Every Cat Is Different, But Giving a Pill is not Impossible
by Dr. Lisa Collis, a veterinarian at Delton Veterinary Hospital, and a lover of cats.
Delton Veterinary Hospital is a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and has been designated a Cat Friendly Practice. We have taken specific extra steps to assure we understand a cat’s unique needs and have implemented feline-friendly standards.
When it comes to our cat taking a pill, sometimes what seems simple is not easy. Sometimes cats can be the most difficult patients and resist our efforts to help them despite our best intentions. Every cat is different and for some cats getting them to take a pill can seem down right impossible. Here are some pointers.
- Be flexible. Every cat is an individual, what works for one will not necessarily work for another.
- Try not to hurry. Figuring out what works for your cat can take time and patience. Rushing the process may not only upset kitty, it may potentially get a person seriously injured by a tooth or a sharp claw.
- Start with the basics. Sometimes the easiest thing is to hide the pill in something (eg: a tiny dab of cream cheese or a commercial soft treat called a ‘pill pocket’). Offer him a bit of the treat or cheese on its own first by itself to catch his interest then some with the pill in it once he’s hooked. If necessary, be creative with what you hide a pill in, for example I’ve met cats that really like them when hidden in anchovy paste. If your cat won’t take the pill this way, then you’ll need to try…
- Giving her the pill directly. With gentle but confident hands open your cat’s mouth, tilt her head back with her nose aimed at the ceiling and drop the pill in to the back of her mouth, close her mouth and stroke under her chin until she swallows. This is all it takes for many cats. For others it may be necessary to employ other tactics such as rolling them up in a towel (the kitty burrito), or getting a second set of hands to help. Watch and wait with kitty for a few minutes after you give the pill, to ensure she isn’t able to spit the pill back up. Ask your veterinary team for pointers or a demonstration.
- Roll the pill in margarine to lubricate it and make it easier to swallow (note, this is ok for cats, who metabolize fats in their diet very well, but is not a good idea on a regular basis, for dogs).
- Crush the pill in some water, tuna juice, broth or mix it in with their cat food (check first with your veterinarian whether this is appropriate as some pills need to be absorbed whole, while many others can be crushed). This works well with bland pills, but not so well in pills that have a bitter taste.
- Always offer water right after giving a pill, same as you might want a drink so might your cat. Sometimes it is beneficial, particularly with a bitter pill, to administer a small volume of water or dilute broth into their mouth with a small syringe your vet can provide.
- Get a ‘cat piller’ – this is a little plastic device that can help to protect your fingers from being bitten, if the cat needs to be pilled directly by putting the pill on the back of her tongue.
- Practice. Sounds weird, but ‘training’ cats at a young age to regularly take a pill (eg: a placebo or sugar pill) can be a helpful exercise.
- Enlist your vet’s help – If you are having difficulty complying with the prescribed medications, your veterinary team needs to know. They have likely seen the problems you are facing in other patients, and can give you ideas tailored to your cat. Sometimes customized medication formats (eg: liquids, capsules, coated or chewable pills, topical gels) can be compounded to help you and your cat. These are especially valuable for cats that need to receive their medications long term as the last thing we want to do is create a situation where the relationship between you and your cat becomes a struggle due to unmanageable medications. Some cats need to have their therapies modified (eg: sometimes there is another form of therapy such as a long acting injection that can be given at the vet’s office), or even discontinued if they are too stressful. Your veterinarian needs to know how things are going at home.
Whatever happens, remember that your relationship with your cat comes first. Don’t forget to praise and reward, and hug and kiss kitty after she takes her medicine to encourage and reward her cooperative behavior.
Dr. Lisa Collis, BSc, MSC, DVM practices at the Delton Veterinary Hospital in Edmonton. She has a special interest in geriatric feline medicine. She serves as Adjunct Clinical Instructor to veterinary students in the University of Calgary’s Distributed Veterinary Teaching Hospital program.