Why is it important?
It's all very well for us vets to say "give these tablets twice a day, next patient please!" - but how easy do you actually find it to give medication to your cat? In this brief guide, we'll look at some common medications, and easy tricks to help you get them into or onto your pet!
OK, let's look at the details...
Different routes of medication are used for different conditions in cats; however, there are a few common ones we'll look at here. Remember, whatever the medication is, always follow the directions that came with it. If you can't read something, or can't understand them, or if they seem wrong - don't make it up, call and ask your vets!
Tablets or capsules are the most common forms of medication, and can be among the trickiest to administer. In some cases, they can be broken up and hidden in food (typically inside a chunk of wet food or hidden in their bowl) - however, make sure that breaking the tablet won't alter how well it works because some medications are inactivated, or even become dangerous, if broken. Remember too, that cats are excellent at discovering and rejecting medications! Many people find it easier to actively "pill" their cat. To do this, it's useful to have a proper pill-popper or tablet-giver, but not essential. Sit your cat down with their head pointing towards you (you may need an assistant!) and open their lower jaw gently with one finger. Then, using the pill-popper, pop the tablet on the back of their tongue and close their mouth before they spit it out. Hold their mouth shut until they lick their lips, at which point they should have swallowed it. Sometimes, giving a little trickle of water between their lips can encourage them to swallow but DON'T give too much.
(2) Oral Liquids
As many cats are VERY hard to tablet, these are increasingly popular. They are usually given with or on food, and can just be measured out into or into the food. Usually, it's easier to administer them in a strong-smelling or particularly tasty type of food, but most are designed to taste quite nice by themselves. If you have to give an oral liquid in the absence of food, or the cat won't eat the food with it on, the trick is to use a syringe (obviously without a needle on) and gently inject it between their teeth. The best technique is to sit them down, close their lips with one hand and then insert the syringe through the gap between their cheek teeth, then GENTLY syringe it into them (not too fast or they might choke on it). Once its in their mouth, hold their mouth closed and rub their throat until they swallow.
(3) Spot Ons
Most commonly used for flea, tick and other parasite treatments, spot-on medications are increasingly being used. They should be applied to the back of the cat's neck (i.e. where they can't reach it to lick!). Part the hairs carefully, and then deposit the liquid on the skin directly. If the volume of liquid is too great, split the dose between 2 or more sites. Make sure it's completely dries before you pet the cat or allow any other pets to lick them!
(4) Ear Cleaners
Used to clean the ears, so don't confuse these with ear drops (containing medication for treating ear diseases). To apply an ear cleaner, have the cat sitting or standing upright, and lift their ear up (which will straighten the ear canal). Then apply a suitable amount of cleaner directly into the canal but DO NOT force the nozzle into the ear, or you may damage the sensitive structures inside. Instead, insert the tip of the nozzle just into the canal before squeezing. After filling the canal with the cleaner, find the firm "trumpet" of cartilage below the ear, and give it a good massage - you'll usually get a lovely squishing sound as you move the cleaner around inside the ear. Then use a cloth or cotton wool to wipe away the liquid and dirt that comes back out of the ear (again, DON'T stick anything down inside). Beware afterwards - most cats will shake their heads violently, spraying the room with cleaner and liquid ear wax, so probably better do this away from any soft furnishings!
(5) Ear Drops
These should be applied to your cat's ear in exactly the same way as a wash, but not wiped away afterwards - the quantity is usually too small to need it.
(6) Shampoos and washes
There are all sorts of different shampoos and washes, for many different conditions. Each needs to be made up in a different concentration and left on for a different amount of time. Basically, READ THE LABEL before you start! In general, however, you need to wet the cat all over (which is unlikely to be popular, but remember, it's for their own good!). Then apply the shampoo (remember, you may need to wear gloves for some) and lather it up. Allow the cat to stand for the required amount of time before rinsing thoroughly with lots and lots of fresh water, and then allow them to dry off naturally (towelling and using hairdriers are usually a bad idea, for various reasons).
(7) Eye Drops
Medicating a sore eye can be really difficult - cats don't like you poking at their eyes (understandably), and the muscle that closes the eyelids (orbicularis oculi, if you're interested) is, for its size, the strongest in the whole body. The trick with eye drops is not to try to apply them directly to the surface of the eye (the cat's blink reflex is often too fast for that!) but into the lower eyelid. So, allow them to stand or sit upright, and then with one hand gently CLOSE the affected eye. Use your thumb to carefully open just he lower eyelid, so it stick out, and apply the required quantity of drops onto the INSIDE of the lower eyelid. Then, allow the eye to close, and the drops will be transported onto the surface of the eye. Easy!
Giving medications can be tough, but it's usually straightforward once you know how! If your cat really resents it or you're finding it really hard, don't struggle on and risk getting scratched or bitten, or hurting them. Instead, give your vet a call and they'll be able to show you how (or suggest a different option if even they can't get your cat to cooperate!).