Happy Cat Month: Medicating Tips and Tricks

Medicating Tips & Tricks: How to medicate cats positively!


 It can be done. Cats can be medicated! In fact, they can willingly take their meds, and even if they require “pilling,” it can be done in a way that keeps them coming back for more rather than running under the bed. Medicating cats can even be fun and positive (it’s true!). 

The following will not only cover proper “pilling” techniques but also a wide variety of food rewards and tricks to get cats to accept their medications and potentially eat them willingly. Wouldn’t it be awesome if your cats came running to you for meds rather than hiding? Well, my cats do, and I am going to tell you how! 

This is not just about giving pills though. We will review strategies to assist with training a cat to use an asthma inhaler, subcutaneous injections, fluid therapy, blood glucose (BG) readings, and more. This info does not just apply to your clients medicating their cats at home; it is also for the exam room and hospitalized patients. 

Starting off right

Whenever I have kittens or new cats in my home, I train them to an oral syringe using Hill’s Rx a/d food. Yes, I know it is fattening, but a/d is a fantastic treat to use for training and medicating. I begin by simply allowing them to lick from the syringe. If they are confused or too timid to do so, I will place a squirt of the food down in front of them and allow them to lick it up on their own. Once they are doing that, I will squirt some a/d out but leave the syringe present. Eventually, they will begin to lick the tip of the oral syringe. This gradually morphs into willingly licking out of the syringe itself. 

Once cats get hooked on a/d or the like (Purina CN, Royal Canin Recovery, or baby food can also be used), they are usually ravenous for meds time! My cats get canned food twice a day, but they still swarm me for meds because that is the only time they get a/d. You heard me correctly: My cats come to me for meds! Once they hear my car pull in the driveway, they start to line up and vocalize because meds time is fun and delicious at our house! 

So why is this important, and how do we incorporate it? For starters, you should never “dry pill” a cat. We know that certain medications such as Doxycycline, if pilled and not chased thoroughly, can cause esophageal strictures1, but why should we assume that any meds glide down like butter? Humans take a swig of water to wash down pills. Dogs get peanut butter or cheese. So why are we dry pilling cats? It’s madness! 

Give the pill and chase it with a syringe of something delicious, and your cats will come back for more. If you mis-aim while pilling, filling their mouth with a syringe of delicious food will often allow the pill to get caught up in the food and swallowed. If the pill happens to taste yucky or have a jagged edge, a syringe of a/d certainly makes the whole ordeal less insulting. Even better than chasing the meds, let the cats lap it up from the syringe on their own so it’s a treat. 

The beauty of a/d (beyond the fact that it is delicious!) is its texture. It is soft enough to draw up into a syringe but thick enough to “stand up” on its own. This leads me to one of the most fantastic tricks I have to share with you: training (or rather guiding) your cat to eat their meds with a little a/d on top. 

 There are a few particulars to keep in mind:

  1. Start with a textured surface. You MUST use a bathmat, towel, washcloth, rug, carpet, cat condo pile, etc. or this will not work in most cases.
  2. Place the pill/capsule on the textured surface.
  3. Squirt a/d on the pill/capsule as if you were putting ketchup on a hotdog. 
  4. Your cats will go to eat it, get it stuck on the barbs on their tongue, and swallow the pill. 

If you have problems, here are a few troubleshooting tips: 

  • If they spit out the pill, quickly repeat the steps above. As long as the pill doesn’t taste bad and hasn’t started to dissolve, you may have to repeat these steps two or three times until they finally take it. This is also why using gel caps is super helpful. We will talk about that in a bit.
  • If they spend too much time with the pill in their mouth, quickly squirt some more food down. This encourages them to quickly swallow then go for the next morsel you have just offered.
  • Sometimes you have to “stack” it, meaning you put a squirt of a/d on textured surface, glue the pill to it, then add another squirt of a/d on top.
  • If the blob of food is too big, the cat will often lick it off and leave the pill, so control the amount you use.
  • Be stingy with the a/d (or whatever food reward the cats enjoys). This can’t be stressed enough, so emphasize this to your clients during the medicating lesson. Many clients get so excited that their cat likes something so much that they will just feed the treat, put it on a plate, or overdo it at meds time. This burns the cat out and you lose the food as a medicating tool. It must remain novel! 
  • If you do not use a textured surface, your cat will most likely lick the food off and leave the tablet/pill/capsule behind. The texture allows for a little “lift,” which helps them easily take it into their mouth. I find that fuzzy, tufted carpet is the best place to do this. Many clients do not want to squirt cat food on their carpet or furniture though, so a dishtowel or washcloth works nicely as well. 

For a more economical approach or for a one-cat household that will not use the can of Hill’s a/d before it spoils, I suggest portioning the can out and freezing small amounts in food storage containers. This allows clients to use the food within the recommended three to four days once refrigerated, then they can defrost the next portion and so on. I have also had clients buy a 100-count box of 6ml oral syringes, draw up the a/d ahead of time, and freeze a baggie of syringes. The client would then need to remove one syringe (or two if twice-a-day meds are needed) each day from the freezer to defrost. 

This medicating technique works so well and so often (if the cat likes a/d) that we administer Drontal this way in the exam room on a daily basis. That says a lot! If you are not familiar with Drontal, it is one of the most hideously bitter pills we have to administer in veterinary medicine. This also illustrates how little manhandling and restraint many cats require in the exam room. 

At the practice where I work, we use a/d every day in every appointment. We won’t even go into the exam room to get started without the can. Sure, it’s expensive, but it is a small price to pay for happy and cooperative cats! We use a/d to lure shy cats from their carriers, to keep fractious cats distracted while drawing blood and obtaining urine samples, and of course, to help with medication administration. 

Do not be afraid to feed patients. We give dogs treats at the vet, but often, cats get nothing. This is one of the points illustrated in the Fear Free certification program, and I was thrilled to see how much they encouraged the use of food and positive reinforcement for cats. For the few cats who are extremely motivated by dry food or who are on a strict diet due to being overweight, a few pieces of dry food could be the reward. Use whatever motivates them! 

I mentioned empty capsules above, and I cannot encourage the use of them enough. We stock two sizes at our practice: size 1 and size 3. You can fit so much inside of them! The next time you send home a bitter pill such as Metronidazole, you should dispense capsules to go home with the client as well. If the medicine is bitter or there are multiple pills going home, prescribing capsules should just be protocol. We do not even ask the clients; we set them up for success and make it part of the process. 

There is also lots of room inside of Cosequin/Dasuquin capsules. Tamp it down, carefully remove the top of the capsule, and place smaller meds inside. If the cat is on a variety of medications such as Amlodipine, Methimazole, Mirtazapine, Zofran, and Cerenia, by all means, pack all of those tiny tabs into one capsule. It makes everyone’s life 

so much easier! If the client is mixing the powder of the above supplements into their cat’s food, have them save the capsules for other medications down the road. Capsules glide down and are smoother and kinder than most pills. Be sure to explain that when your client gasps at how big the capsules are. 

How about cutting up all of those pills? At our office, we cut medications for our clients using stainless steel nail trimmers from Henry Schein Animal Health. It’s another way to set your clients and patients up to succeed. 

I strongly recommend that you stock and retail capsules, oral syringes, a/d (and the like), pill guns, etc. so you always send your clients home equipped with the tools they will need. 

More in this article:

  • The Oral Syringe Parfait
  • Proper Pilling Techniques
  • Medicating Treat Tools
  • Compounded Help
  • Feline Asthma
  • Subcutaneous Injections
  • Subcutaneous Fluid Therapy

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