Medicating a cat

Giving cat a pill can be tricky. For the inexperienced (i.e. most of us) it is a process that might involve minior flesh wounds and/or the cat sulking for a week. The old trick of wrapping the pill in the cat's favourite food is well worth a try, but if it works, this should be regarded as a bonus. Generally cats are very fussy eaters. They will happily attack their favourite food which you have catrefully baited for them, lick the food from around the pill and leave the pill untouched. Sticky things such as cheese or peanut butter work much better, and if your cat likes those you are in luck. However, if your cat scornfully turns up her nose at your attempts to medicate her through her food, then you are going to have to get more direct.

The direct approach can be by one of two methods - either putting the pill in the cat's mouth by hand, or using a pill gun. If you are a beginner at this, it is best to ask a (good-natured) friend for help. Hand-medicating a cat involves ganging up on it. One person restrains the cat whilst the second administers the pill. One important thing to remember is that, probably far more than being medicated. the cat hates being restrained (we have found motorbike gauntlets handy in the past), so quicker you are, the less traumatic it will be for all involved.

Below is a list of steps to make the whole thing a bit easier (we would like to say 'effortless', but we would probably be lying). So, assuming you have caught your cat:

  1. Put the cat on a table.
  2. The helper should hold the cat from behind, restraining the front legs.
  3. Put a towel over the neck and front legs of the cat to help protect your hands from being scratched.
  4. Coat the pill in a bit of butter. This will be more tasteful to the cat and make the pill easier to swallow.
  5. If you are a right-handed person, put your left hand over the top of cat's head, placing a thumb and the middle finger over the back of cat's jaw (for a left-handed person, reverse the hands).
  6. Press slightly with your fingers to force the jaw open.
  7. Holding a pill in the thumb and the index finger of the right hand, press the bottom jaw downwards with the middle finger to open the cat's mouth.
  8. Quickly place the pill on the cat's tongue as far back as you can. You can push the pill further back with your index finger.
  9. Remove your hand from cat's mouth and close it. Keep it closed for few seconds till you see the cat swallowing the pill. By massaging the cat's throat (gently!) you can stimulate the swallowing action.
  10. Give the cat something tasty to eat. That serves two purposes: firstly, it will reward the cat for her good behaviour and secondly it will assure that the pill is pushed into the stomach by the food and is not stuck deeper in the throat.

When using a pill gun follow the steps as above up to step 7. Place the pill inside the pill gun. You can do this before the cat is restrained so you are ready to insert the pill quickly. As before, you can coat the pill in a bit of butter, which will help with swallowing. In step 7. put the pill gun in the cat's mouth and release the pill by pressing on a plunger. Quickly remove the gun and close the cat's mouth, holding it shut for few seconds. Remember that if you put the pill on the top of the tongue, the cat will spit it out. So placing of the pill as far down the tongue as possible is important. Using a pill gun has the additional advantage of your not needing to put your fingers directly into cat's mouth thus protectiong your hand from injury. However, using a pill gun can be a bit tricky and some people actually find using fingers easier. Incidentally, cats' mouths are remarkably unhygenic, so if you do get caught by a fang, make sure the injury is properly disinfected.

If you are on your own, you will need to both restrain the cat and administer the pill. There are once again two options available. You can place the cat in the corner with her back to the wall (the wall will work as a restraint), or you can wrap the cat in a towel. But as mentioned before, cats hate being restrained, so only use the second option as the last resort. If your cat is a lap cat, you can place her on your lap and restrain her back against your body.

It is important to make a lot of fuss over the cat afterward, and spend more time playing with her throughout the period that the cat is being medicated. If the cat sees you as nothing more than an evil pill-pusher, a terminal breakdown in relationships might ensue.

Medicating a cat for more than one day adds another level of difficulty, because though they are hard to train, cats learn very quickly. As soon as they see you and the pill box they will start hiding. At those times it is very tempting to ambush the cat during her meal times or when she is in her litter box. This is a huge mistake. If the cat finds that she is being attacked at her most vulnerable moment, she may abandon the litter tray and start going to the toilet in the safest and most inaccessible place she can find. Right under the bed, on top of the wardrobe, behind the sofa just before you have guests ...

Whilst if you try cornering the cat during her meal times she may stop eating altogether, or start foraging for meals in the neighbours dustbins. The quick fixes might work, but they are storing up more trouble for the future than they are worth. Like the cat, there is nothing for it but to take your medicine! That said, there are often alternatives to pills, for example a liquid form or as an injection, so if your cat is very difficult to medicate (and some cats are virtually impossible), talk to your vet and discuss the alternatives.

There is an excellent video made by Cornell University College Veterinary Clinic, which demonstrates all the points discussed here. To watch the video click here

Alternatively, review the techniques in the following article: "How to give your cat a pill in twenty easy steps".

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