Pet Transportation: When Is It OK to Sedate Your Pet?

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated January 16, 2024

Ensure Your Furry Friend's Comfort!

  • Fast and easy
  • Only pay when you book

In pet transportation, we deal with considerate, responsible clients. They care for their animals and want to make sure they’re treated right. Some of their most common questions have to do with sedation and shipping. How safe is it to medicate a kitty before transporting her in a crate? Can a sedated dog’s breathing be monitored on the road? Would the driver be willing to feed them the sedatives you provide whenever they get antsy?

CitizenShipper’s support teams are at your disposal to answer these questions on a case-by-case basis, whether you’re looking for cat or dog transportation. Still, we thought we’d lay out the guidelines here. Keep in mind that this is general-purpose advice – it need not apply to each individual animal. That said, if you’re prepping your pet for transport and thinking about sedation, here are a few things to consider.

Why You Would Sedate a Pet

Different animals react in different ways to travel-induced anxiety. Some enjoy travel and grow excited as soon as you invite them into the car. Others, more sensitive to noise and vibration, can have a hard time on the road. Motion sickness is also a common issue; a rapid change of scenery can cause restlessness in otherwise well-behaved pets.

This stress can exacerbate existing health issues or cause new ones. Some animals develop behavioral problems caused by anxiety. Others suffer unpredictable shifts in blood pressure or breathing rates. In cases of acute anxiety, doctors might prescribe mild sedatives to reduce risk. Many owners want pets to be compliant during transport, and rely on sedation to achieve that.

In small doses, sedatives need not put an animal to sleep. Instead, they can make it drowsy and docile — which is always preferable to panic or aggressive. So the potential benefits are clear: a medicated pet is safer to handle and less stressed-out. But this brings us to the drawbacks of sedation…

Why You Would Not Sedate a Pet

Many airlines and pet shippers have policies prohibiting owners from sedating their animals. This precaution is there to protect the company from liability, but it’s far from baseless. Here’s a brief overview of possible complications involved with sedating your pet.

  • Circulation: While on sedatives, the animal’s metabolism spins down. This causes the blood pressure to drop and the breathing rhythm to change. Unless monitored during pet transportation, these can pose serious health hazards.
  • Dehydration: Sedated animals drink less than they need to. Depending on the length of the journey, they might end up dehydrated by the time they arrive.
  • Physical injury: While drowsy from medication, animals can’t react quickly enough to adjust their balance. If the driver swerves or hits the breaks, jostling against the side of the pet crate can result in injury.
  • Preexisting conditions: Vets do not recommend sedating animals with certain health conditions. These include congenital heart disease, low blood pressure, and many others.
  • Dosing: Sedatives need to be dosed to match the animal’s body mass, age, and other factors. Some owners feel confident enough to guesstimate the dosage, which can be quite a risk.

The balancing act of sedating an animal can be quite a challenge. While planning pet transportation, take into account both the upsides and the downsides. Beyond that, you can always consult a professional.

The #1 Pet Shipping Tip: Trust Your Vet

At CitizenShipper, we recommend following your veterinarian’s advice to the letter. If unsure whether your animal can – or should – handle a sedative, don’t rely on intuition. Don’t delegate the decision to a driver, either! Consult a vet instead, explaining the specifics of the situation and your concerns.

The vet might decide that sedating the animal is acceptable, even preferable. The sedatives and the dosage they prescribe constitute vitally important information. Make sure to share it with your driver, just like you’d share info on any other meds that your pet might be taking.

Conversely, the vet could rule that the sedation option should not be on the table at all. In this case, they’ll offer a list of alternatives to ease your pet’s anxiety or other symptoms. These might include herbal remedies (Valerian root, essential oils) or behavioral solutions (car training, stress-relief music). Keep the driver in the loop on this regimen as well.

Whichever way you choose to go, drivers are there to accommodate you. If your pet is sedated, they will take into account its condition and check on it regularly. If the pet is fully conscious and struggling with stress, it’ll try to ease its anxiety as much as possible. The animal’s health and well-being are always top priorities. All decisions made during the pet transportation process should work toward these goals.