How to pill a pet Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 23:25
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Every now and again I am reminded how difficult some owners find it to get pills into their pets.

I could never pill my one cat; we used to scruff and argue to the point that I chipped his canines on the tiled floor. That made me feel guilty for weeks, but then I consoled myself: if his mouth wasn’t gaping to bite me, his teeth wouldn’t have chipped. But every time I saw his toothless yawn I knew . . .

I now have two older pets which need daily medication. That in itself is a stretch for me as I am quite a disorganised person and have no routine. Luckily they only need them once a day. I really admire my clients who can stick to an intensive medicating schedule for months or years.

Here are some tips to help you get that medicine down:
Cats and dogs are different. When dogs see a treat, such as a piece of meat or cheese, they will generally just gulp it and the pill down. Or you can offer food as a reward for taking the tablet. Dogs are generally quite gullible.

Cats, on the other hand, are suspicious by nature. They will not be fooled. Don’t even waste your time. Unless sugar coated, tablets do not taste nice. Most of them are slightly bitter and some kinds of antibiotics are very bitter. The point is not to let the animal taste this.

With a dog you may get away with crushing the tablets and mixing them with a bit of tinned food. This will not work with your cats. They will taste, and sometimes even smell the medicines and won’t eat. Then you may find that they are suspicious of the next bowl of food you give them, which can be a problem if eating well is part of the recovery process.

Cats develop food aversion. They associate the food with the bad place (hospital), bad taste (medicine) or discomfort (intestinal or oral disease) that eating caused and will not want to eat that specific food again.

If you need to medicate long-term, my advice is to get a system going which is quick and no fuss, and not to make a big scene about it, unless positive actions promote the process.

Most animals can have the tablet pushed down into the back of the throat. The trick is that the tablet shouldn’t be dry. Ever tried to swallow a Panado without water? Then why expect your pets to do the same?

I dip the tablets into butter or margarine. This makes them slippery and they will not stick on the tongue in the back of the throat, where the taste buds for bitter are concentrated. It also means that dogs are less likely to spit out the pill.

Hold the head of smaller dogs and cats in you left hand (for right handed people) and have your thumb and forefinger on the upper jaw at the level of the canines. Bend the head up and slightly backwards. This automatically makes the lower jaw slacken a little.

With the pill in the thumb and forefinger finger of your right hand, use the middle finger to open the lower jaw further and then push the tablet as far down as you can.

Don’t push it so deep that it goes into the wind pipe. Cats have a very sensitive larynx (voice box), which we even need to spray with local anaesthetic to place an anaesthetic tube. In aggressive cats and smaller dogs you can use pill poppers, which take the place of your fingers.

After the pill is in, just keep the head slightly lifted and rub the throat to induce swallowing. Holding the head too far up can prevent the animal from swallowing properly. Even with sugar coated tablets, don’t let the animal chew them – they will experience the unpleasant taste.

Wrapping a cat in a towel to prevent scratching helps, but will generally cause too much upset to both owner and pet to be suitable in the long run. If the pilling is done efficiently, the cat may become more amenable to dosing. A cat gets more averse to the procedure each time it is botched up.

A fair number of the chronic medications, such as heart and arthritis medication, are especially designed to be tasty and chewable. If you really struggle to medicate your pet, ask your vet about these options.

Some patients need multiple pills. Here I advise using empty gelatine capsules which you should be able to get from your veterinarian or pharmacist. They are very cheap and you can pack several smaller tablets into one capsule and get all the dosing done at once. They also help when tablets have a bad taste.


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