“Oh no… it’s that time again… Tabby needs her tablet…” If this sentence sends shudders down your spine, you may be one of many cat owners who struggles to give their cat medication. We don’t blame you! Unlike most dogs who will happily eat anything, cats are renowned for being fussy; reluctant to eat strange things and incredibly wriggly.
Unfortunately, as all good cat owners know, we sometimes need to medicate our mogs. Whether with routine worming tablets or drugs for a specific disease, it happens. So today we are going to explore some of the best techniques on how to give different drugs to your cat, as well as cat-friendly handling techniques. All of the following techniques will depend on the type of drug given, so please double-check with your vet first.
Probably the most common kind of drug your vet may prescribe for your kitty, tablets can also be the trickiest to administer. If you are lucky, you may have a capsule tablet full of powdered drug that can easily be mixed with something tasty like cheese, ham or tuna.
Ensure you mix it in thoroughly, as cats have good taste buds, and it’s not uncommon for a picky eater to eat around the drug-corrupted cheese and not be medicated! Other tablets may come whole but can be crushed and given in the same way. Always check that your cat has consumed the pill or pill dust.
But that’s not why you came here, is it? You want to know how to give that tiny little pill that you can’t crush and can’t hide in food. Well fear not, we have a solution but it will require you to get very friendly with your cat’s mouth. Remember that cat’s mouths are full of bacteria, and being bitten can leave a nasty infection, so be careful.
With your cat in a secure position (we will cover this later), hold your cat’s head from the top with your non-dominant hand (so left hand if you’re right handed, or vice versa), fingers and thumbs on both their cheeks, just below the eye sockets. Tilting their head back can cause them to open their mouth. But if not, apply gentle pressure until they open wide. Using your dominant hand, which is holding the pill, open the mouth wider via their front incisors (not the two sharp canines) and hold the jaw with your last two fingers. Be very careful at this stage and be firm enough that your cat can’t bite.
Place the pill as far back as you can on the tongue, and close their mouth. As you slowly lower their head to a normal position, they should swallow the tablet. Don’t let go until you’re sure though! To encourage swallowing, gently rubbing their nose or throat can help. After they have successfully swallowed the tablet, try and give something nice as positive reinforcement; like a toy or some tasty food.
If the above technique is too tricky, you may want to consider purchasing a ‘pill-popper’. These little plastic devices allow you to place a tablet easily into your cat’s mouth. It will still require you to hold them securely and open their mouth, but can be good for those of you reluctant to place your fingers in the tiger’s jaws! Instead of placing the pill on their tongue with your fingers, you can use the pill-popper to place it there. Try and place it far back and avoid ‘firing’ it into their mouth, as at best it can miss, and at worst it can cause choking. Once deposited, your cat’s mouth can be closed as above.
Some drugs (the pain relief drug meloxicam is a common example) come as liquids that must be swallowed. As with pills, you can try mashing it into something tasty, but you may have to give it manually. The technique is similar to a solid pill. However, it is important not to tip your cat’s head back, as this could result in inhalation of the liquid into their lungs. The syringe of liquid should be inserted into their mouth; try and aim far back in the mouth, between the cheek and teeth. Inject slowly to give your cat time to swallow and to avoid choking. Note that most oral drugs allow for some margin of error with dosing. So, if you are worried your cat didn’t swallow 100% of the liquid (or tablet), don’t worry too much.
Injections and Inhaled Drugs
There are also some more uncommon methods of delivering drugs that you may encounter. No doubt many cat owners will have seen the vet inject their cats with annual vaccinations. Most injectable drugs can only be given by vets; however, there are a few exceptions, so it is worth mentioning them now (insulin is a common example, for diabetic cats). Where you inject a cat depends on the type of drug. So it is important that your vet shows you what to do first. To draw up the liquid, hold the bottle vertically, insert the needle and withdraw the plunger to the correct dose. If there are any bubbles, tap them to the top of the syringe and push them out slowly.
Most injectable drugs go below the skin in the scruff of the neck, or in a muscle; injection needles are always very very thin and cause little discomfort to your cat. It is best to be brave and bold, and inject firmly and quickly – being slow gives your cat more time to wriggle and potentially get hurt. Withdraw slightly before injecting to make sure there is no blood in the syringe.
Finally, we have inhaled drugs.
These are drugs that have been aerosolised (made airborne) and designed to enter your cat’s lungs and cause an effect there, just like asthma inhalers in people; in fact, they are most commonly given for cats with feline asthma. Many cats are actually surprisingly tolerant of this, especially when used with a spacer (remember those big plastic devices that fit to the end of an inhaler – this is the same).
The spacer prevents the gas from being puffed into your cat’s face and frightening them. Instead, a face-mask is gently applied to your well-secured cat, and the required dose puffed into the spacer chamber. It is then held on your cat’s face for 10-15 seconds to allow them to breathe in all of the drug. As with injections, owners of asthmatic cats should always get their vet to show them what to do the first few times. Theymay be wriggly, but hopefully if you start calmly, your cat will learn it is nothing to be afraid of.
Now we have given you the specifics of how to give drugs to your cat, we should briefly talk about how to actually get them in a position where they can be safely given. For this, you need good cat handling. Before getting your cat restrained for medication, get everything ready to go. It can be helpful to have one person hold the cat and the other give the drug sometimes. Handle your cat in a quiet, familiar environment – allow them to approach you and stroke them as they like; don’t interrupt them if they are eating, drinking, grooming, etc. to pill them. Gently pop them in your lap and keep stroking them.
Relaxed cats will happily stay there to be petted so your partner can administer medication. Others may require a little more restraint of the body and legs, using one arm to gently wrap around their body and grip the front legs tightly. Towels are also great for this, gently wrapping them up like a cat-burrito with their head poking out! If the environment is distressing, covering their head can also help (though this makes it impossible to give oral drugs of course). At all times, remain calm, quiet and slow – don’t make sudden movements that can frighten your cat.
Practice makes purrfect…
Teaching your cat to sit happily in your lap may take a while, so it is worth practising early on, especially as a kitten. As above, rewarding your cat with petting or treats is a great way to reinforce positive behaviour. Of course, some cats are just not lap-cats, and will never allow you to get close enough to administer drugs – for these grumpy mogs, it may mean that a vet or vet nurse has to administer every drug they need. Don’t be afraid to ask for further advice from your local vet practice if you are struggling.
Think about your cat and how you can make giving drugs easier for them; not every technique listed above will work with every cat, but by being slow and gentle, you can start turning tablet-time from a fearful experience to a ‘let’s get it over with then’ for your cat!
Share your own top tips and experiences (good, bad, or hilarious) when pilling your cat. Leave a comment below.