See that head tilt? Mr. Sunshine eagerly anticipates his medication! And I’m so happy to have found the best way to give it to him, because he is not a cat into whom I could force pills or liquids or much of anything else.
Over the years, I’ve given my cats medication for both short-term treatments and long-term support, from a week or two of antibiotics to four years of four cardiac medications twice daily for Namir with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. No matter how small the pill or syringe or treatment, it’s usually something they don’t like because the physical part can be uncomfortable and feel threatening, and the medication itself is often nasty stuff.
Getting off on the wrong paw at the beginning of a course of medication can make the whole thing pretty close to a failure, so it’s clear that from the very first dose you need to have a plan, be aware of what you’re doing and how your cat is reacting, and be patient. Consider “cooperative care” for your cat, let your cat lead, while you work toward getting that medication into them in a way that is comfortable for them.
And keep yourself comfortable, relaxed, and confident. Your stress level will influence your cat’s, and your fear will influence them. You are not doing this to them. You are in this together.
Long ago I began some sly moves during socialization or just during young kittenhood that helped the situation later on, and also used many methods other than just putting it into their mouth and hoping they swallowed it. But especially if we rescue we don’t always have that opportunity for long-term preparedness, and we often have cats who are frightened of being handled in any way. When Simba developed his urinary issue last December, there was no way for me to get near his mouth. He had no experience with any sort of medication, and he desperately needed the ones he was prescribed or he risked a urinary blockage. Often those are the conditions in which many of us end up administering medications to our cats. But there are many options. I’ll skim some for ideas in this article, and I’m happy to share the solution Mr. Sunshine and I devised.
Teach a cat to take a treat from your hand
In this house, I have to hand a treat into a cat’s mouth because there are treat hawks waiting to swoop in and grab it from any surface where I’d set it. Handing them out reduces stress for everyone, and no one cat gets all the treats, everyone gets their share.
But this is also basic training for all my kittens, especially feral kittens, and even older cats I foster. With feral kittens it helps build that bond of trust that you need. That hand coming toward you is going to give you a treat, and all you have to do is open up and either take it in your teeth or the hand will put it in your mouth. In time the kitten learns to trust the hand because only good things come from it. For a feral kitten you can’t touch, you can move from the treat to touching their face around the muzzle and cheeks in a way that is cat-appropriate, and work from there to general affection. For regular kittens it helps them grow accustomed to you messing with their face in a fun and tasty way and learn that it’s normal. Later, with teeth cleanings and medications, you have that relationship.
Just putting medication in their mouth
I will try first to put medication into a cat’s mouth. I really like the security of knowing that I put it there and it did not come back out, they swallowed well, and the medication is in.
If I do, I coat it with something like butter or cream cheese, or tuna or malt-flavored nutritional gel, something that will surround the medication and help to isolate it from taste buds in the mouth, and also help it slide on through. Sometimes I will crush a pill and mix it with the medium, especially one that’s a little bigger or with sharp edges.
The medium you coat it with will help it stick to your finger, and you can quickly slip your finger into the corner of the cat’s mouth and hook it around to the back, then slide your finger out while the pill stays in place. Hopefully it’s far enough back that it will slip down their throat aided by the slippery stuff you used to coat it, and hopefully that slippery stuff will coat it long enough to mask any bitter or strong flavors.
Always follow that up with a little syringe of liquid in the mouth, and when it seems things are going down well, follow that up with heaps of praise and love and treats.
Adding medication to food
I’m always skeptical of adding medication to wet food because, if illness is present, cats often don’t have an appetite, and if the medication is in the food, what do you do if they don’t eat it? And most people will tell you that if you’ve added something to a cat’s food they just know, they look suspiciously at the food and you and walk away, and that’s that.
Use regular food or other tempting alternatives
You can try it with a small amount of food, a teaspoon to a tablespoon, not a whole serving, and you can even try it with foods they can’t resist, and feed those foods only for the purpose of medicating. This would include things like baby food, or the squeeze-up treats in a tube that are available for cats, or even a bit of tuna, canned salmon, or mackerel. It works to get ferals into the trap, right?
