But we are pleased that it is at least not making him feel worse: because the first pill took four tries to go down, the third pill took about five seconds with no wrestling, and now it is a routine thing for both of us.
When our cat must embark on a regular medicine regimen, there are factors which might help both of us.
form of the medicine
My vet asked me if I “was sure” I could pill Reverend Jim. I assured him I could and I have.
Pills are the most common form of medicine, but in a lot of ways, the most challenging for us and our cats. We need to open the cat’s mouth and tilt their head back, so their throat opening points upward. Then we drop the pill (hopefully small) as close to the back of the tongue as possible. Then we let them close their mouth and hold it closed (hands not near their throat, near their nose) until we see/feel them swallow, and watch their tongue come out.
This usually means the pill has reached its destination.
The first time, RJ was taken by surprise, I didn’t have my moves coordinated, and he kept getting the pill on a more mobile part of his tongue; and ejecting it. If repeated, this can make the pill mushy and even less welcome. The surer and swifter we are, the less the cat gets to taste the pill; and the more cooperative they might be.
This was the case with RJ. Now, with us assuring him that “it will make him feel better,” he’s fairly calm about it.
Other forms can be even more helpful, and require less cat cooperation. Liquid forms, with added cat-attractive tastes, are available now, and these can be squirted between their clenched teeth. Also, many medicines can now be done in cream form, to rub inside the cat’s ear, which is the easiest of all.
This is where a regular grooming regimen pays off for us in another way: it lets our cat get used to being handled by us. During our grooming times, even for a short-haired, conscientious, cat like Tristan, we can check on areas of tenderness, teeth hygiene, and ear cleaning status too. Wrangling them for medicine can become another thing our cat will put up with if we are calm and consistent.
One of my sayings is, “I’m never above bribery,” when it comes to my cats. When RJ was a baby, freshly rescued and needing medical care, he got goo squirted in practically every orifice, twice a day. The promise of the treat afterward kept him cheerful. In fact, we had to be careful; he once leaped off Mr WayofCats’ lap to head for the kitchen, only to stagger into doorways and table legs because his eyes were full of goo.
Thyroid patients need to take a tiny pill daily. This can be accomplished by embedding it in a strip of string cheese. Cats have their molars raked back, pointing towards their throat; once they start swallowing something, they continue. This is how the pill went down easily. A folded strip of roast beef or sliced chicken can also work this way.
Other times it might not be best to mix the medicine directly with the treat; many medicines taste terrible, even if they have flavoring. But we can literally “wash the bad taste out” with a favorite treat. Once this routine is established, I’ve gotten more cooperation. Medicine time becomes not all bad; there’s a happy ending.
Favorite foods can include special people food, too, provided it fits their condition and is something they can eat without consequence. A chopped jumbo shrimp goes a long way to help RJ see the upside in this situation.
Simmered organ meats like liver or even raw foods can be a healthy addition to our cat’s meals, over and above their treat function. We’ve been managing RJ’s digestive situation with more and more poached fish; something he likes a lot and is also easy for him to digest.
Treats don’t have to be a whole meal, either; one cat of mine was happy with a few crumbs of aged romano cheese. The intense flavor made it a treat, even though it was a tiny amount. Cheese can be a treat even if our cat has trouble with milk; the lactose in the cheese has been consumed to fuel the cheese fermentation. Likewise, heavy cream or butter isn’t bad for cats, because it’s fat, not milk sugar.
bond of trust
We should always provide lots of petting and sweet talk, before and after. This gives us the benefit of the doubt about our motivations. Because we can’t blame our cats for thinking “what the heck” about our new, and unwelcome, behavior.
This is a tremendous advantage for us when it comes to dosing RJ; he is one of the world’s most mellow creatures.
Many cats react to adversity by struggling with intense feelings of paranoia and suspicion. RJ went the opposite way.
He finds his situation in our home to be so freakin’ awesome he is very easily made happy. He discovered that the less he struggled over his dosing, the faster he got to his treat.
So he started cooperating more.
Trust is also illustrated when we contrast RJ’s attitude with Mithrandir’s. As Mithy grew so fast and large, he developed some knots we cut out with a mat knife, as the simplest way to get his coat back in shape. He is as dense and wooly as a sheep at this age, so no one can even tell.
However, while this is a simple task when it comes to RJ, it is usually a two-person-with-the-cat-rolled-in-a-towel task to do it for Mithy. His recovering feral status means anything out of the ordinary will trigger a fearful reaction, even though he keeps advancing in his cuddling skills. I have recently gotten a knot out while he sat in my lap, but only because it was easily accessible and I know how to safely use the mat knife. There’s still one buried in his fluffy hindquarters that is going to take both humans to handle.
It is always going to come down to our relationship. How much they trust us, and with what, will be a special combination of ourselves and our cat. Tristan lets us put healing medicine on a boo-boo between his shoulder blades with no more than a cocked ear, while Mithy lurks in the doorway for hours, fearful of approaching me again even though his hip feels much better with the knot out.
With Tristan, we have the advantage of feeding him as a three week old foundling, so he associates all our touches with helpful attitudes and happy outcomes. Mithrandir still has automatic feral reflexes, even as he lurks in the doorway. He’s not, after all, hiding behind the couch anymore.
Our cats can come to see our medical interventions as things that are “for their own good,” especially if they can perceive that the medicine does make them feel better. We help by explaining things every step of the way, and reassuring them in happy tones. If there will be, for the foreseeable future, a medicine ritual, we will just have to make it a ritual. This lets our cat see a pattern and helps them anticipate. We might get more cooperation that way, and it will let us approach the cat for petting without them thinking we have an ulterior motive.
Always tell them the truth. This fosters trust.
We approach RJ with the treat upfront and visible, saying a cheery “pill time!” while we get it over with as quickly as possible. So far, so good. Neither of us is dreading it any more.
That’s the spot to be in.
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There’s more ways to care for our cat with The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See all of my posts on CAT CARE.