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How to Give a Cat Pills — and Survive

I followed logic for administering chemo pills to my cat -- and I failed. Here's how I succeeded.

Catherine Holm  |  Dec 18th 2015


A few months ago, I began giving a form of chemo (a pill called Palladia) to my cat, Rama. If you’ve followed his story, he had major surgery to remove a pesky low grade fibrosarcoma that kept coming back over many years. The margins were thin in the surgery so the oncologist recommended adding the Palladia as a preventative measure. In this case, the drug will be given for six months.

I got nervous about administering it. The drug comes with multiple warnings. Don’t get the pill wet. Wear gloves when you give it. Wear gloves to clean the litter box. On top of that, I made the process more complicated than it needed to be. Before I get to that, I’ll say that I’ve found an easy way to give Rama this pill, and the pill never gets wet. If you’re wondering, he is tolerating the Palladia well. His appetite is terrific (this is a very food motivated cat), and there’s been no lethargy, diarrhea, or vomiting. Rama’s energy has remained high, the lumps have not returned, and so far I am pleased with the outcome.

Now for the complications. Here’s what I tried with Rama, including what worked and what didn’t:

Because I was so worked up about giving him chemo for the first time, I assumed I would need a piller for this cat. I really didn’t want to handle the pill, trying to get it down his throat, and risk getting it wet before it went down. I have a piller, but for me, it turned out to be more of an impediment. The pill would get stuck in the piller, Rama would gag as I struggled to get it down, and we were often dealing with a wet pill. I wore plastic gloves but didn’t like that the pill could go down faster.

Getting past my stress, I remembered (whoa!) that Rama is a very food oriented cat. I rarely have pill pockets; I’ve never had luck with them. (Smart cats and dogs in my past knew how to chew off the pill pocket and discard the pill.) Still, the piller was performing so badly, I tried the pill pockets. I waited for the time when Rama is most hungry (first thing in the morning) and eager to eat. With gloves on, I slipped a chemo pill in the pocket and put it in a dish. It turns out he loves pill pockets, and he gobbled the entire thing down.

This has continued to work well for two months, three times a week, and two pills each time. I’m happy about this. I always give it first thing in the morning, before Rama has a chance to fill up on other food. I also don’t dare to stuff two pills in one pocket. I don’t want to change anything about the way that I’m doing it. I won’t even give him empty pill pockets — I don’t want to get him used to pockets with no pills.

Rama is a relatively easy cat to pill, thank goodness. What about many of the rest of us, who have to pill cats that might be more difficult? Rita Reimers, the Cat Analyst, has a few tips from her experience as a cat sitter.

Reimers and her staff often give cats medication. She’s found that the easiest method is to come up behind the cat when she’s eating or otherwise distracted, just pop her head back gently but quickly, and put the pill down the middle of her throat way in the back so that it triggers her swallow reflex. Close her mouth and gently rub her chin and throat to make sure she swallows the pill.
Rama

Handsome Rama!

“If you approach with too much hesitancy when you need to give your cat a pill, she will pick up on that anxiety, and that’s when cats will run and hide,” Reimers said. “If you’re nervous, they are going to be even more nervous.”
Reimers found, as did I, that pillers often make the process worse. If pill pockets don’t work, Reimers suggests surrounding the pill with any kind of soft treat, or putting the pill inside a piece of tuna or chicken. Also, “many medications can be formulated into a transdermal gel that you can rub inside your cat’s ear. Just ask your veterinarian.”
Do you have any tips for successfully giving your cat pills?

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, and a contributor to Rescued: The Stories of 12 Cats, Through Their Eyes. She’s also a yoga instructor. Cat love living in nature and being outside every day, even in winter. She is mom to six adorable cats, all of them rescues.