Try it in a small amount first
Some cats are fine with medication in their food, though, and some medications don’t have very strong flavors. I had to give Bella a total of a month of liquid amoxicillin twice daily for a bladder infection and she is the type who often ducks my hand and runs away from being petted, while at another time she rolls around on my desk and wants all the love. I never know what I’m going to get. She has a great appetite, though, and there is no wet food she doesn’t like. So her twice daily dose ended up in her food, which she ate completely every day. I started out with half of her usual food amount with the medication, then I’d add the remainder to her bowl when she’d finished that. But it was clear she was good with this so I added it to the entire dose each meal.
Be careful of your other cats
But if you have other cats, you need to be sure the cat who needs the medication eats the food, and no one else can get their nose into it. If you’re giving other “high value” foods other cats would be just as interested, and while you can still get the target cat to eat it all with the medication, the presence of those foods may cause stress among your feline household, and the cat getting the medication might feel threatened if another cat starts nosing around. You can help remedy this by giving other cats a treat of some sort when you give the food with medication and make it a big happy party. Or you could give the food in a separate room so that no other cats can be near, but cats don’t always like to be singled out like that, they can be suspicious about your intentions. But if you observe body language and make the session fun and non-threatening, you’ll probably be fine.
Using dry food for medication
No, you don’t just toss the pill in there with the kibble and hope they don’t notice it’s different. Simba was and still is a dry-food-only cat. He had an antibiotic and an antispasmodic, then a urinary dilator, liquid, pill and granular in a capsule. I could get it into Simba’s mouth, but the fight would get worse each time, I knew. And he had just come from a very stressful situation where he’d been left behind in a house when his owner died; his behavior at that time was former feral at best. I didn’t want to risk pushing him to that point after all the work we’d done with him to bring him back to his big sweet teddy bear self. He was in enough pain and distress already that forcing medication could actually make his urinary condition worse.
I found some crumbly urinary treats and some crunchy dental treats that are okay with urinary conditions along with some freeze-dried chicken, turkey or tuna, crushed about three times as much in volume as the medications, then added his medications to the mixture, including the liquid. He licked the bowl clean every time. In fact he reached out and grabbed a paw full of my hair or clothing as I prepared it he was so eager to get his special treat. Then I could hug him and kiss him and watch him get better.
It’s pill pockets for Mr. Sunshine, but unconventionally used
I had tried pill pockets with other cats in the past, with no success. The first time they bit into the pill inside the treat, it was over. I had started Mr. Sunshine off with his medications crushed up and mixed with a nutritional gel that he loved, and I could either get him to lick it off my finger or off a small dish. Sometimes he didn’t eat all of it, but I could give it to him later, or pick it up on my finger and scrape it into his mouth. Either way I’d follow it up with a treat. But I felt I’d need an alternate method. And since his brothers and sister and several other cats wanted to share, I needed to keep it something special that no one else would get, but if it came down to a stressful situation I could hand out treats to everyone while Sunshine got his meds.
People give me donated food and goods for cats all the time, and I found a package of pill pockets in a donation I received shortly after he’d started on medications. I gave him a couple of pill pockets as treats and he was all over them. So I slipped his two meds, both quarter pills, into two pill pockets and that was okay. The pill pocket was a little big for him and one dropped out of his mouth a few times. Another time he bit into one of the meds and he wasn’t too thrilled.
Bring out the mortar and pestle. I ground the pills to a powder and got the powder into the little pocket, and that worked fine, but getting the powder into the pocket could be time-consuming, so I just pressed the pill pocket into the powder for each medication and rolled it into a ball, keeping the powder in the center. Over time this evolved into smashing both treats together, mixing the two pills together, and pressing the whole big amount of flattened treats into the powder and rolling it up so the powdered pills were mostly inside, breaking the ball of stuff into two parts, flattened so they were easier for him to chew and swallow, giving one at a time to Mr. Sunshine.
The last modification was to break the consolidated treats into three, and then four, pieces, a smaller piece first because that worked best for him.
