By Dr. Lynn Bahr
Cats may look like cuddly little balls of fuzz, but as soon as the time comes to administer medication, all cat people know that they turn into lean fighting machines capable of inflicting serious damage to hands, clothes, and more. The last time we had to give medication to one of our cats, Peanut, she summoned the strength of giant tiger into her little 7 lb. body and managed to successfully fight off two grown adults, before running under the couch where we couldn’t get to her.
Most cat owners will agree, there is only one thing worse than having to taking their furry friends to the veterinarian, and that is giving them medication. It is one of the most difficult tasks owners face, and one that’s greatly feared. Not only do people find it intimidating and frustrating, but it’s also dangerous when done incorrectly. It can cause enough stress to weaken the bond a cat has with its owner if it becomes fearful, distrustful, or resentful. Beyond this, unsuccessful attempts or deliberate avoidance of giving your cat meds is a major cause of treatment failure. This is ultimately detrimental to the health of the pet and causes owners to feel guilty, inadequate, and resentful. Fortunately, there are safe and simple solutions to help you help your cat.
Pavlov train your cat
Remember Pavlov? He conditioned dogs to salivate when they heard a specific bell ring. He is famous for his concept of “conditioned reflex,” which we can easily use on most cats. They can be taught to accept foods that disguise pills or capsules on a set schedule. By habituating them to a twice a day schedule of tasty treats, it sufficiently covers most prescription schedules. Acclimating cats to receive treats that easily hide medications eliminates the need to force pills down their throat and the stress associated with it. Owners can be creative on the foods offered and need to experiment to find what their cats like best. Liverwurst, shrimp, scallops, yogurt, sour cream, whipped cream, canned cheese and pill pockets are some examples of foods cats like that also have a consistency that makes it easy to hide pills in. Owners can get creative with their choices to find what suits their cats best. One of my patients eats his pills in mashed potatoes topped with crumbled Temptation treats. The crumble of the treats disguises the texture of his pill and he has never figured out that it was hidden in there. A treat that can hide pills, given twice daily, will habituate most cats to receive their medications without incident, fanfare or failure.
HOWEVER, DO NOT PUT MEDICATION IN YOUR CAT’S REGULAR DIET. We want sick cats to eat and trying to trick them into taking medications by putting it in their food could cause them not to. Do not take the chance by tainting their food. Never mess with a cat’s food, especially when they are not feeling well.
All cats are different, and what works for one might not work for yours. Which is why online tutorials, like YouTube videos, are so valuable because you can watch and learn numerous strategies from others. There are many good videos showing different techniques people use to successfully medicate their cats. Find one that resonates with you and your cat. Full disclosure, with all of these techniques, trial and error is to be expected. Cats are unique, finicky, and clever, which is why we need to discuss medication strategies in the first place!
Check if the medication comes in a different form
If you’ve tried other strategies but still find pilling your cat unmanageable, ask your veterinarian if it can be administered in a different form. While I find it easier to give pills than liquid, many owners prefer to administer liquid over pills. Some medications can be compounded into flavors cats like making it a reasonable alternative. In my experience, while many cats like fish, they don’t always like fishy flavored medications. Believe it or not, one of the most popular flavors cats tend to like is vanilla butternut! When administering liquids, be careful not to shoot or squirt the liquid down a cat’s throat as this is undesirable and makes them gag. Gently tilt their face upwards while slowly dribbling the medication toward the roof of their mouth. Some medications are available in a transdermal gel that is easily administered by rubbing the solution on the skin of a cat’s ear. Not all medications can be given this way, but for those that can it makes administration easy and non-traumatic. Despite the fact that most people are afraid of needles, some find injectable medications more convenient that oral. Work with your veterinarian to find the best possible formula for you and your cat.
Here are a couple more quick tips to increase your success rate:
– If your cat is healthy enough for it, actively play with them immediately after administration of meds. Positive reinforcement through play works wonders and your cat will tolerate being medicated much better. Treats, attention and new toys are other ways to make the experience more pleasant for your cat.
-Finally, if your cat is on multiple medications and you are finding it difficult to administer them all, discuss the situation with your veterinarian. Ask them to list the medications in order of importance so that you can make sure you give the most critical meds first and foremost.
It takes a team approach to treat ill animals successfully, and it is important to have as many members on that team as necessary. It is crucial that you discuss any problems or concerns you have with your veterinary clinic when trying to administer medications to your pet. Creative solutions can usually be found to insure that not only will your pet receive its medications as directed but that it can be done without interfering or eroding the bond you share with them.
About the Author
Lynn Bahr DVM is a graduate of the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine who credits a special grey and white ball of kitten fluff with leading her down the path of a career in feline medicine and behavior. Her areas of interest and special care for felines include health and wellness, lifetime enrichment, hospice care, strengthening the animal-human bond, ending the practice of declawing, and the ability to speak cat. Dr. Bahr is currently the CEO of Dezi & Roo, a company that manufactures and sells solution-based pet products. She is a Fear Free certified professional and serves on the board of directors for Pandemonium Aviaries.