Medicine to Calm Cats for Travel

Anxious cat peeks over cushion


Cats rarely make good travel companions.

Getting them to a veterinary appointment can be tough enough let alone having to box them up into a carrier for a long car trip. Anything that you can do to make the journey more comfortable and less stressful for them will, inevitably, make the trip easier for you, too, and one way is by using medicine to calm cats for travel.

You can sedate a cat.

It isn’t recommended by all veterinarians but it’s a popular practice with many pet owners.  Benadryl is an over-the-counter human medicine that’s sold around the world in pharmacies and grocery stores.  You don’t need to speak to a vet before you give it to the cat but it might be prudent to ask for dosage advice before you do.  Not only will this give you peace of mind but it allows the veterinarian to raise any concerns and give advice before the travel date.

Don’t dose your cat with Benadryl or any other medication if you’re traveling with your cat by plane.

Many airlines will refuse carriage to a sedated pet as altitude can cause breathing difficulties.  Talk to your vet if you believe your cat needs medicinal support during air travel.  Equally, if you’re looking to give your cat a high-duty sedative such as Benzodiazepine, then you should make an appointment with your veterinarian.


Benadryl as a Medicine to Calm Cats for Travel


Benadryl is one of the more common methods of sedating a cat for travel.

You may already be familiar with the name as it’s commonly used to treat allergies in humans.  Although not approved for veterinary use by the FDA, it’s generally considered safe enough for cats in small doses.

In addition to being used as a sedative, it’s also used as an anti-histamine to treat allergies, bites and stings in felines.

There are other brands of anti-histamine available. Some that appear to be very similar to Benadryl but you must ALWAYS make sure that there is only ONE active ingredient. In Benadryl, this is clearly marked as DIPHENHYDRAMINE

If you decide to use another brand then BE SURE that diphenhydramine is the ONLY active ingredient as additional ones can cause health problems in your cat.

Benadryl is a popular choice for sedating cats because drowsiness is known to be a side-effect, and, as you can imagine, a sleepy cat makes travelling on long car trips easier both for pet and owner.  It’s also why airlines don’t like to carry sedated cats in the cabin or hold.

Honestly, if you can get away without sedating your cat — even for a car journey — then that’s probably ideal.  As in humans, it’s difficult to say exactly what effect Benadryl will have on your pet (even though countless owners use it without problem).

It is worth pointing out however that the side-effects for your cat might not actually include drowsiness.  Some cats may experience hyperactivity — the exact opposite of what you want. Every cat is different.  If you believe Benadryl could be a good fit for your cat, then we’d recommend you give your cat a trial dose (a smaller one, perhaps) ahead of your trip.  This will at least give you an idea of what to expect and whether or not Benadryl is the right product for your animal. Additional side effects can include a dry mouth, vomiting, diarrhoea and a loss of appetite.

Benadryl isn’t suitable for animals with liver or kidney disease, high blood pressure, hypertension, glaucoma or hyperthyroidism. If you have any concerns about the suitability of it for your cat, then you should speak to your veterinarian.

It’s vital that you understand the correct dose.

It is possible to overdose a cat with Benadryl. If you’ve given them the correct dosage to your feline, then don’t give them any more even if it doesn’t appear to be having any effect. Dosage is dependant on the animal’s age, size and weight. Speak to your vet if you’re in any doubt.  

The general recommendation is 1mg per pound in weight, given up to three times daily.

Benadryl comes in a number of forms.  Liquid Benadryl is easiest to measure out into the correct dose but some cats find it bitter tasting and it might be harder to get them to swallow it. If you use a syringe to administer it, then remember to do it to the side of the tongue rather than straight down the throat as you could cause the cat to aspirate.

Benadryl as a tablet is probably the easiest to administer. You may have to give a half-tablet though. It’s usually easier to hide a pill in the food.

Gray and black cat with disinterested look


Alternatives to Medicine to Calm Cats for Travel

Synthetic pheromones work by replicating the scent that a cat releases each time they rub their head against people and objects.  Bunting helps establish territory and its familiar smell will create a calming response in the cat. Feliway is a popular brand of pheromone that you can buy online or in stores.

There’s also Pet Remedy which an owner can rub into his or her hands and then stroke into a cat’s fur. It contains valerian: a plant extract that’s often used to reduce stress and encourage sleep in humans, too.

Calmex is also available.  Its combination of amino acids, plant extracts and B vitamins make it a natural cat sedative and may be less abrasive to your cat’s system than drugs.

You can read about other ways of helping reduce your cat’s anxiety and stress during travel in our post: why do cats hate car rides?  If you’re looking for the best cat carrier for difficult cats, then we have help there, too, including a list of hard carriers on Amazon to buy.

Using medicine to calm cats for travel won’t be everyone’s prefered method of reducing a pet’s stress BUT sometimes it’s the only option especially if your cat has a particularly nervous disposition and is a danger to themselves or to others.  Speaking to your veterinarian will mean that you’re fully armed with all the information on easing any travel anxiety and all the options to help manage it.  

Although, it is easy to see why Benadryl is so popular with owners:  it’s a readily-available and cost-effective way to manage a cat’s behaviour during travel.

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