How to give a cat medicine

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Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner shares his advice and easy-to-follow steps for administering your cat's medicine without a fuss.

Be prepared

'The most important tip I can give all owners, is to take the time to read a medicine's instructions and follow them carefully,' Brian says. 'It may seem obvious, but your cat has been prescribed that type of medicine, with a predetermined dose and frequency, for a specific reason. To ensure your pet takes the right level to get well, or to keep a medical condition under control, it's vital that you follow the instructions your vet has given you.'

Once you've gone over the steps you need to follow (including how often and how much of the medicine to give), you can also prepare by getting yourself in the right frame of mind: 'Try to stay calm and confident, so that your pet doesn't pick up on your stress and become more anxious as a result,' Brian advises. Lastly, while administering the medicine it's best to isolate your cat from other pets or young children - that way you can be sure that only she has access to the full dose.

METHOD 1: Mix the medicine with food

If your cat has been prescribed tablets or liquid medicine, your vet should be able to tell you whether it's OK to administer the drug by mixing it into her food. If you're unsure, play it safe by checking the instructions or giving your vet a call. Once you have the go-ahead, you can then follow these steps:

1. If the medicine is in tablet form, it may be possible to grind it into fine granules by using a pestle and mortar or the back of a spoon. However some tablets must not be crushed as it affects their effectiveness – so check with your vet first. If this is possible, do this carefully on a non-slip surface, and try not to spill or waste any granules, so that your cat gets her full dosage. If your cat is on long-term medication that needs to be crushed, you could consider buying a pill crusher.

2. Make sure that your cat is hungry by leaving six to 12 hours between her meals, if it is medically safe to do so - it may be hard to ignore her pleas for food, but it can help curb any potential fussiness and ensure that she takes in all the necessary medicine.

3. Mix the ground-up tablet or liquid medicine with a small amount of your cat's favourite wet food or a strong-flavoured treat, making sure to stir it well and place it in a familiar feeding bowl. By mixing the medicine with only a small amount of food, you'll ensure that your cat will eat the entire portion and gets her full dose.

4. Wait five minutes before giving the mixture to your pet to ensure that the flavour has fully soaked into the medicine. This will help to reduce the chance of your cat refusing her food because of the smell of the medicine.

5. Try Brian's trick: 'I make sure my cat is watching me reach for her food, and act as though I'm going to place her bowl in its usual spot - but then lift it away again. That way, when I do set the food down almost immediately after that, I know my cat will really want it and will eat it quickly in case it gets taken away again.'

6. Although you may want to watch your cat eat her food to check that she takes it all in, this could have the opposite effect and might put her off. Instead, let her eat in peace, making sure that she's the only one with access to her food.

Once she's done, check to see that she's cleared the bowl (if the tablet wasn't ground up, you may find that she's simply separated the pill from the food). Once the bowl is clean, remember to remove it so that other pets don't lick up any medicine they're not supposed to.

7. Keep your cat indoors for the next half an hour, in case she vomits. If she does bring up her food, make sure to consult your vet straight away, as they'll be able to advise you on the next steps to take.

8. If your cat refuses to eat the medicine mixed with food, try wrapping the pill in a treat such as a small amount of soft cheese or a bit of cooked fish or chicken breast. If that still doesn't work, you may need to try the method below.

METHOD 2: Use a pill popper

Some tablets, such as those in enteric-coated capsules, can't be mixed with food. (These are capsules that are designed not to release their contents into the stomach because, for example, the medicine could irritate the stomach lining or may cause nausea.) When a tablet has to be administered whole, Brian suggests using a pill popper - a safe, blunt device designed to deliver tablets to the back of your cat's mouth and trigger the swallowing reflex.

'Personally, I'd never give a cat a tablet without a pill popper,' Brian says. 'There's no need to put your fingers inside your cat's mouth and risk getting bitten or scratched by her teeth.'

You can get a pill popper from your vet, an online store or from some pet supply stores. Then follow the steps below:

1. Have the right dose of medicine ready in the pill popper. Then place your cat on a firm, stable surface such as the floor, a counter or table. To help her form positive associations with the experience, calmly reassure her and give her a single treat.

2. Position yourself so that your cat is sitting upright in front of you, with her body lengthways to you - for example, if you are right-handed, her head will face to the right. If possible, get someone to hold your cat's bottom, so that she can't edge backwards. Otherwise, keep your body close to her bottom to ensure that there's no room for manoeuvre.

3. Hold your cat's head gently but firmly with one hand, and lightly rotate it upwards so that her nose is pointing up at the ceiling. As you bend her neck backwards, she'll reflexively stretch her legs forwards to grip the table and will partially open her mouth. If this doesn't work, try lowering your cat's bottom jaw gently with one hand while holding her firm with the other. Throughout, be careful to keep your hands and fingers out of the reach of your cat's claws, in case she protests.

4. Release the medicine as far back into your cat's mouth as possible, aiming for the centre of the tongue. Then gently hold her jaw shut, and allow her head to move forward slightly to enable her to swallow. You can also try rubbing her throat and syringing a little water into the side of her closed mouth to encourage swallowing.

5. Let go of your cat's head and check if she licks her nose or lips - this will mean that she's swallowed the medicine. If she spits out the tablet, you'll need to repeat the process. If your cat is stressed or anxious give her some time to calm down, but otherwise aim to try again as soon as you can.

If you're alone with a particularly wriggly cat, you could also swaddle her in a towel to limit her movement. To do so, place the towel on a flat surface and ensure your cat is in the centre of it. She should ideally be lying down, but the towel can also be wrapped around her even if she insists on standing (although you may need a slightly larger towel in this case).

1. Wrap one end of the towel snugly around your cat's neck, gently pulling it across so that it covers her entire body.

2. Pull the front edge of the towel forward, to wrap it under your cat's neck and then over her back.

3. Once the towel is wrapped all the way around, grab the other side and pull it over your cat, tucking it in beneath her and making sure that it's snugly in place.

Finish the course

If your cat is prescribed a short course of medicine such as antibiotics, it's important that she finishes it all. 'With antibiotics, your pet will need to finish the full course of medicine to kill all the bacteria that are causing an infection,' Brian says. 'This will ensure that no bacteria remain, as any that are left alive could thrive and make your cat even more poorly.'

If your pet is refusing to take medicine in any form, speak to your vet about alternative treatments. They'll be able to advise on different ways to help get your cat back to health, so it's vital not to give up.

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