How to Get Your Cat to Enjoy Taking Medication
You might recall the scene in Mary Poppins where Mary tries to get her little charges to take their medicine by magically making it into flavors children enjoy. Oh, how many times I’ve wished giving my cats their medication could be as easy as using a little bit of magic, and poof! Cat takes medicine. No fuss. No biting, scratching, or spitting pills out when I’m not looking. Life doesn’t work that way, though. I’ve even tried those Pill Pocket things, but my cats are too smart. They know that’s no treat, and instead there’s something yucky inside.
But there's an alternative to the battles of getting our cats to take their medicine. You just need to seek out a pharmacist qualified in compounding, who knows how to make medications tasty for cats and easier for you to administer.
Pharmacy consultant Chris Simmons is also the VP of creative development at Professional Compounding Centers of America (PCCA) in Houston, which has about 3,200 members in the United States. With the assistance of his Green Wing Macaw and Australian Shepherd dog, Simmons teaches independent pharmacists to make medications that meet the individual needs of a variety of animals.
He says that pharmacists who are qualified in compounding medications can not only make it easier for your cats to take their medicine -- they can also help you! He ought to know, since this self-described "MacGyver of medicine" is a veteran of what he calls many “kitty [medicating] rodeos,” the same kind many of us have experienced, where our normally sweet ones wiggle around like the wiggliest of worms, scratching and biting. My cats sometimes go beyond imitating wiggle worms; they try to fool me into thinking they’ve swallowed their medication, and then spit it out after I’ve walked away.
Simmons says that before mass manufacturing began in the 1950s, compounding was the only way to make medications, whereby pharmacists mixed individual ingredients per specifications to suit each individual. Now compounding is making a comeback. Vets often find it difficult to find medications in proper dosages for birds and exotic animals, and as many veterinarians and pet parents know, our furry friends often make the process of treating their ailments very unpleasant for everyone involved.
I used to work with a woman whose cat would refuse to let her put ear drops in her ears. The cat would violently shake her head, splashing the medication out onto anything and everything. The woman's vet recommended a compounding pharmacist, who made a cream that was every bit the same as the original medication, but in a different form. From then on, she was able to dose her cat with no problem.
There are a few different ways to compound medications:
- Transdermal therapy: This involves medication in the form of a cream or liquid, which you swipe on a hairless area of the skin such as inside a cat’s ear. Flea and tick treatments like Advantage work by dispensing the liquid directly onto the back of your cat’s neck near the shoulder blades.
- Liquid suspensions: These can be made to taste like tuna, anchovies, liver, beef, chicken, or sardines. Discovering what flavors your cat prefers is often by trial and error, so ask for trial flavors without the medication to see if your cat likes a flavor. Some may be mixed with food, and some medications lose their efficacy when diluted. It's the same as with human medications -- we need to take some on an empty stomach, while others require that we avoid certain foods that might bring about a negative reaction. Methimazole, which is used to treat hyperthyroidism in cats, may be mixed with food or applied to skin, making it an example of either a liquid suspension or a transdermal medication.
- Treats: These are made from a doughy base with flavoring added, which is pressed into molds. Some medications that may be compounded into treat form include prednisolone, methamizole, trilostane, and, in my home, the dreaded metronidazole.
I plan to ask my vet for a prescription for a compounding pharmacist the next time my youngest cat’s bowel problems flare up, because making her take metronidazole is pure hell. That pill is very, very bitter. She knows the pill is coming and she won’t take it no matter what I do. She's no sucker! It’s always a battle and I feel just terrible. She’s upset, and so am I.
To find out whether your local pharmacist is qualified in compounding, just ask -- it requires a special education program with an emphasis on veterinary medicine. State-regulated compounding pharmacists know the volumes of ingredients that may be given to different animals, and what levels may be toxic. You'll need to ask your vet to provide a detailed prescription.
If you're concerned about quality control, Simmons suggests asking whether your compounding pharmacist sends out samples for potency testing. You can also ask to see the formula worksheet and how the medicine was put together.
State boards generally do not permit over-the-counter medications to be compounded. Simmons says that the price of a compounded medication should be the same or similar to that of the mass-manufactured version, and you get the added benefit of knowing your cat is more likely to take her medication without complaint.
For more information about compounding, visit the Professional Compounding Centers of America. To find a compounding pharmacy near you, go to PCCA's Find a Compounder. The site also offers tips and questions for finding the perfect compounding pharmacy for your kitty.
Do you use a compounding pharmacist? Let us know your experiences in the comments!