How To Medicate a Cat

The thing about cats is that it is very difficult to convince them to do something that they don’t feel like doing. This is especially true with medication, since not only does the cat not want to do it, but it has a justifiable reason, since the medicine usually tastes terrible. The problem is often exacerbated by a certain sense of urgency on the part of the human, who knows that the medication is for the cat’s own good. Over the ages, many historic battles have been waged between the cat owned and the cats over how and when to take medication.

I happen to rather pride myself on my professional level cat medicating technique, and I have a bit of a reputation. Some of my friends actually specifically ask me to come over and force medication down the throats of their pets. This may be out of a desire for the cat to associate the negative experience with me, rather than them, but it’s also because I’m fairly quick and clean.

A number of humorous “how to pill a cat” guides can be found on the Internet, but unfortunately most of them fail to provide actual useful tips. Since it’s been a skill I’ve had to practice lately, I thought I’d outline my technique for medicating a cat. My directions work for both pills and liquid medication—if you are having to give intramuscular injections or fluids, it is assumed that your vet will train you. Since it is important to learn to give any kind of injectable medication properly, make sure that your vet takes the time to show you, step by step, until you feel comfortable. Most vets would rather spend the extra time to make sure that it’s done right.

Step One: Find the Cat
Cats have an unerring sense for impending doom. If you need to mix or otherwise prepare the medication, do so beforehand and stash it in a convenient place. I often mix medication and set it aside for up to an hour, thus lulling my subject into a sense of false security. It is also very important to stay calm and psyched up. Do not stress about medicating the cat, or fret about the cat’s condition; keep your mental intentions benign, and the cat may even come to you.

Step Two: Proper Restraint
I just sit on cats (gently!) to medicate them. Position the cat head forward so that he or she is between your thighs while you are in a kneeling position, and cross your ankles so that the cat cannot back out. Use one arm to gently restrain the cat while you work. If this measure is insufficient, you will need to make a kitty burrito. Only embark on a burrito mission if it is absolutely necessary, though, because it is rather traumatizing for the cat. To make a kitty burrito, roll a cat in a large towel, with its head out. Be aware that this is not a foolproof restraint tactic.

Step Three: Medicate
If you have a pill, use one finger to gently pry your cat’s jaw open, from the side, and then drop the pill in. I like to use my ring finger to pry while holding the pill in my thumb and index finger. Be sure to hold your cat’s mouth shut and stroke its throat to stimulate a swallowing mechanism. Hold the cat for at least thirty seconds to make sure that it has swallowed the pill. If the pill is spit out, repeat the process. You may find that tilting your cat’s head backwards assists you in this procedure, since it will encourage the cat to open wide. Do not use this technique with liquid medication, as the cat can aspirate it.

If you are using liquid medication, be careful. You do not want to scrape the cat’s mouth with the oral syringe, or choke it with the syringe or the medication. Use the prying technique, and then insert the oral syringe. Slowly depress the plunger, and hold the cat for a moment to ensure that most of the medication is swallowed, rather than dribbled on the floor. You may want to keep a moist paper towel or washcloth handy to wipe the cat’s chin. Some medication also causes foaming; do not be alarmed.

Once you have successfully completed the medicating process, I highly recommend giving your cat a treat, to create a positive association. Check with your vet on the best treats to give your cat, as many cat treats are high in fat and calories, and not suitable for all cats. Especially if your cat is being treated for a digestive complaint, you do not want to upset the delicate balance.

Your vet should also disclose common side affects of medication, like vomiting or foaming, so that you know what is normal and what is not. If your cat appears to be in obvious distress or is acting extremely abnormally, do not hesitate to call a vet. As a general rule, a veterinarian would rather be disturbed over something trivial than be shown an animal who is too far gone to help.

Good luck in your cat medicating adventures!

One Reply to “How To Medicate a Cat”

  1. Having quite a lot of recent experience medicating a cat myself, I can say that this is an excellent step-by-step explication. Except for one thing: while it’s good to tilt the kitty’s head back for the prying-open and dropping-pill-in, you then need to tilt it back down (still holding mouth closed) in order to help it swallow. It’s really hard to swallow with your head tilted back — try it.

    Anyway, wish you hadn’t moved before I had a chance to get to know you. Not that I have any time to hang out, but it’s rare I run across a fellow writer who likes Scrabble, spy movies, local food, chicken killing, and assorted other things we have in common. Look me up if you come back, k? Unless you think I’m a creepy stalker blogger, in which case, um, don’t.

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