How Long Does Ketamine Last in Cats?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that is commonly used in veterinary medicine to induce anesthesia and immobilization in cats. It provides pain relief, sedation, and muscle relaxation. Ketamine is popular for use in feline patients …

How Long Does Ketamine Last in Cats

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that is commonly used in veterinary medicine to induce anesthesia and immobilization in cats. It provides pain relief, sedation, and muscle relaxation.

Ketamine is popular for use in feline patients due to its safety profile and the ability to administer it through multiple routes, including injection, orally and intranasally.

However, ketamine is a short-acting drug with a relatively quick onset and short duration of action. Cat owners often wonder how long does ketamine last in cats after it is administered. Here is a detailed look at the duration of the effects of ketamine in cats.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic medication that provides the following:

  • Pain relief (analgesia)
  • Immobilization
  • Sedation
  • Amnesia

It was originally developed for use as a battlefield anesthetic in the 1970s. Now, ketamine is commonly used in both human and veterinary medicine.

Some key facts about ketamine:

  • It can induce anesthesia quickly when given intravenously.
  • It does not depress breathing or lower blood pressure like other anesthetics.
  • Ketamine causes a dissociative state – where the cat is sedated but somewhat conscious and responsive.
  • It provides good skeletal muscle relaxation.
  • Ketamine can be administered through injection, orally, and intranasally.

In veterinary medicine, ketamine is widely used for restraint, sedation, anesthesia, and pain relief in cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, and exotic pets. It is considered very safe for feline patients.

How Long Does Ketamine Last in Cats?

The effects of ketamine in cats typically lasts 30-60 minutes on average. However, the exact duration depends on several factors:

Factors Affecting Duration of Ketamine

  • Dose – Higher doses result in longer duration. Doses may range from 2-20 mg/kg IV or IM.
  • Route of administration – IV injection results in the fastest onset and shortest action. Intramuscular and subcutaneous routes have slightly longer durations.
  • Use of other drugs – Ketamine is often combined with sedative or opioid drugs like xylazine, midazolam, or butorphanol, which prolong the effects.
  • Redosing – Giving an additional dose or constant rate infusion extends the duration.
  • Concentration of formulation – Lower concentration injectable solutions (10 mg/mL) may wear off faster.
  • Individual variation – Factors like age, breed, temperament, and health status lead to variable responses.

Stages of Ketamine Effects in Cats

The effects of ketamine generally occur in three phases:

  1. Stage 1 – This is the stage of excitement and delirium. It lasts 5-15 minutes. Cats may experience increased heart rate, blood pressure, and vocalization. There may be involuntary muscle contractions.
  2. Stage 2 – The cat enters anesthesia and a dissociative state in this stage which lasts around 20-40 minutes. They are unconscious, sedated, and unresponsive. Good analgesia and muscle relaxation are achieved.
  3. Stage 3 – As the effects start wearing off, cats gradually recover consciousness over 15-30 minutes. They may experience disorientation, confusion, and poor coordination initially.

So the entire duration from administration until complete recovery is usually 30-60 minutes. The actual anesthetic stage is shorter, while the onset and recovery phases prolong the total duration.

Effects and Side Effects of Ketamine on Cats

Ketamine administration results in dose-dependent and progressive effects in cats:

Low dose (2-5 mg/kg)

  • Minimal sedation and sensory dulling
  • No clinically significant effects
  • May cause short-lived agitation

Medium dose (5-10 mg/kg)

  • Alters behavior and environmental perception
  • produce dissociative, trance-like cataleptic state
  • Maintains airway reflexes and cardiopulmonary function

High dose (over 20 mg/kg)

  • Rapid anesthesia induction when given IV
  • Profound sensory detachment
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Relaxation of skeletal muscles
  • Preserved protective airway reflexes

Side effects

  • Increased salivation
  • Transient behavioral changes
  • Emesis is possible
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Recovery agitation in some cats
  • Cats may experience bad dreams or hallucinations

So ketamine is considered very safe in cats when used properly. Side effects are usually mild and short lasting.

What Are Typical Ketamine Doses for Cats?

The dose of ketamine depends on the desired effects:

  • Sedation – 2-5 mg/kg IM, IV, or SQ
  • Heavy sedation – 5-15 mg/kg IM
  • Anesthesia induction – 10-20 mg/kg IV
  • Anesthesia maintenance – Constant rate infusion or intermittent doses at 5-20 mg/kg IV or IM

Ketamine is often used together with other sedative drugs like xylazine or midazolam to enhance the effects. This allows using lower doses of each drug.

Here are some typical ketamine doses used in cats:

  • Ketamine (5 mg/kg IV) + xylazine (1 mg/kg IV) – for induction
  • Ketamine (5-10 mg/kg) + midazolam (0.25 mg/kg) – IM for sedation
  • Ketamine constant rate infusion (CRI) at 10-25 mcg/kg/min – for longer procedures
  • Intranasal ketamine at 5-20 mg/kg – practical for fractious cats

What Does Ketamine Feel Like for Cats?

