Medication Mojo 101: Dosing Pets Can be Stress-free
By Carolyn Cockroft
“This is the medicine for Marigold’s condition,” the veterinarian informed me. She held up a package of pills as I stroked my cat reassuringly after a stressful checkup. Handing me another bottle, she continued, “And this is for you once you try giving Marigold her medicine.”
Yes, this is a joke. But the reality, where Marigold is concerned, is NO joke. Dosing a pet can be challenging. Having someone to assist you is ideal but going solo can be stress-free if you apply a few tricks, lots of patience, and stay calm.
Preparation is Key
Before administering medicine, consult with your veterinarian for any tips (some will even demonstrate for you and let you practice in front of them with your pet). Have at hand a towel, gloves (if needed), and a proper applicator, if required. Most importantly, have some yummy treats—a special delicacy your pet gets only at the time of medication.
Hiding a pill in tasty food can turn medication into “treat time”. Check with your vet first since some medications shouldn’t be taken with food.
- With dogs, a spoonful of peanut butter (with no xylitol), a chunk of meat or cheese, or ice cream can work.
- Commercial pill pockets or paste mask the taste of medicine when wrapped around the tablet.
- Try a bait-and-switch approach. Give your pet a treat (or two) that’s not laced with medication. Then offer one that contains the pill. Follow up with a treat without medication.
- Open a capsule or crush a pill into powder and mix it into a small portion of your pet’s food. Monitor your pet’s eating to make sure all the food is consumed.
- Cats have an uncanny ability for knowing when they are being tricked. Their sense of smell can detect medicine even in the yummiest food. Soaking the pill in fishy tuna juice might A method I learned at King Street Cats was to insert the pill into a pill pocket then roll it in crushed cat treats.
Feeding Directly into the Mouth
If the veterinarian says medicine shouldn’t be mixed with food, you will need to administer it directly.
Fortunately, many devices are available for sparing your fingers from a pet’s sharp teeth. With cats, a good practice is to wrap the animal in a towel (this trick is called the “purrito”) so that their front paws are covered securely.
A pill plunger is a narrow cylinder that holds the pill at one end. A trigger on the other end is pressed so that the pill is “fired” into the back of the pet’s mouth.
- Hold your pet’s head with one hand while pressing the sides of their mouth with your thumb and middle finger and slightly tilting their head back. This will cause the mouth to drop open. With cats, you can hold them by the scruff to keep them still. This gives them a slight release of endorphins, making them feel somewhat secure.
- Hold the plunger in your other hand with your thumb on the trigger, insert it into the side of the pet’s mouth and press down, thus shooting the pill to the back of the throat.
- Close your pet’s mouth and gently stroke their throat to encourage swallowing. Blow softly on their nose.
Syringes, used to administer liquids, work best when you sit behind your pet and press their back against you so they cannot back away.
- Be sure to shake any liquid medication before measuring.
- Hold the filled syringe in one hand and use your free hand to lift the animal’s upper lip on the side of the mouth.
- Insert the syringe and slowly squeeze the liquid into their mouth, pausing often to give them time to swallow the medicine, and avoid spitting it out.
- Do NOT squirt all the medicine in one thrust. Too much at one time may cause your pet to aspirate the liquid and choking or damage to lungs could occur.
Eye and Ear Medications
Eye medications are in liquid or ointment form. Again, sitting behind your pet provides the easiest access to their face and prevents escape.
- While holding the eye medication in your dominant hand, use the thumb and index finger of the other hand to separate your pet’s eyelid.
- Holding the bottle or tube within 1-2 inches of their eye, quickly squeeze the required dosage into it. Do NOT touch the eye with the applicator.
- If the medicine gets onto only the tips of the pet’s eyelids, shift more of the dosage into the eye by gently massage around eyelids.
Giving ear medicine is similar. While seated behind your pet, hold their head in place and squeeze the medicine into the ear canal and massage the base of the ear externally or with the ear flap folded over.
Seek Help if Needed
Giving your pet necessary medication is critical. Never avoid giving it if it becomes too difficult for you to do alone. Ask your veterinarian for help. An alternative medicine in a more appealing flavor may be available. They may also be able to suggest pet sitters who can come to your home to medicate. Boarding at the veterinarian’s office may also be an option. Additionally, there are some medications that come in long-lasting shots that the vet can administer.
Many how-to videos are available on the internet:
Don’t force medicine into your pet. Some slight resistance is to be expected, but if your pet fights back, don’t risk injury to him or to yourself. Wait about 30 minutes between attempts to avoid more anxiety.
And always follow up with praise, gentle stroking, and a tasty treat! After all, a trusting, compassionate relationship with your pet will go further than any trick to securing a successful outcome.
About the Author: A volunteer at King Street Cats, Carolyn Cockroft lives with her cats, Marigold and Butterbean, who instruct Carolyn on the proper etiquette of feeding, nail trimming, and dispensing treats.