The Mind of Your Cat: 11/02

Question: My 12-year-old spayed kitty used to fight like a wildcat when I tried to give her a pill. My veterinarian suggested that I crush the pill with pliers and mix the powder with canned food. Problem solved. Please share this solution with your readers.

Answer: It is not uncommon for even the most placid of cats to fight with amazing strength as oral medication is administered. Yet as our cats age, the likelihood that they will require medication increases. What to do?

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth more than its equivalent in cure. Prevention begins the day we adopt a cat or kitten. Most young kittens are very amenable to handling. If a kitten does display extreme shyness or aggression when being handled, the family veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist should be contacted immediately. Early assessment and treatment will offer the best chance that future handling will be safe and stress free for both the cat and the people involved.

Make handling fun
As soon as a kitten is adopted, a daily handling routine may begin. The process should be fun – treats, play, and kind words should be included throughout the procedure. Examine your kitten as if you were a veterinarian. Spread your kittens toes to check for ingrown nails, and peek underneath the tail for fecal material. Check the ears for any debris that might reflect the presence of ear mites.
And of course, check your kittens teeth. Hold her securely in your lap and gently open her mouth. Try to insert your finger just inside her mouth, perhaps giving a cue such as open; then remove your finger and give a delicious treat. If you are allergic to cats or if you are very sensitive to infection, you may ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the proper way to use a soft-tipped cat piller. The piller may be inserted gently into your kittens mouth in lieu of your finger.

The daily handling routine will serve several purposes. First, you may identify abnormalities before they evolve into serious problems. Second, you will earn your kittens trust as she will learn that gentle manipulations and restraint are pleasant and safe.

Finally, the handling routine will improve the likelihood that your kitten will tolerate your administering medication. It may be years before any such medication is actually required, but you will not waste any valuable time once that first prescription is filled.

Pilling an older cat
Even if you have adopted a mature cat, the same daily handling may be initiated. Since mature cats are quite strong and have large teeth, you will want to progress a bit more cautiously. The sessions should be shorter, and the initial handling more limited. You may wish to ask your veterinarian to help guide you through that first practice examination and to help you identify problem areas. If you do observe any evidence of fear or aggression during the procedure, then the handling should be discontinued and appropriate behavioral intervention should be sought.

What about the mature cat that has become quite adept at avoiding pills? If your cat is actually trying to bite you or scratch you as you attempt to give her the pill, then a hands-on assessment by a behaviorist is strongly advised.

If your cat simply twists, turns, and runs for cover, you may begin a gradual desensitization process. Your patience will be rewarded. Begin by establishing a daily handling station. A countertop or chair may work nicely. Please do not select an area that is close to your cats litter box.

Each day, call or lure your cat to the area for a favorite treat. Place a special towel onto the surface and give the treat while your cat is sitting on the towel. Within a week, your cat is likely to notice you carrying the towel (and the treats of course) and may even arrive at the location before you do.

When your cat is eager to hop onto the towel for a treat, you are ready to introduce the manipulations that will be required for the administration of a pill.

Initially, only one manipulation should be done per session. Select a procedure that your cat is likely to tolerate. You might gently squeeze the cat with the towel, then treat. The next day, you might gently massage your cats mouth, then treat.
Work toward inserting your finger, or a cat piller, into your cats mouth, then treating your cat. If a session has included a particularly difficult manipulation, then the next day keep it very simple. Always try to end on a positive note, without a fight. If your cat does struggle, take a short break; then try again with a touch that is more likely to be tolerated. In a very short time, you are likely to have a cat that runs to the handling station for her pill and treat. The daily sessions should be continued for your cats entire life so that she will be ready to accept necessary medication when the time comes.

Alternative delivery methods
If you are not comfortable opening your cats mouth, there are other options to explore. Pharmacists can compound many medications into meat flavored tablets or liquid suspensions that are administered as treats. More recently, certain medications have been reformulated to be applied topically. Your veterinarian will be able to share with you the advantages as well as disadvantages of the transdermal application of any particular medication.

Finally, as you mentioned in your letter, some pills may be crushed and disguised in food. Unfortunately, some pills are just too bitter to mask. Still, cats that have not yet been conditioned to handling are likely to benefit from this simple solution.

Thank you for sharing.