Cat Should Get Test Dose of Sedative Before Trip

Ericson, a practicing Orange County veterinarian, is immediate past president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn

Q: My husband and I have a Himalayan male cat that is like a child to us and, I would say, a little spoiled. We will be moving to Pensacola, Fla., between July and October of this year. I have heard a lot about the reactions of tranquilizers and sedatives on cats, not many of them positive. I am worried because I will have to take him on a plane. He is not real good in the car and does better without being in his carrier. Which type of tranquilizer do you recommend, if any? What type of carrier should we get for the plane?

Tamra Herb, Fullerton

A: There are several types of sedatives that can be used on cats, but their effects vary with the individual pet. The most common are acepromazine and diazepam (Valium), both with relatively wide margins of safety. The effects of these drugs vary with the cat's age, weight and general health, so it would be ideal to have your Himalayan examined by your veterinarian and get the appropriate medication.

Since you have much time before your journey, it would be beneficial to run a trial on the dosage that will be most effective for your pet. You can give him a prescribed dosage and observe him over the next four to six hours to determine if the desired effect is achieved. You would like him to be sedate and calm, not dopey or unconscious. From the trial dosage, you will be able to adjust the medication to get the proper effect. Be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian.

The airlines have definite policies as to what constitutes a proper pet carrier for air travel. Generally, the carrier is made of sturdy plastic with a metal door and numerous air vents. The carrier should be large enough to allow the cat to stand up and turn around without being cramped. Contact the airlines for their specific requirements. Most large pet stores have appropriate carriers in stock and can show you several examples.

Q: I am planning on becoming a veterinarian and would like some information on what is required and what classes I will need to take in school. I am a freshman in high school and want to plan ahead to help my chances. What do you suggest?

T.C., Huntington Beach High School

A: The road to veterinary school is essentially the same for any medical school in the country. You will need to take a strong college prep program in high school with the emphasis on the sciences. Your goal should be to attend a four-year college or university, working toward getting your bachelor's degree.

College courses will be geared primarily to a strong background in chemistry and life sciences. It can take three years to meet all the requirements, but many applicants have their degrees by the time they enter veterinary school. I recommend that you discuss your goals with your school counselor and ask the veterinary school at UC Davis to send you a current catalogue and course requirements.

You should also plan on working in an animal-related job in order to gain some experience and to see if this will really be your career goal. Consider pet shops, boarding facilities, veterinary hospitals or zoos as possible places of employment.

The field of veterinary medicine can be wide open. Besides private practice in small animal, large animal, equine, or exotics, there are career opportunities in government private industry and research. The future of wildlife in this country as well as others may depend on the work of veterinarians both in the field and in the labs. Good luck with your education.

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