And all the while I’m preparing them, he’s ready and waiting, and he grabs my hand as it gets close to him. Sorry for the blurry photos, it’s difficult in the best of times, but camera in one hand and treats in the other with cats moving all around, well…
If you use food or treats or any food-like supplement, medicate before you feed them to make sure they’ll be hungry enough to eat the dose you give them. I am feeding 10, and everyone has to wait for Mr. Sunshine to get his medication treats. I have always handed a treat to each cat at each meal just before they eat so they know it’s time to get to their chosen place and they get their dish. Now, this immediately follows Mr. Sunshine getting his medication treats and they’ve learned the process.
At some point in your life with your cat or cats, you are likely to give medication. It’s a good idea to think about that and prepare.
Don’t hesitate to start now with techniques that will help later with giving medication. Offer a treat from your hand, and do your best to get it into their mouth, then praise them. Most cats will catch on and work with you. Of my cats, Mariposa doesn’t always get the treat into her mouth and sometimes drops it, I’ll try to help her retrieve it. She grew up and lived in a feral colony until about age one when I trapped her, so actions like this are a little strange for her, but the other former ferals get it.
Most important, follow your cat’s clues. Watch for things they like to eat, touch their face around the mouth, even try slipping your finger into the corner of their mouth as if you’re giving a pill, get an idea how they might react. You might be surprised and they’ll be fine, or you might be able to make some plans depending on their reaction. Try a variety of ways to give medication, and even keep all methods on hand if your cat becomes wise to one method. Keep your cat comfortable and happy with it, and that will help ensure the best health outcome.
And I can’t emphasize enough: keep yourself comfortable, relaxed, and confident. Your stress level will influence your cat’s, and your fear will influence them. You are in this together, and you both want to be happy and healthy.
Again, if you’d like to help me with Mr. Sunshine’s care…
…and with the senior panels for the others as well as a follow-up for Mimi, selling my merchandise is how I pay for that. Visit my website, www.PortraitsOfAnimals.net, and do some shopping! I have been making handmade gift items like crazy between everything else, plus artwork and photography for yourself or for gifts. Also consider a portrait, or a portrait certificate. It would make me very happy to pack and ship things to you in return for money. I will be setting up a GoFundMe, but at the same time I’m pursuing grant amounts that are given as reimbursements and want to see how much I would get before I give a total. Here is Mr. Sunshine’s estimate. Right now I have a reimbursement up to $1,500 for surgery and treatment, and qualified for $1,000 in Care Credit.
The antibiotic that cleared up Mimi’s kidney infection last year was $200 for six weeks, and I haven’t seen her look this good for about five years. I might even say it saved her life because that deep infection that no one else had diagnosed was wearing her down and had effects on her digestion and mobility. A long-term advanced antibiotic is the standard treatment for a deep infection, though, and while that’s less expensive than even simple cancer treatments, it’s still an expense and I want to be ready. I’m also seeing symptoms in Mewsette and Giuseppe that I’ve wanted to have examined too, and if there is a connection with toxoplasmosis and some of these symptoms, a toxoplasmosis test for one cat is $140. Vendor show season starts in earnest in July, but that income is in the future and upredictable.
As always, thanks for following us, and thanks for caring! I always appreciate hearing from you, no matter how that happens.
And if you did want to donate, my Paypal address is bernadette @ bernadette-k . com and my Venmo is @Bernadette-Kazmarski. And thank you for caring, whether you buy something or donate or not.
Read more articles about Health and Safety
Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals
Mr. Sunshine Dishtowels!
Both of these designs are Mr. Sunshine! I purchase the 20″ x 26″ Tekla dishtowels at IKEA and imprint the sketches of my fine felines interacting with my dishtowels with a fabric transfer trimmed down to the image. The towels also have one vertical red stripe about 6″ from each edge. The towels themselves are 100% cotton and very soft and absorbent.
Mr. Sunshine has been very popular at vendor markets—everyone seems to have a cat who looks like him!
Towels are $10.00 each. You can purchase them here.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
Subscribe to my e-newsletter
Subscribe to The Creative Cat Preview E-newsletter.
Weekly schedule of features:
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Thursday: New Merchandise
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!