Cats are wonderful independently-minded animals, hence the term 'like herding cats'. This phrase could just as easily be 'like getting a cat to swallow a pill'. Cats' keen senses and natural wariness of new foods can make getting them to take oral medication tricky.
When it is time to give your cat a tablet it is important to always read the accompanying instructions to ensure your pet gets the full benefit, for example, some must be given whole, i.e. not split, crushed, or chewed. Some other medications may advise to give with or without food. Here we outline some methods you can use to ensure your cat takes their tablets:
1. Some feline medications have been formulated by hopeful manufacturers with meat flavourings or derivatives to encourage your cat to eat them voluntarily. Offering your cat these tablets as a treat is certainly the easiest and best method, if it works.
2. If your cat will not eat their tablet on its own, or you tried and they spat half of it out again, then you can try hiding the tablet, or its remainder, in some food. A moist, strong-tasting favourite food is best. Ensure your cat is hungry, then using only a small quantity of food watch to ensure the tablet is swallowed with the food.
3. Some cats can use their tongue with surgical precision to remove the tablet from the food, if so, then you can try popping the tablet directly into their mouth. This method should always be approached in a calm and confident manner. Ideally, two people are required, one to hold the cat and the other to hold the cat's head and the tablet.
The person holding the cat should have them on a table facing away from them, but with their hindlimbs tucked into their body. They should hold the top of the forelimbs gently but securely, if you know your cat is likely to wriggle, or scratch, then wrapping their body and legs in a large towel can help.
The other person should approach the cat from the side, place their hand on the top of the cat's head and position their thumb and middle finger behind each top canine. With this firm but gentle grip, the head can be tilted back to a 45-degree angle where the jaw will naturally open. The other hand holding the tablet in the tips of the thumb and index finger should open the jaw and drop the tablet to the back of the throat. If the tablet is placed too close to the front of the mouth your cat can use their tongue to spit it out.
Holding the head back for a moment, with a closed jaw, and tickling under their chin may help encourage them to swallow. Another technique is to gently blow on their nose when the tablet is at the back of the throat, this will cause most cats to lick their lips and swallow.
4. The above technique can also be achieved using a pill popper. A pill popper is designed to reach the back of your cat's mouth without your fingers having to go into the mouth. They are also useful when the tablet has already gotten wet, as the tablet can sometimes stick to your fingers.
If you are unsure or nervous about trying the above techniques, iCatCare have some wonderful videos of how to give a cat a pill on YouTube. Click here to view.
Alternatively, you can ask your local veterinary practice to give you a demonstration next time you are there.
Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS.