By Dr. Kris Chandroo
Our cats are tapping into something deep rooted within us.
I recently watched this amazing BBC-documentary about cats and their people, and in one of the interviews, a little girl in her cute British accent said that her cat was “the last jigsaw of her family, and she really makes their family be together”. Her mom, sitting beside her, was surprised, delighted and proud that her daughter had said this. What is actually going on here is that this family is establishing their values. What is important to them in life. It’s about their cat, and it’s also about how this family views the world. When you have a cat that is important to your family, and they become sick, you will look in the mirror, and realize that you are up for the challenge. You value what your cat means to you, and you want to keep them in your life. So after climbing that mountain of diagnostic tests and vet visits, you finally have a solution to manage or cure your cat’s illness. You are ready to make your cat whole again. But instead of experiencing joy as your cat gets better, you feel defeated when you reach the summit of this journey.
Because your cat is completely rejecting the pill, capsule, liquid or subcutaneous (SQ) fluids you need to give in order to give them a chance. It’s not their fault, but they are feisty, grumpy or reluctant when it comes to giving them medication. Every day that they won’t take their treatment, the clock is ticking and they are getting even more sick and stressed. Maybe your cat is barely picking at the food, or the vomiting won’t stop. Maybe they have lost weight, and their kidneys are teetering on the edge. Or maybe they have gone downhill quickly, and they look really depressed. Despite your best efforts, by mid-week your cat is running away from you when they spot the pills or needle in your hand. This is not a good place to be in. I’ve been there, and it’s frustrating and heartbreaking all at the same time. What are you supposed to do, especially if your cat has a long term issue, and he’s supposed to be on this medication for life? In this post, you are going to discover why this happens, and what it takes to turn this situation around. But first, let’s go through the most common advice when you can’t get a pill, liquid or injection into your cat. Let’s analyze why it works for some cats, but might frustratingly fail yours.
Advice #1: Try changing the flavor of the medication.
Who this works for: Cat’s who still want food, are actively eating, and are not that picky about what they put in their mouth. This is most likely to work for a marshmallow cat (a marshmallow cat is a kitty where a tactical change done specifically to the medication alone results in your cat accepting it. You just had to change how it was presented to them, and it works. Hallelujah!).
Who this doesn’t work for: If they are just not impressed with any flavors right now, because they are sick and nauseous. They are picky eaters to begin with, or their mouth hurts regardless of what flavor they get. Or they are scared and don’t want to be touched.
Advice #2: Hide the medication in treats, coat it with butter, or crush the tablet and mix it in with wet food:
Who this works for: Cats who still want food, are actively eating and are not too picky. Pill Pockets® are great for this. I’ve taken pieces of pill pockets, crumbled Temptations® to coat the pill pocket, and without a hitch, they go down for cats who don’t resent eating.
Who this doesn’t work for: Sensitive and aware cats that still smell medication within the treat or food and reject it on that basis. When they reject it, they can go off that treat or food for days or weeks. I’ve been there, and got the t-shirt. This also doesn’t work for cats who are not motivated by food, or are picky eaters in general.
Advice #3: Compound the medication into a flavoured chew tab, Mini-Melt or exchange the tablet for the liquid or vice versa:
Who this works for: Cats who want food, are food motivated, and are not so badly affected by their illness that their appetite has disappeared. This can work for cats who don’t mind liquids going in the mouth, because they prefer it to a tablet or capsule. Compounding means that you are taking the active ingredient in the medication and changing the packaging around it (i.e. from standard tablet to yummy chew tablet). By changing the texture and flavor, it’s a different experience for them, so the food or treat motivated cat might handle this much better than a raw tablet. What is a Mini-Melt? It is a compounded tablet that dissolve quickly once exposed to saliva, so giving the medication is less dependent on swallowing a whole tablet.
Who this doesn’t work for: Scared cats, picky eaters, or cats who are food averse. Are you sensing a trend here?
Advice #4: Put the medication in a gel cap.
Who this works for: Gel caps are awesome! They are gelatin capsules that you stick cut up portions of a tablet in. They eliminate taste from the equation. If you have a marshmallow cat, you can solve the problem right here with this step.
Who this doesn’t work for: OMG…they see you coming with something aimed at their mouth and recoil. They are done, and simply don’t want it. They are a little feisty, grumpy, and they don’t feel well. Maybe their mouth hurts. So engaging in any “taking a pill” activity is last on their list of what they want to do.
Advice #5 for SQ fluids: Warm the fluids or change the size or brand of the needle.
Who this works for: Cats who are sensitive to cool temperatures of fluids going under their skin, or truly find needle pokes offensive. Your cat is a marshmallow cat.
Who this doesn’t work for: Cats who are feisty or grumpy. Cats who are feeling ill, anxious, nervous or scared about what is happening to them. Their instincts are telling them to run, bolt and hide. They are MORE conservative about what they will tolerate when they are ill.
Now, there is nothing wrong with any of this advice, because it works well for many cats. But what if it doesn’t work for yours?
There is a concept that explains why it fails for your sick kitty:
Our cats reject the experience of getting the medication just as much as the medication itself. When your cat is less interested in food, picky, feisty, grumpy, scared or anxious, they are intolerant of the experience of receiving raw medication, or the needles they are being poked with. They are more conservative, and less willing to do new tasks, like take medication or SQ fluids. The more you try with the same old methods that were never designed for your cat in particular, the worse they get. They see you coming with the medication and they run away. And you know what? You want to help your cat. Not fight them. That’s the whole point of medicating them in the first place. So what can you do?
There is an alternative tactic no one really talks about, but it is a must know for grumpy, feisty, anxious, non-food motivated and sick cats who are reluctant to accept treatment. It’s utilizing your cat’s 80% rule.
80% of the success when giving a medication happens before it ever touches your cat.
This means that there are specific techniques you must perform before you attempt to give medication or SQ fluids, that greatly increase the chance that your cat will accept the treatment. You must provide these techniques, step-by-step, in a way that makes logical sense for your cat. Every cat that resists your effort with medication is actually trying to communicate with you. And if you know what they are asking for, you can start to get the right kind of results with your cat. So you can’t force a cat to take medication, but with the right steps in place your cat can actually agree to let you do it.
Let’s talk about the first step.
Join us in 2 weeks for part 2 of Dr. Chandroo’s techniques for giving medication here
Dr. Kris Chandroo is a vet who has spent decades dedicated to the study and promotion of animal welfare and behavior, in an effort to serve the human-animal bond. His website is iwillhelpyourcat.com