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As a vet, I often joke that I spent most of the five years at vet school learning how to give cats their pills. This normally gets a giggle before I swiftly pop the pill down the cat’s throat and the owner looks at me like I’m a miracle worker. It’s not easy to tablet your cat, but I’m not really a hero – I just know some seriously good tricks, passed down from vet to vet and honed to perfection in my consultation room. They don’t always work – I remember a kitten climbing over my head on attempt number six, scratching me to pieces – but 99% of the time, I can get the pill down, first time around.
If you’re one of the owners that would stare at me incredulously when the pill is swallowed, it’s probably not a surprise that the vast majority of cat owners worry about medicating their cats. And up to a quarter don’t finish prescribed courses of treatment because of the difficulty of giving a cat a pill.
Whether you’ve got to give their quarterly worming tablet or the vet has prescribed pills to be given several times a day, I’ve put together my top tips for tableting cats – vet style!
1. Check the Label
Before you start, you need to check the instructions for the pills you’ve been given for your cat. Some tablets can’t be given with food. Some can cause serious problems if not followed with food to wash the tablets down. Check the label instructions and, if you’re not sure, check with your vet. On the whole, I don’t recommend crushing tablets to get them into your cat. For some tablets, this will render them useless; for others, they can become dangerous. At the very least, it makes it much less likely that your pet gets the proper dose. If you feel that crushing is the only way to get the tablet in, you should check with your vet that it is safe to do.
2. Pick your time
Make sure that you pick your time. Don’t tackle pilling your cat when you’re rushed for time or on your way to work – you’ll be stressed, and trying to rush things, and your cat will pick up on this. Equally, don’t choose to do it when the cat has just been barked at by the dog and the kids are running around – your cat will be stressed and more likely to defend himself, resulting in bites and scratches. He’ll also come away feeling more scared by the whole experience. Choose a time when you can set out to do it properly, and calmly!
3. Train your cat to like pills
No, I’m not crazy. Just like anything, you can practice with your cat ahead of time so that they’re cool and collected when it comes to medication time. You could give them empty gelatine capsules and reward them for eating them, or give them pill treats as a special reward so that they seem extra fun. If your cat is clicker-trained, you can teach them an ‘eat’ command using treats – eventually, you’ll be able to give them anything and tell them to ‘eat’, then reward them for doing so!
4. Hide the tablet in food
I know, it sounds silly and simple, but this will work for many cats! Vary the type and texture of the food until you’ve found your feline friend’s kryptonite. Many cats will take the pill in a small amount of wet food. Depending on what’s wrong with your cat, you can also remove the food for a few hours before pill time to ensure they’re hungry and keen to eat. If your cat won’t take it in usual food, try bribery. I recommend giving several non-pilled bits of food first (most cats won’t accept a new food as being safe until at least the fourth go), then the one with the pill in, then some more un-tainted ones to make it a positive experience for next time.
5.Use a specially designed pill treat
such as EasyPill, or Greenies’ Pill Pockets. These are designed to have space to hide the pill inside and most are strongly flavored to hide the taste of the pill. Royal Canin’s ‘Pill Assist’ reports a daily pill intake in 91% of cases when using the treats, and they have some great reviews from pet owners worldwide.
6. Use a pill popper
These great devices fire the tablet to the back of the throat and mean you don’t need to have your fingers too near Felix’s mouth. Simply put the pill in the end, open cat’s mouth, insert pill popper into mouth, and fire! This is my favorite approach – I call the pill popper the ‘Vet Finger-Saver’ – but it’s generally best for the quarterly wormer, rather than the everyday occurrence: it’s a great no-hassle approach for vets, but may turn some cats against their owners if they’re constantly battling with them.
7. Ask a friend for help
For those wriggly cats, ask a friend to help. Tabletting a reluctant cat is not a one-man game, and having a pair of hands to hold them still for you will make your life a whole lot easier. For those cats that seem to spring extra legs while being handled, you may find it easiest to wrap the cat in a towel, or what we call a ‘kitty burrito’. To do this, place the towel on the floor and the cat on the towel. Wrap first one side and then the other, ensuring that the feet are snug in the towel and only the head is out. This gives you much more control over the kitty!
8. Follow the tablet with water
If Felix is a master at holding the tablet in his mouth and spitting it out when you least expect it, try following the tablet with water. It’s best to syringe it in straight after the tablet, then hold the mouth closed and tilt the head slightly upwards to encourage swallowing. The proper head height is important, too – if you hold the head too high, the cat will struggle to swallow. (You can try this for yourself: try tipping your head back and swallowing- it’s hard!)
9. Blow on his nose
If your cat still hasn’t swallowed his pill, try blowing gently on his nose. This little-known trick can cause a reflex swallow even in those cats that are determined to hide the pill in their mouth. Gently stroking the throat can also help them to swallow. And, as mentioned above, check that you aren’t craning his head back too much!
10. Coat the pill in a small amount of butter
Butter helps it slide down. Most pills will not become sticky and start to dissolve with butter as they will with other foods. This tip can be combined with several of the above tips, but I recommend not putting it in the pill popper, as it can stop the smooth firing action of the popper.
11. Follow all tablets with food
One study showed that around 50% of tablets never make it into a cat’s stomach and instead, sit in the esophagus. Around 20% more eventually make it to the stomach but take more than 30 seconds to get there. And we wonder why cats don’t like taking them! Giving your cat a nice treat of food after helps to push the tablet down and it also makes the experience far more positive, meaning you’re more likely to succeed next time.
12. Ask your vet for help
It might feel like cheating, but if tips 1-8 don’t work, you need to ask your vet for help! They might have a liquid formulation, a long-acting formulation, or be able to pill Felix for you! There are even drug reformulation companies out there that exist to turn pills into pastes or to create the right size pill for your cat to make them easier to give. A lot of people are embarrassed to admit they struggle to medicate their cat, but your vet can’t help if they don’t know that you’re having trouble.
Whatever the reason that your pet needs to take medications, we’re hoping that our guide to giving your cat a pill will help you to get them the treatment they need. And don’t forget, you’re not alone- in one study, a quarter of cat owners weren’t able to give the prescribed course of treatment!
Featured image credit: photosforyou, Pixabay