Pilling the impossible cat
July 1, 2007 5:57 PM   Subscribe

I've never had a cat as hard to pill as this one. What can I do to get her to take her pills?

Mouseycat has had a tooth out and might have a low-level liver infection so is on twice-daily Clavamox. For the first two weeks, pilling went fine; she wasn't happy, but the pill went in and down. But she was also underweight and weak then, and now she isn't.

Currently, we're pilling her by wrapping her up like a kitty burrito in a towel, lifting up her head, opening her mouth with pressure behind her remaining canine, and using a pill gun, but she responds by chomping her jaw, which makes it really, really hard to get the pill in her long, narrow Balinese maw, and the chomping's causing her bottom canine to cut her lip where the removed canine used to hold it out. Even then it's probably taking 4-5 tries per session, and one pill lasts about two tries before it's too mushy to use. Even though the "how to pill your cat" instructions I've seen say that the mouth automatically opens a crack with the head held back, hers doesn't.

She drools like crazy, too, which means that if the pill doesn't get alllll the way back she'll taste it right away and everything gets twice as hard because of her extra resistance and the pill's mushiness.

She's never liked food that isn't cat food -- not even treats so hiding it in a treat hasn't worked, and she can tell it's in her food, so adding it to her food hasn't worked. (It's very, very important that she eat now because she was significantly underweight, so I don't want to risk her not eating.)

We've tried putting the pills inside #4 gelcaps to avoid the bitter taste, but that hasn't made it one bit easier, and it probably even made it harder since it doubles the volume of the thing we have to get down the cat and because they get sticky once they get a bit of cat drool instead of getting slimy.

I'm going to call the vet on Tuesday to talk about the problem, but that's another four doses from now, because it's a long weekend up here.

She doesn't get angry (hiss bite claw) about the pills. I think it's closer to being terrified. She's always been an easily terrified cat. Five minutes after we're done (or we give up for a bit) she accepts ear rubs and chin scritches.

I've run out of ideas. How can I give this cat her pills? Both techniques I've missed and refinements to the ones I'm trying are very welcome.
posted by mendel to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You can try smearing the pill with butter beforehand. This will kill the bad taste and make it a little slipperier.

But cats are smart and have evolved to hack up stuff that they ate and then decided "DO NOT WANT". You're fighting against a lot of years of evolution. There isn't an easy way except sedation.
posted by jellicle at 6:06 PM on July 1, 2007

Just a farmer style idea here. Would it be possible to crush the pill into power, mix with milk or water and then administer with a turkey baster? I imagine that if you practiced squirting the baster a couple of times it should go down easy in one quick shot.
posted by snsranch at 6:09 PM on July 1, 2007

powder, oops.
posted by snsranch at 6:11 PM on July 1, 2007

Guide to pilling a cat, with photos. The point here is not to attack at the canines, but where the jaw bones connect, and tilting the cat's head up.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:13 PM on July 1, 2007

Pet Pill Pockets..

These do the trick pretty well. I also use hot dogs and whatever "meat" related items I might have in the fridge..
posted by smart_ask at 6:20 PM on July 1, 2007

I've had the best luck by using my non-strong hand to hold the cat firmly by his scruff and pulling so his head is tilted up. Then I pry the clamped jaws open by wedging my middle fingernail between the front teeth and pulling down. I have the pill between thumb and index. While maintaining pressure on the bottom jaw with my middle finger I take the pill and place it as far back as possible, then briefly press down on the back of his tongue with my index finger, which usually triggers an instant swallow. There's nothing harder than pilling an animal who doesn't want it, especially a cat!
posted by Addlepated at 6:24 PM on July 1, 2007

I had a cat that was impossible to pill, so instead I took her prescription to a compounding pharmacy and had them make up a smooshy cat-food-flavored chewable "pill" that the cat loved. She begged for her meds every day after that, and everyone's life was considerably easier.
posted by jesourie at 6:34 PM on July 1, 2007

This won't be of any use to you until Tuesday but: Can your vet give you the meds in a different form? When one of my cats had dental work recently, the vet gave me a pain medicine that's a creamy, gel-ish stuff that goes under the cat's tongue or along the cheek to be absorbed; and there was liquid antibiotic with a plastic applicator that, though you still need to towel-burrito the kitty to get it in, is way easier to administer than any pill I've ever had to give. (Getting the liquid down them can be tricky at first, but, once it's in it's in -- they can't hork it up and hide it like a pill.)

A Google search suggests that Clavamox does exist in liquid form, for what it's worth.

Mouseycat is extremely cute. :)
posted by tomboko at 6:46 PM on July 1, 2007

Damn it if I can remember the name of this stuff, but there's a product you can buy at the pet store that's a treat to wrap around a pill. For cats they have a nice salmon flavor. My friend's cat actually loves it and eats pills very willingly now.

I used to use the dog version for my dog's allergy pills but then I realized squeezing the pill into a ball of cheese works just fine.

