Sedatives for Vet Visits

Just like us at a doctor’s office, some pets get very anxious at the vet clinic. Whether in for a full workup including an exam and blood work or just here for a nail trim, would your pet benefit from a sedative?

What is a sedative?

A sedative is a medication (used in people or animals) to help them relax and reduce anxiety. Unlike a real anesthetic, which makes a pet extraordinarily sleepy and unresponsive, a sedative makes an animal slightly drowsy and calm while still allowing them to be aware of, and interact with, their environment. Sedatives are NOT addictive, and it does not mean that your pet is “bad” or “mean.” Some pets just get stressed out more easily than others do, or get scared more easily.

What are the benefits of sedation?

Sedatives are cheap, easy to give, and reduce stress on you, the veterinary team, and most importantly, your pet. Sedatives also protect the veterinary team from bites and scratches from a panicked animal. Prescription PRIOR to a visit obtains sedatives. They are in the form of liquid or a pill, and unlike full anesthesia, they can be given to your pet the morning of the exam. Sedatives calm animals down, help them stay still and keep them from getting scared. Sedatives allow us, the veterinary team, to be faster and quieter about a procedure.

What are the negatives of a sedative?

Sedatives don’t work as well if administered after a pet is already worked up, so most pets benefit from a sedative given before their visit rather than during it. While sedatives do cost money, require that you watch your pet for a few hours after the sedative is administered, and need a bit more planning (most sedatives are administered 2 hours before a visit) many animals can benefit from getting a sedative.

So my pet is going to get a sedative – what should I expect?

Either the veterinary team recommended a sedative, or you think your pet could benefit from one – call your vet clinic a few days before your appointment and pick up your sedative. Give it, for food if needed, to your pet 1-2 hours before you load them into the car to drive to the clinic. It will make your pet relaxed and tired, so they will likely sleep after it kicks in (30 minutes to 1 hours after administration). They will probably be tired and relaxed for a few hours after the visit (most pets sleep it off) then become more alert as it gradually wears off. It is important to watch your pet while the sedative is still in their system to make sure they don’t fall down the stairs or get stuck in their water dish

What sedatives are out there?


Gabapentin. This is a pain medication used in humans and animals for nerve pain. At higher than usual doses used for pain, it causes relaxation and drowsiness. Usually dosed at 50-150mg per cat (depending on body weight) it can be given in pill or liquid form. Safe for almost any cat, it is useful, safe on the body organs, and useful for both old and young cats.


Acepromazine. Once very popular, this drug is falling out of favour with some vets (like me!). An anxiolytic, it decreases anxiety but doesn’t relax the dog. It can also reduce blood pressure, so isn’t safe for use in some old and sick dogs.

Trazodone. My sedative of choice for fearful stressed, or anxious dogs. Gentle on the liver, kidneys and GI tract, Trazodone relaxes dogs and decreases anxiety. Safe for use in both old and young dogs and comes in scored tablets for easy dosing.

Gabapentin. The same medication used in cats can be used in dogs. See above for more information.

Sedatives are not something to be scared of or worried about. There is nothing wrong with giving, or needing to offer, a sedative to your beloved pet. It makes any vet visit more comfortable and less stressful for you, your pet, and the whole veterinary team. Today’s sedatives are safe, efficient, and don’t break the bank. They are easy to give and not addictive.

If you have any questions about sedatives or think your pet could benefit from one, call our clinic today!

Written by Dr. Teigen Bond, DVM