Since ketamine has dissociative effects, it results in profound alterations in sensory perception in cats under its influence.

Based on human reports, ketamine intoxication produces effects like:

  • Feeling detached from one’s body and environment
  • Distorted perception of sights, sounds, one’s own voice, and time
  • Out-of-body sensations, floating and drifting away
  • Complex visual hallucinations
  • Dreamlike states, feeling in another world
  • Confusion, disorientation, and memory deficits

So ketamine does not just sedate the cat but creates a trance-like altered state. While under ketamine anesthesia, cats are disconnected from their surroundings.

As the ketamine effects wear off, cats may experience residual effects like hallucinations, disorientation, and lack of coordination for a short period. Full recovery occurs once the drug is completely eliminated from the body.

Is Ketamine Safe for Cats?

Yes, ketamine is considered very safe for use in cats compared to other anesthetic drugs. Some of the advantages of ketamine include:

  • Wide safety margin – Doses can be safely increased up to 20-50 mg/kg IV for anesthesia induction.
  • Minimal cardiac and respiratory depression – It maintains blood pressure, heart rate, and airflow.
  • Rapid metabolism and elimination – Ketamine does not accumulate in the body.
  • Low incidence of serious adverse effects – Side effects like salivation and hypertension are short lasting.
  • Preserved protective airway reflexes – Allows use without intubation and oxygen support.
  • Fast recovery – Most cats recover within 30-60 minutes.

However, ketamine should be avoided or used cautiously in certain patients:

  • Debilitated, geriatric, or pediatric cats
  • Severely hypertensive patients
  • Cats with increased intraocular and intracranial pressure
  • Cardiac and liver disease patients

But overall, ketamine has a wide margin of safety in healthy feline patients. It is less risky than many other anesthetics used in cats.

How is Ketamine Given to Cats?

There are several routes for administering ketamine to cats:

Intravenous Injection

  • Provides the fastest induction and shortest duration
  • Allows accurate dosing and titration
  • Usually combined with other drugs like propofol
  • Requires catheter placement which may be difficult in fractious cats

Intramuscular Injection

  • Simple IM injection into muscles like the thigh
  • Slower onset and longer duration than IV
  • Less risk of overdose
  • Allow use of higher volumes and doses

Subcutaneous Injection

  • Injected under the skin like for vaccines
  • Intermediate between IV and IM effects
  • May not provide adequate anesthesia for painful procedures
  • Better sedation and restraint

Oral Administration

  • Given by mouth or added to food
  • The slow onset and prolonged effects
  • Lower bioavailability than injections
  • Useful for premedication

Intranasal Spray

  • Absorbed across the nasal mucosa
  • It can be sprayed directly into the nostrils
  • Avoid the need for injections in fractious cats
  • Rapid onset of action

So ketamine offers great flexibility in routes of administration for cat sedation and anesthesia. This expands its usefulness for ER trauma, clinics, and home use.

What Are Some Clinical Uses of Ketamine in Cats?

Due to its unique properties, ketamine is a versatile drug used for many purposes in cats:

1. Anesthesia Induction

IV ketamine provides rapid, smooth induction of general anesthesia. It allows the administration of oxygen via face mask without resistance.

2. Procedures Requiring Restraint

Ketamine, along with a sedative like xylazine, provides excellent restraint for brief procedures like wound repair, injections, blood collection, etc.

3. Orthopedic Surgery

It provides good skeletal muscle relaxation for fracture reduction and repair and joint surgeries. It does not interfere with fracture healing.

4. Dental Surgery

Ketamine combined with other agents allows dental extraction and oral surgery in cats. It relaxes jaw muscles.

5. Diagnostic Imaging

The cat remains still for radiographs, ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans under ketamine sedation.

6. Trauma and Emergencies

Ketamine is useful for quick IV induction in trauma patients. It helps assess injuries and stabilize cats in respiratory distress.

7. Pain Relief

At sub-anesthetic doses, ketamine provides effective analgesia for wounds, burns, fractures, etc. It reduces opioid needs.

8. Neurologic Exams

The dissociative state allows assessment of neurologic reflexes and functions in cats.

9. Sedation for Handling

Ketamine/benzodiazepine combinations enable calm handling in fractious, aggressive cats.

10. Therapeutic Procedures

Short procedures like wound cleaning, bandage changes, flushings, and bladder catheterizations can be facilitated with ketamine sedation.

Due to its versatility, ketamine finds use across many veterinary situations for cats. It is an indispensable drug for managing feline patients safely.

What are the Alternatives to Ketamine in Cats?

