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Medicating your Cat

| October 6, 2010
It may not be too crucial if a worming tablet/powder takes several attempts, and some wasted tablets, over several days.

It may not be too crucial if a worming tablet/powder takes several attempts, and some wasted tablets, over several days.

Unless you have a very placid or co-operative cat, you will know just how difficult it is to give tablets. Opening the mouth with one hand and popping he tablet down with the other sounds simple in theory and looks simple in photos and diagrams, but the average cat is not going to take medication without a struggle. Pilling a cat is often a 2 person job (which is a problem if you are on your own) and cats are better armed (teeth, claws) than humans. Many cat care books provide photos, diagrams and step-by-step instructions for giving tablets. An even better approach is to get your vet or the vet nurse to demonstrate – it may also give an indication of how co-operative your cat is and whether it is a one-person or two-person job.

Many cats can detect even the tiniest amount of medication in their food and refuse to eat what they view as “contaminated” food. In nature, this helps guard them against poisoning, but in the home it makes medication a problem. If you give tablets in food, make sure the medicated food is served first and is eaten before you serve the unmedicated part of the meal. It is best to serve the medication in a small portion as you can more easily check that it has been eaten.

It may not be too crucial if a worming tablet/powder takes several attempts, and some wasted tablets, over several days. However, getting antibiotics, steroids or chemotherapy into your cat at the prescribed daily rate is very important.

Here are a few suggestions.

Wrap the cat in a towel, blanket or a pillowcase with only its head sticking out should immobilise the cat enough to protect against claws. Make sure the towel is wrapped securely. If possible, kneel and hold the wrapped cat between your knees to free up both hands. This method is not foolproof, but is certainly worth trying, especially if the tablet has to be given whole. I have met a few cats with exceptional upper body strength for whom this method is unsuitable – they even defeated the efforts of the vet who called me defeatist.

Check your pet store for a cat restraint bag – these are made of mesh and have a zip and a hole for the cat’s head. They are designed for restraining a cat for bathing, but some are sturdy enough to be used when giving medication.

If the problem is getting the cat to swallow:

After putting the tablet at the back of the cat’s mouth, spoon or drip a couple of drops of water into the mouth to make the cat swallow. A couple of drops from an eye dropper is usually enough.

To make the “tablet-in-a-treat” method work, your cat should be used to getting occasional treats of the food in question and view the treat as something desirable e.g. a reward or accompanied by praise or following play. Many cats are suspicious of new foods and if you try to hide a tablet in something unfamiliar, you probably won’t succeed. For many, the fact they are getting human food (normally forbidden) may be enough to make them gulp it down before you change your mind.

Tablets do not mix well with dry food (kibble), but can be mixed with canned foods. Experiment to find out what treat foods your cat likes before you ever need to give tablets. For a long course of medication, you will need to vary the treats as many cats grow bored and/or suspicious.

Crush the tablet and mix with strong smelling canned food or with sardines in tomato juice or a similar very strong smelling treat. Foods worth trying include fish paste/pate or one of the stronger-smelling meats. Cats have much better senses of taste and smell than we have, hence the need for strong smelling, strong tasting foods.

Hide the whole tablet in a small piece of greasy cooked sausage, greasy cooked burger or greasy cooked chicken. Larger tablets will need to be broken into pieces and fed in several treats. Many cats are attracted to greasy meats (cats are designed to quickly metabolise fats into energy) and greed may overcome caution. Some cats will take tablets crushed in butter or even in cooked pork fat. These methods won’t be suitable if your cat is sensitive to fat – vomiting or diarrhoea will prevent the tablet being digested.

Hide the whole tablet in a piece of cheese which you have warmed in your hands so it can be moulded into a ball. Larger tablets will need to be broken into pieces and fed in several treats. This method is only suited to cats which can tolerate dairy products.
Hide the whole tablet inside a hollowed out soft cat treat.

Liquid medicine can be mixed into strong smelling foods such as sardines or pilchards. The varieties in tomato sauce or often most successful.

If your cat allows you to open its mouth or restrain it, but still won’t swallow a tablet, crush the tablet in a pestle and mortar (or use the back of a teaspoon on a plate) and mix it with a little liquid such as lactose-reduced milk, tuna juice etc. Slowly spoon or syringe the liquid into the cat’s mouth. It is likely to swallow this by reflex. It is best not to use an eye dropper as many tablets don’t dissolve in milk or water and the crushed pieces (even if very fine) can clog the eye dropper (worse, they might form a cement-like solid in the eye dropper)..

If your cat accepts being spoon or syringe fed, but won’t swallow tablets, ask the vet if the medication is available in a liquid form.

If you have a multi-cat household, you must ensure that only the patient gets the medication. It won’t do a sick cat any good if a less fussy house-mate eats the tablet.

If it is taking medication mixed into food:

Feed it in a different room, feed the medication in a small amount of food and let it rejoin the other cats for the main portion once it has eaten its medication (unless it is also on a special diet). It doesn’t matter if the “different room” is the bathroom or conservatory, just so long as it is isolated from the other cats while the food is eaten.

Give the other cats unmedicated treats to distract them from trying to steal the medicated treat from the patient. This may also make the patient less suspicious of the special treatment. The competitive nature of cats at mealtime may encourage it to gulp down the medicated treat before another cat tries to steal it.

Very occasionally you may have to medicate your cat or kitten using a needle (e.g. for insulin), or medicate and feed it using a stomach tube (through the abdominal wall) or a feeding tube (through the mouth). These are specialist methods used and if this is the case, the veterinary staff will teach you what to do.

Chemotherapy tablets are also special cases. You may simply have to wear gloves when handling them or your country’s medical regulations may go as far as to prohibit women of child-bearing age from handling them. These restrictions are for the owner’s safety since the substances can cause mutations in embryos.

In many countries it is illegal for any individual other than a vet to administer injections (other than insulin) to pets.

There are a very few cats who resist all attempts to medicate them until the cat is so far in the course of its illness that medication will not benefit it. If this is the case, discuss with your vet whether the condition can be managed without medication. Where medication is stressful for both cat and owner, it may be decided that quality of life for a shorter term outweighs longevity and the stress of daily battles. This is also true of managed feral cats where medication cannot be administered to a single cat in a colony.

Copyright & Credit:
Source: – Copyright 2002, Sarah Hartwell
Photo copyright and courtesy: Adam Bollenbacher – stock.xchng

Category: Feline Articles, Feline Health and Care, Feline Resources

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