As many cat owners know, trying to coax a reluctant feline into anything they don’t want to do can be an extremely difficult task. However, in some cases, such as when giving a cat medication, owners need to place their cat’s health above their desires to ensure the pet’s well-being.
Dr. Lori Teller, an associate professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that owners should recruit an extra set of hands to give a reluctant cat their medication.
“Ideally, there will be two people involved—one person to gently restrain the cat and the other to administer the medicine,” Teller said. “If you are alone (or even if someone is restraining the cat), you can snugly wrap the cat in a towel or blanket, so that only the head is sticking out. It also helps to have the cat in your lap with the head facing away from you.”
After properly restraining your cat, the administration method may depend on whether the prescribed medication is liquid or in a pill format.
“Liquid medicines can either be trickled or squirted into the back of a cat’s cheek pouch,” Teller said. “Try to avoid squirting the medicine directly in the back of the throat as cats are more likely to aspirate a liquid medication than a tablet or capsule.”
Although putting the liquid dose in a cat’s food bowl may seem to be a clever workaround, your cat won’t receive the correct dose if they don’t finish their food. This may also make the cat’s food taste bad, in which case they may stop eating and be without their required medication and essential nutrition, putting its health in greater danger. Therefore, it’s important that cat owners administer liquid medication directly into their cat’s mouth.
“To administer a pill, hold the pill between the first finger and thumb of your dominant hand. With your non-dominant hand, grasp the cat’s head at the cheeks. Be careful not to squish the whiskers,” Teller said. “Point the cat’s nose toward the ceiling. The jaw will drop open slightly. Use the third or fourth finger of your dominant hand to gently pull down the jaw, and then quickly drop the pill into the back of your cat’s throat and poke it down with your index finger.”
When administering pills to a cat, Teller says owners can also purchase a device called a pill popper. These devices look like long syringes that the pill can be placed inside of and used to deposit the medication without the owner needing to stick their fingers in the cat’s mouth and risk being bitten. Owners can use this device by loading the pill popper with the pill and placing the device in the back of the cat’s throat and nudging the pill down.
“Cat bites can be very serious,” Teller said. “If your cat does bite you while trying to administer medication, please seek the advice of a human health care professional.”
After depositing the liquid medication or pill in the cat’s throat through either method, hold the cat’s mouth closed and gently stroke its throat and/or blow in its nose until the medicine is swallowed. Owners should follow the pill with a small amount of water so that it doesn’t get caught in the cat’s esophagus.
The most stubborn cats may react by spitting out the medication or vomiting immediately after it is administered.
“If the cat just spits out a tiny amount, you probably don’t need to worry about it, but it would be good to ask your veterinarian,” she said. “If it spits outs all of the medicine or immediately regurgitates it up, then you may need to repeat the dose. Definitely speak to your veterinarian about this.”
After successfully medicating their pet, owners should show their furry friend a little love to make the experience more positive.
“Have one of your cat’s favorite treats ready and give it to your cat. Make sure it is something your cat really likes to use as a reward,” Teller said. “You can also rub your cat in its favorite spot—under the chin, behind the ears or at the base of the tail.”
If you are unable to give oral medication to your cat, it is very important to let your veterinarian know so they can try to provide a more tolerated alternative, such as compounding the medication into a transdermal gel that can be applied to the ear or compounding the medication into a flavorful cube or liquid. Your veterinarian won’t be able to help if you don’t voice your concerns about medication administration, so it is important to speak up!
Teller says owners may want to prepare for the possibility of giving medication prior to their cat becoming ill. This way, they won’t have to deal with the added stress of administration on top of having a sick pet.
“The easiest way to give medications to a cat is to train the cat to accept medication before it actually needs it,” she said. “There are ways to train a cat to take pills without the owner ever having to restrain or touch the cat!”
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.