Some alternatives to ketamine for sedation and anesthesia in cats include:

  • Propofol – Fast-acting IV anesthesia induction agent. Quicker recovery than ketamine but needs oxygen support.
  • Sevoflurane or isoflurane – Inhalant anesthetic gases. Require specialized equipment for administration.
  • Injectable anesthetic combinations – Ketamine + xylazine, ketamine + diazepam + butorphanol, etc.
  • Dexmedetomidine – Provides good sedation at low risk but limited analgesic effects.
  • Alfaxalone – Injectable steroid anesthetic with fast induction and recovery. But expense limits routine use.
  • Benzodiazepines – Midazolam, diazepam – sedatives used with ketamine to enhance effects.
  • Opioids – Butorphanol and buprenorphine – mostly provide analgesia and mild sedation.

However, none match the unique properties of ketamine. It will likely remain a mainstay of anesthesia and chemical restraint in cats for the foreseeable future.

FAQs about Ketamine Use in Cats

1: Is ketamine safe to give my cat at home?

A: Ketamine should only be administered by a veterinarian or under their guidance. Improper dosing risks side effects. But intranasal or oral ketamine may be prescribed for home sedation in some cases.

2: Can ketamine be fatal to cats?

A: Ketamine has a wide safety margin in cats. Lethal overdoses are exceptionally rare and usually require 10-50 times higher doses than therapeutic levels. Accidental overdoses can be treated with supportive care.

3: Does ketamine have long-term effects in cats?

A: No, ketamine does not cause any persistent effects or organ damage when used properly in cats. It is rapidly cleared from the body once the clinical effects wear off.

4: Can ketamine make cats aggressive after recovery?

A: Some cats may exhibit temporary agitation, vocalization, or hallucinations after ketamine wears off. But serious behavior changes are uncommon. This can be managed with additional sedation if needed.

5: How often can ketamine be safely used in cats?

A: Repeated ketamine use is well tolerated in cats, provided doses are kept in the recommended range. There are no strict limits on the frequency of use. Most cats can safely receive it multiple times if needed.

The Takeaway: Ketamine Provides Safe, Short-Term Sedation in Cats

To summarize key points about ketamine use in cats:

  • Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic agent commonly used in feline medicine
  • It provides sedation, immobilization, and analgesia by inducing a cataleptic trance-like state
  • Effects of ketamine typically last 30-60 minutes in cats
  • Ketamine is considered very safe for use in cats compared to other anesthetics
  • It can be given by IV, IM, SQ, and intranasal routes
  • Ketamine has many applications ranging from minor procedures to major surgery
  • Side effects like salivation and hypertension are usually mild and transient

So ketamine enables veterinarians to humanely handle, examine and treat cats. Its short duration of action and versatility greatly benefit feline patients. When used properly, ketamine provides safe and effective sedation in cats for around 30 to 60 minutes on average.


Here are some references that were used in researching and writing this article on ketamine use in cats:

  1. Sinclair MD. A review of the physiological effects of α2-agonists related to the clinical use of medetomidine in small animal practice. Can Vet J. 2003;44(11):885-897.
  2. Ansah OB, Raekallio M, Vainio O. Comparison of three doses of dexmedetomidine with medetomidine in cats following intramuscular administration. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 1998;21(6):380-387. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2885.1998.00163.x
  3. Henao-Guerrero PN, Riccó CH. Effects of low-dose dexmedetomidine infusion on cardiovascular function, isoflurane requirements, and perioperative responses of cats undergoing ovariohysterectomy. Vet Anaesth Analg. 2016;43(2):201-211. doi:10.1111/vaa.12322
  4. Kuusela E, Raekallio M, Anttila M, Falck I, Mölsä S, Vainio O. Clinical effects and pharmacokinetics of medetomidine and its enantiomers in cats. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2000;23(1):15-20. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2885.2000.00217.x
  5. Moreira TM, Teixeira RC, Monteiro ER. Sedative and cardiorespiratory effects of dexmedetomidine, dexmedetomidine-butorphanol, and dexmedetomidine-ketamine in cats. Vet Anaesth Analg. 2017;44(6):1455-1462. doi:10.1016/j.vaa.2017.07.008
  6. Ansah OB, Raekallio M, Vainio O. Comparison of three doses of dexmedetomidine with medetomidine in cats following intramuscular administration. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 1998;21(6):380-387. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2885.1998.00163.x
  7. Yazbek KVB, Fantoni DT. Validity of the doppler ultrasonic method for noninvasive measurement of systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial pressure in cats. J Vet Intern Med. 2005;19(4):534-537. doi:10.1892/0891-6640(2005)19[534:votdum];2
  8. Elmas CR, Colak A, Polat B, et al. Comparison of transmucosal detomidine-S (+) ketamine and dexmedetomidine-racemic ketamine anesthesia in cats. BioMed Res Int. 2013;2013:145964. doi:10.1155/2013/145964
  9. Ansah OB, Raekallio M, Vainio O. Comparison of three doses of dexmedetomidine with medetomidine in cats following intramuscular administration. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 1998;21(6):380-387. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2885.1998.00163.x

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