#6 Do they make cat tranquilizers for handling ferals? Answer: Yes, but try these ideas first.
I got an email asking if they make cat tranquilizers to get a cat into a carrier. Below are some alternative approaches not involving drugs, but first the info requested about sedation.
Some vets will prescribe a dose of a sedative like Acepromazine to make cats drowsy for easier handling. Most come in pill form that you can crush into a small amount of tasty food or stuff into a "pill pocket" to be gobbled up. In my experience, vets will only do this for a cat that is already a patient. I'll say right off the bat that I personally don't like to use sedatives, but some people do so here's the info.
Sedatives are usually used for traveling to alleviate anxiety on long road trips or airplane flights. Most begin to take effect after about 30 minutes. To get a fractious cat into a carrier the sedative does slow a cat down and make it less coordinated. Sedatives that a vet can send home aren't that strong, so the cat will still try to struggle out of your grasp. The cat could jump off a height and get hurt if you don't plan out your maneuver carefully to a confined area to minimize the jumping around. For people who have trouble handling cats safely, this doesn't make things THAT much easier. You still need to be quick and precise getting a good scruff.
The vet will want the weight of the cat in order to prescribe the right dose for the cat. This is the "Catch 22." If you could get the cat to sit still on a scale, you wouldn't need a tranquilizer. Young cats tend to gain 1 lb per month for the first 6 month as a general rule. 2 Months:2lbs., 3 Months:3lbs., etc.
For aggressive feral cats living indoors, I suggest setting a trap and taking them to the cat in the trap.
Here are a couple things I use for shy semi-feral cats that aren't aggressive. Handling gloves always come in handy to avoid scratches when a frightened cat scrambles to get away.
1. I prefer the path of least resistance with semi-ferals that are calm house cats, but still panic when you go to pick them up to put in a carrier. I train my semi-feral cats to not be afraid to go into a carrier by feeding them daily in a large carrier and/or tossing their favorite treats into a large carrier every day as part of their routine. In time they don't even look over their shoulder to see if you are going to close the door on them. I only close the door a couple times per year, so they quickly go back to not being afraid of the carrier in between vet visits.
2. Describing this next technique in words is tough, but another system that works well for me is to put an open carrier in the bathroom and close all the doors to all the adjoining rooms. I calmly walk toward the cat without scaring it but getting it to move away from me until it has no exit but to go into the bathroom. I've had good results with the cat retreating into the bathroom, and I close the door on it there. (A) Once in the bathroom, the cat often hides in the carrier when you carefully squeeze in to join the cat without letting it escape. (B) If the cat doesn't run to hide in the carrier right away, it usually hides behind the toilet. My bathroom is conveniently laid out so the tub is right next to the toilet with the sink cabinet on the other side. I put the carrier on one side of the toilet with a bath mat over the top covering the escape up to the tub. With a small pillow or towel, I come around the other side by the sink and the cat has no exit but to go into the carrier. I slowly hold the pillow or towel over the opening of the carrier as I carefully close the door using the pillow to fill the escape gap. A bread board can be slid in front of the pillow to keep the cat is as you slowly slide out the board while closing and latching the door. See the picture at the top of the blog for a better idea how this works. If you have to modify this idea, just try to think like a cat and create the path of least resistance for the cat. The cat will go into the place it thinks is the safest bet in the given situation. Make the carrier the best choice for the cat to hide with the path you create.
In other blog entries, I've discussed using a cattery or pen as a transitional space to keep cats coming back into a confined space until they are completely socialized to being picked up. It really helps to have them comfortable eating in a confined space when you need to get your hands on them occaisionally.