Giving a cat medicine can be difficult. Many cats don’t like receiving medicine and may try to scratch or bite their owners to avoid having to take it. However, with patience and plenty of “helpers,” cats can take medicine just fine.
First of all, it’s best to request liquid medicine from the vet if at all possible. If you must have pills, here is what you should do to make the cat take it:
- Pick the cat up and pet it gently. Cradle it like a baby if it will allow you to; otherwise hold it so it’s comfortable but you have access to its mouth.
- Have someone else open the cat’s mouth while you hold it and throw the pill inside, into the back of the mouth.
- Close the cat’s mouth and massage its throat.
- Open the cat’s mouth again and look for the pill (make sure to check under the tongue, if you can, and on the sides of the mouth).
If the cat appears to have swallowed the pill, put it down. Otherwise, repeat the process
Some cats are tricky; it will look like they’ve swallowed the pill, but they’ll spit it out somewhere as soon as you set it down. Unfortunately, short of watching it very closely, you can’t prevent this. If you notice your cat has spit out several pills, try hiding the pill in its food (don’t mash it up unless the vet says it’s okay). Most cats are smart enough, however, to eat around the pill and not take it, so this isn’t recommended.
For liquid medications, try this:
- Pick the cat up and cradle it like a baby if possible
- Have someone else open the cat’s mouth with the medicine dropper in hand
- Stick the dropper fairly far back in the cat’s mouth (but not far enough to gag it)
- Inject the medicine; the cat will automatically swallow
- Set the cat down and allow it to go to its water bowl
This is, of course, unpleasant for the cat. However, some pharmacies (ordinary human pharmacies) now fill pet prescriptions and can flavor the medicine to appeal to a pet.
Flavors include tuna, bacon, and other, similar flavors. This may mean that pets will take medicine more easily. If your pet is especially finicky about taking medicine, ask your vet about this option.
Make sure that you store your pet’s medication correctly and administer it correctly. Give your pet the proper dose at the proper time(s) of day. Never put the medicine in food or water unless your vet says it’s okay. Never do it at all if you have other cats who may accidentally get dosed if they eat the food or drink the water. Ask your vet if what your cat has is contagious if you have multiple cats; they may all need medication even if only one technically has the illness.
If you have any questions or difficulties, always call your vet and ask. They can give you help or even demonstrate the proper way to administer medication if necessary.
- Prepare the medicine you have to administer and place on top of a paper towel, on a nearby surface, so that you can grab it quickly as soon as the cat's mouth opens.
A pill pusher is a bit like a syringe for pills. The rubber tip holds the pill and a plunger pushes it out when the time comes.
- Lift the cat and hold it with one arm around it, while using your hand to open their mouth.
Placing the cat on a towel or blanket on an elevated surface (such as a dresser or countertop) might help.
- Open the cat's mouth. Use your thumb and middle finger, and press into the corner of its mouth Use your middle finger and index finger to lift the cat's nose, do not block the actual nose with your fingers. Your fingers should be on either side of the nose
- Put the medication in the cat's mouth, and follow up with a bit of water if it seems to help with swallowing.
If giving the cat a pill, put it in their mouth quickly.
DO NOT squirt liquid medication into the cat's throat or tongue. Liquids are likely to go down a cat's windpipe, making the cat choke. For liquid medications, insert the dropper between the cat's cheek and teeth.
- Stroke the cat's throat or blow sharply on its nose to encourage the cat to swallow.
- Follow up with a kitty treat. This will help to encourage swallowing and make the whole process at least a little less arduous.
- Administer thick gel like medications from a tube (as for hairball prevention) with either of these methods or a combination:
Place the required dose onto your finger, and insert your finger into their mouth. They lick it off easily.
If they resist, or leave some on your finger, just wipe your finger with the gel onto their paws or outside their mouth. They will wash their paws and mouth, and digest the gel.
- To give your cat a pill, crush the pill and mix it with with cream cheese. Wipe the mixture onto the cat's front leg. He will instantly lick it and therefore consume his medication.
- Pill Pockets are great for getting cats to swallow pills without realizing it.
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Whole Health for Happy Cats: A Guide to Keeping Your Cat Naturally Healthy, Happy, and Well-Fed
The most important aspect of getting medicine into a cat is being confident. This may sound strange, but believe it or not, your cat knows when you are intimidated and will take full advantage of the situation. Cats are extremely good at reading body language. A positive attitude about getting the medicine into the cat’s mouth is necessary for success. If you start the process with doubts, you will likely fail.
Medicating cats is more easily achieved by placing the animal up on a table or counter. By doing so you are making it easier for you to handle the pet and taking the cat off of its “turf”. The harder that you try to hold a cat down to medicate, the more it will resist. Minimal restraint is best. Wrapping a cat in a towel like a baby is necessary in some cases.
Varying the medicating routine is helpful. If you give medicine at an exact time each day and go through the same preliminary steps to prepare, your cat may get smart and be nowhere in sight when the time comes. Giving a treat as a reward after medicating can serve as positive reinforcement to the cat.
Hints for Medicating
- Liquid medications can be dosed from either an eyedropper or a syringe without a needle. Small volumes, up to 0.5 ml, can usually be given in one squirt. Larger volumes may need to be split into 3 or more smaller squirts. You do not need to pry the cat’s mouth open to give liquids. Simply insert the tip of the dropper into the corner of the mouth, lift the cat’s chin, and squirt slowly.
- Cats have a great sense of smell, so mixing liquids in with food in generally unsuccessful. Many of the antibiotic drops are “fruity” and have sweet tastes and smells. They are not the perfect compliment for a tuna dinner.
- Tablets or capsules can sometimes be crushed and successfully mixed into food, but learning to directly “pill” a cat is best. The cat’s head needs to be grasped around the cheekbones, and then tilted so that the cat’s nose is pointing towards the ceiling. When done correctly, the cat’s mouth will automatically be open, and a finger is used to pop the pill over the back of the cat’s tongue.
- Many cats will gag and foam after being medicated. This can be due to bad taste of the medication, not swallowing initially, or stress. Foaming is only rarely due to an allergic reaction to the medication, so do not panic if your cat begins to drool.
- Plastic pill guns are available if putting your finger into the cat’s mouth is dangerous or unsuccessful. Coating a pill with butter, cheese, or hairball lubricant is another option. It will make the pill taste better and slide more easily down the throat.
My favorite products for medicating cats are Pill Pockets. These are moldable treats that can be placed around a pill. They come in chicken and salmon flavors for cats, and I think that 75% of cats that like treats will take a pill in a Pill Pocket. Pill Pockets are available at vet clinics and some pet stores.
Compounding pharmacies can take medications and re-formulate them into liquids and chews that cats prefer or into sizes that are easier to administer. A few medications can be made into transdermal gels that are rubbed inside the ears for treatment. If you are having difficulty with medication, ask your vet if it can be re-formulated. This can add cost to the product, but it is worth it if you are then able to get it into your pet.
Finding pills under cushions or behind sofas means that you have been outsmarted again. Communicate with your veterinarian if you are having problems medicating, because he or she wants your cat to get well too.
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