Ask Einstein: Ugh! My Cat Hates Taking Pills!
A couple of weeks ago my human took me to the vet. You know what he says? He wants me to take pills twice a day for the rest of my life. That’s a long time even in cat years.
Well, I showed them. I summoned the strength of a heavyweight when Mom tries to poke those nasty things in my mouth. She’s granted me the title “The Persian Hurricane.” I put up more of a fight than Muhammad Ali. I may not be able to bite her ear off, but I've been known to punch a hole in her finger. On any given night I could waste an entire bottle of prescription pills. They do silly things to get me to swallow like blowing in my nose, rubbing my throat. You ought to see her face when I spit it out. Bout’s over. I win when she walks away. But I still feel poopy.
Now they say they don’t want to put me through all the stress, and maybe it’s time to say goodbye. Where are they going?
I don’t blame you. It’s your mouth and you should be able to decide what goes in it and what stays out. But our humans and vets don’t seem to share that opinion. When it comes to voting ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ it looks like you’re out-voted two to one. Just once you’d think your mom would side with you. She’d save herself a lot of money and effort if she’d just leave you alone. But it sounds to me like without the pills you’d be a dead duck, or rather a passed Persian.
I bet your mom learned to give pills from some of these kitty health books. You know, the ones that show illustrations of a hand holding a dropper over a smiling cat mouth. In the picture it’s so easy. We kitties haven’t read the manual. If these artists weren’t living in Fantasyland, they would show a 200-pound human holding a crowbar (in hands covered with scratches) trying to shove a pill down the throat of a 10-pound cat. I bet by the time you get done, your mom’s wearing more pink liquid on her new sweater than she got down your gullet. Or maybe she finds the pill she knows you swallowed buried in the litter box where it belongs.
Before your human mom starts complaining about you being a pill to pill, she should think about the way she pills herself. She’d never take a pill without a water chaser. But she pries open your mouth, shoves a pill inside and expects you to just be able to swallow it. Didn’t any of these guys see the Mary Poppins? I distinctly remember a song called “A Spoonful of Tuna Makes the Medicine Go Down.”
I wonder if your mom has ever had the joyful experience of getting a pill caught in the back of her throat. Unable to swallow it or spit it out, it sits back there and melts slowly. Tablets aren’t known for their palatability. And worse still is a split pill. Those sharp corners seem to find hidden throat crannies and hang there. While humans swig some water to move the pills along, they seldom offer us the same courtesy.
It goes beyond courtesy. Gelatin capsules especially have a tendency to stick to the inside of the throat and damage the sensitive tissue. That can lead to the painful lifelong condition megaesophagus.
No wonder we kitties fight tooth and nail to prevent something with the palatability of Clorox from being shoved down our throats. This simple cat wrestling exercise can quickly evolve into an epicurean competition with the introduction of the cat towel burrito.
Unless your mom wants to join the National Cat Wrestling Federation, she needs to make pill time more pleasant or, at the least, less stressful. A coating of butter or olive oil can hide the taste and grease the tablet to make swallowing easier.
One study showed that even five minutes after human gave us medicine, without water most of the pills were still sitting in our esophagus. Pills given with liquid speed to the stomach in less than two minutes. You mom doesn’t have to use plain old water. Just 1 cc of low-sodium chicken broth, or tuna or clam juice, will move the pill out of the esophagus and down to the stomach where it belongs. She should squirt it from the side of the mouth, not straight into the back unless she likes the sound of coughing and strangling. And tilting your head backwards while giving liquids is an invitation for that gunk to stream right down the windpipe. Translate that to “vet visit.”
The vet can tell her if the pills can be given with food. However, some require a growling stomach to be effective. If food’s okay, she can try hiding it in a meatball, cheese, tuna or canned food. Mom should test the treat on you to make sure you’ll eat it before hiding the pill. The cost of wasted pills melting away in the center of a meatball can start to add up in no time.
If, like so many cats, you may be too sharp for that old trick, mom needs to ‘fess up to your vet so he can seek out medication alternatives. To boldly medicate whom no person has medicated before.
She should find out if your pills can be crushed or split. Some pills can be dissolved in broth or mixed with turkey baby food. Some can’t. Pills like Flagyl (metronidazole) taste way too yucky to blend into anything. And time-released tablets don’t keep time once they’ve been cut.
Expect a treat after you’ve successfully swallowed the pill -- something you can’t resist. How about some tiny deli turkey chunks or dried tuna flakes? The treat is more than just a bribe (which of course it is), it helps move the meds out of the throat, where they break the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm,” and go to the stomach where they do good.
Speaking of treats, Pill Pockets give devious owners another way so slip something past us. These treats feel like Play Dough but taste like chicken or fish, and they have a little pocket for the pill -- thus the name Pill Pocket. It molds around meds masking all the medicine smells that might tip you off.
If mixing pills in broth or hiding them in Pill Pockets don’t hit it off for you, a compounding pharmacist may become your mom’s best friend. Soon those medical moments will change from dreaded Pacific Pilling Time to Central Treating Time. With the exception of those bitter pills I mentioned earlier, a compounding pharmacist can add strong fish or chicken flavors to create a tasty liquid version of your pills. Compounding drugs is like cooking great cat food. Not every flavor complements every drug. The pharmacist can tell you which combinations will pique your palate. Another advantage to making friends with compounding pharmacists: They can concentrate a big huge dose of stuff in to a smaller, easy-to-swallow dose. Some pharmacists can even turn pills into really yummy treats. I’m waiting for rat- or lizard-flavored medicine.
But even if you still want no part of any oral administrations, your compounding pharmacist still has options. Many drugs, including meds for high anxiety, hyperthyroidism, and ticker trouble can be formulated into a transdermal gel. Mom just massages it into your ear tips. The skin absorbs the medicine and you didn’t even have to open your mouth. Mom has to wear gloves cuz she’s not the one with the health problem. While transdermals and tasty formulas are literally the magic pill, they’re not perfect. They may cost a fang and a whisker, and efficacy varies, so your vet may need to tweak dosing. Even so, it’s better than no medicine at all.
The dirty little secret is: Most cat owners don’t give us the proper dose of meds or don’t continue to give them as long as they should. Dogs don’t fare much better. Without proper dosing you could get sicker or even assume room temperature.
Learn more about your cat with Catster:
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- Ask Einstein: My Parents Plan to Bring Home a Human Baby. Help!
- Ask Einstein: I've Become a Fat Cat -- I Need Weight Loss Tips!
- Ask Einstein: What Should Be My Kitty Resolutions for 2014?
Read more about pill popping:
- What's the Best Way to Give a Cat a Pill?
- How to Give Your Cat a Pill in 12 Easy Steps
- Behold: I Am the Queen of Giving Pills to Cats
- Ask a Cat Lady: How Do I Give Pills to My Cat?
Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don't have to be written from the cat's point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat's behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.
Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.