administered 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, make sure that it comfortably sits around your cat’s neck. 

2. Medicated methods

For some cats, natural methods just aren’t enough. This 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 need a very precise dosage. Hence, it is crucial to take a vet’s prescription before using any of these medicines.

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 but can also be injected for quicker effects.

It works by depressing 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. It’s also important to monitor your cat’s heart rate and blood pressure when administering acepromazine to avoid cardiovascular collapse.

Benadryl

Benadryl is an antihistamine that is commonly 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.

While most vets agree that it’s safe to use in appropriate doses for cats, the medicine is easy to overdose on. 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 which makes 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 tranquilizer but quick and effective at its job. It can achieve maximum sedation within 2 hours and reduce anxiety in cats going for vet or grooming visits. 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 anti-anxiety medicine for humans. It can also be used for cats to treat mild anxiety caused by loud noises or car travel. Although the sedation effects of alprazolam aren’t as strong on cats, it’s certainly the easiest to find as almost every owner has Xanax lying around their house. But do keep in mind that it carries a risk of overdose and is not suitable for every feline.

3. General Anesthesia

Using general anesthesia is the fastest and most effective way of sedating a cat. It’s actually a different type of sedation as the cat becomes fully unconscious when put on anesthesia. This is only necessary when the cat needs extensive grooming or requires stitches/injections. 

Only a vet can determine whether your cat needs general anesthesia to be groomed since the procedure carries some risks. If your cat does need anesthesia, make sure it is performed in a professional and reputed clinic by vets familiar with your cat’s medical history.

Side Effects Of Sedation On Cats

Most cats will experience certain side effects after taking sedative drugs. Although many of them will disappear within 24 hours, some can 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 much Xanax is needed to sedate a cat?

The recommended dosage of Alprazolam (Xanax) for cats is 0.125mg to 0.25mg once in 12 hours. However, you should never give your cat Xanax or any other sedative drug without your veterinarian’s permission.

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

For the occasional nail trimming or ear cleaning that takes less than 10 minutes, a mild and natural method like body wraps or calming collars will be enough. But for complete hair trimming sessions on nervous cats, you might have to use sedative drugs like Benadryl or Acepromazine.

How much does it cost to put cats on anesthesia?

Most clinics can charge anywhere between $200-$400 to place cats on anesthesia depending on the duration of the session. However, it is rarely required in the case of grooming.

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