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Giving oral medication to a cat

Posted February 11, 2012 @ 4:32pm | by Susan Antes, DVM

Your veterinarian will tell you if your cat’s medication can be given with food or if it should be given on an empty stomach. If the tablet or capsule can be given with food, you can make a “meatball” by placing the medication in the center of a small ball of canned cat food or cheese. Always give a test “meatball” to your cat to make sure it is willing to eat it, and also to see if it chews the meatball or gulps it whole. Cats are more likely to chew their food than are dogs, so cats often will eat the “meatball” and spit out the tablet or capsule. This causes the medication to partially dissolve and become very hard to handle. If the cat bites into the medication, it will leave a bad taste in its mouth, and your cat will be harder to medicate on the second attempt. So, you will have to decide what works best with your cat! Approach with confidence, as though you are going to succeed, and proceed in a businesslike manner. Don’t give the cat time to decide it doesn’t want the medication! There are also flavored “pill pockets” in which medication can be hidden as an alternative to a meatball.

The following instructions are meant to help you give medications if you cannot give the medicine in a “meatball”. Use caution when giving a cat oral medication to avoid being bitten. A cat’s mouth contains many bacteria and cat bites are often deep punctures. If you are bitten by your cat, clean the wound thoroughly and seek medical attention.

Medications for oral administration may be in pill, capsule or liquid form. Hold the cat’s head from the top (using your left hand if you are right-handed.) The cat’s cheek-bones provide a landmark by which to hold the head firmly without causing the cat any discomfort. Tilt the head back and the cat will often drop its lower jaw open.   Hold the pill or capsule in your right hand between your thumb and index finger. You can place one of the remaining fingers on your right hand on the lower incisors to keep
the lower jaw open. Keep your finger over the small incisor teeth–NOT over the sharp fangs or canine teeth. Drop the pill or capsule as far back over the tongue as possible, then immediately close the mouth and blow on the cat’s nose or stroke the cat’s neck, which will encourage him to swallow.

There are also several styles of pilling devices that can be used to place a pill or capsule over the base of the tongue so that you do not have to place your fingers in the cat’s mouth. Tilt the head back and the cat will often drop their lower jaw open. Insert the pill at the end of the pilling device over the base of the tongue. If the cat doesn’t open its mouth, use the middle finger of the hand holding the pilling device to open the lower jaw.  Insert the pill at the end of the pilling device over the base of the tongue. Push the plunger on the pilling device with your thumb or index finger to deposit the pill far back in the cat’s mouth.

Liquid medications are given in a pouch between the teeth and cheek. The medication is quickly squirted into this pouch, the mouth is held closed and the neck stroked or the nose sharply blown on to encourage the cat to swallow. Liquids are more likely to accidentally enter the windpipe compared to pills or capsules. To avoid the cat inhaling the liquid into the windpipe, DO NOT tilt the cat’s head

If you find it difficult to give your cat a pill or capsule, speak to your veterinarian about having the medication compounded into a liquid by a pharmacist, or crushed and added to water. Some medications lose their effectiveness when added to water, so always talk to your veterinarian before altering the medication.

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