Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pilling The Cat

For your amusement I invite you to type “pilling the cat cartoon” into the image finding feature of your favourite search engine. Have you looked at a few? Lots of lavsihly bandaged people, right? Ha ha ha, right? Yes, all very funny unless you have actually tried to administer a pill to your cat and have sustained multiple lacerations in the effort. So in the interest of public service I'm going to offer you two different injury-free strategies for pilling the cat.

Strategy #1: Don't. Don't pill the cat. No, I'm not telling you to toss your veterinarian's prescription in the bin and hope that thoughts and prayers will cure the illness instead. Rather, I am telling you that there are alternatives. Sometimes. People often assume that liquid medication is the main alternative, but I don't actually recommend that in most cases. There are a few drugs on the market that are flavoured with cats in mind and that require only small volumes to be administered and these may be realistic, but many others are disastrous. At least with a pill you know where you stand – either it's in or it's out. With liquid, if they spit some out you don't know how much of the dose they got. And it's messy. And your cat will hate you even more because the flavours of liquids are often more intense.

No, instead I suggest you ask whether the recommended medication comes as a long acting injection (mostly applies to antibiotics), or whether it can be made into a flavoured chewable treat. Quite a few drugs can be reformulated as treats in a surprising range of flavours. Tuna and chicken are the most popular in our practice. There's also beef, liver, bacon, salmon and the curiously non-specific “seafood”. These can then be crumbled into similarly flavoured soft food if the cat doesn't take it directly as a treat. The main downside of flavoured chews is that they need to be made by a compounding pharmacist, so there can be an extra wait and some extra expense.

Some people have luck with a product called “Pill Pockets” which are ultra-tasty soft treats with a hollow part you hide the pill in when your cat is not looking. Incidentally, just hiding a pill in food very rarely works for cats. Some can tell even when you're just thinking about putting a pill in there and will refuse to eat until you stop thinking about it. Even if this works at first, they usually catch on fairly soon, so it's only really feasible to try for short courses of medication.

Another don't-pill-the-cat solution is trans-dermal gel. Some drugs can be made into a gel, again by a compounding pharmacist, which is then applied to the ear and absorbs through the skin that way. This would be absolutely ideal if it weren't for the fact that skin absorption varies somewhat between individuals, so more monitoring is often needed. Also, it only works for a few medications. Nonetheless, it's worth asking your veterinarian about this option, especially for chronic meds.

Strategy #2: If you have to pill your cat, or for some dark reason actually prefer to pill your cat, there is a trick to it. I'm right handed, so I'll put the cat up on a table on my left side, with my left elbow keeping him against my body. I will have the pill ready between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. I will then hold the top of his head with my left hand and gently tilt his head up. Next I will use the middle finger of my right hand to pry his mouth open by pushing it into the space behind his fang teeth. (Stop laughing, I'm being serious.) As soon as he opens his mouth you need to put the pill as far back over his tongue as you can and then immediately close the mouth. You should have a syringe or eye-dropper ready with two or three mls of water. Squirt that in quickly by pushing it into the corner of his mouth, into his cheek. Blowing on the nose sometimes encourages him to swallow. And sometimes it encourages him to swat you. But the water is important, not only to make him swallow, but also because pills can otherwise sometimes become lodged partway down the esopahagus (food tube), which can lead to serious complications.

Incidentally, as you are probably aware, most dogs are totally different. An article entitled “Pilling The Dog” would be exactly four words long: “Wiener. Cheese. Peanut Butter.”

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