If I can find the product, I'll post a link.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:53 PM on July 1, 2007

Oh dang it I just reread your post and saw what you said about treats. I'm so sorry I didn't catch that before. FWIW I found the stuff though.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:56 PM on July 1, 2007

Pet piller. It totally works.
posted by peep at 6:59 PM on July 1, 2007

PS - my vet just gave me one for free. I'm sure they pay much less than a dollar for them.
posted by peep at 6:59 PM on July 1, 2007

As tomboko said, Clavamox does come in a liquid form. That's how the vet dispenses it for my ferrets. You get a syringe with an elongated nose and no needle, and slip that in the corner of the mouth, pointed towards the back. It tastes nasty, and your cat will almost certainly be able to spit, but once you get the hang of it you might have better luck than with pills.

If even that doesn't work, maybe your vet could teach you how to inject it and could supply or prescribe the needles.
posted by dilettante at 7:23 PM on July 1, 2007

Stroke your cat's throat (downwards, from chin to chest) after inserting the pill at the back of the tongue and closing her mouth. My vet clued me in--he claims it encourages the swallowing reflex.
Works for all the cats I've had to pill, even the heavy droolers.
posted by pullayup at 7:28 PM on July 1, 2007

I'm pretty sure they do have Clavamox as a liquid. I think I've given that to my cat before, and have also tried to pill her. It was absolutely impossible. I ended up doing what snsranch suggested - crushed it up, mixed it with a little water, and used a plastic dropper to get it down her throat. That wasn't much better but at least I knew she was at least getting some medicine in her. Maybe that could at least tide you over until you see the vet next week. And I can certainly relate - there is nothing more frustrating then trying to pill a stubborn cat. I feel your pain.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 7:29 PM on July 1, 2007

2nd the pet piller. The vet gave us one. Or another route. Our cat gets twice a day meds - she's elderly, underweight finicky eater and I hated the stress pill time seemed to have on her. She now gets her meds in a dermal form - a cream that I apply with a gloved finger to the inside of her ears. Much easier. Much less stress on the cat. Alternate routes can be a good solution for certain cats. Good luck. Cute kitty.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:29 PM on July 1, 2007

The pet piller does work. I was about to recommend it.
posted by winna at 8:05 PM on July 1, 2007

My cat is not food motivated at all and doesn't really like treats, but there is something about the salmon flavored PillPockets that drives him crazy. He will sit and wait for his 9pm pill and then smack his lips like crazy when he finally gets it.

It turned his pill time from a chore to something he loves.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:12 PM on July 1, 2007

You say that your cat doesn't like "treats", but I've never met a cat who didn't love fish. How about buying some salmon and wrapping the pill up in small raw pieces of it?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:35 PM on July 1, 2007

I work at a vet hospital and we have had a lot of luck with a pharmacy product called FlavorX (www.flavorx.com). The FlavorX system is designed to liquify and flavor prescription (your vet will provide new dosing instructions). If you can find a nearby vet that uses the system they will be able to be able to flavor the Clavamox into "Sardine Splendor" or "Fish Chowder", etc.

This will (hopefully) make it the Clavamox more palatable for your cat and easier to administer at the same time. I would say that this works for 4/5 of our clients with tough-to-pill pets.
posted by randex8 at 9:01 PM on July 1, 2007

My mom has a cat who gives her a lot of trouble with pills, too. She's giving her tablets now, and she swears by Laxatone, a tuna flavoured hairball remedy. It's the consistency of peanut butter, almost, and sticks to the cat's mouth. My mom grinds the pill on a spoon and then puts it in a small dollop of laxatone.

The burrito treatment may be scaring the cat more, but I know sometimes it's unavoidable. When I put advantage on my cat I have to act like it's just a normal petting session and casually stick the stuff on his neck. A friend once was trying to help and held the cat still while dosing him. He completely freaked out and bit her hard enough to break the skin.

Good luck with your kitty. She's beautiful.
posted by routergirl at 9:33 PM on July 1, 2007

I suspect liquid is the way to go. I knew someone who's cat hacked up every pill they tried to give her until they started wrapping the pills in $18 a pound imported Italian prosciutto. I had to laugh, but I do feel your pain.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:50 PM on July 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know you said she will refuse her treat if the pill is in it, my finicky cat does the same thing. This is how I trick my cat.

Stand at the counter with a piece of cheese, ignore the cat. Rattle can opener if cat is not paying attention. Eat a piece of cheese yourself while looking at the cat. Make smacking noises with your mouth. As you pretend to take a second bite, drop the cheese on the floor, note DO NOT put the pill in the cheese yet. Cat will be very suspicious of this tidbit of food. Lots of sniffing and gentle tasting will occur. Eat another piece of cheese yourself. Turn away from cat and drop a second little piece of cheese. Cat will usually eat this one a little quicker, still no pill. For the third drop, put the pill in the cheese, drop it while ignoring cat. Say whoops loudly and bend over to pick up the cheese off of the floor. Cat will inhale the piece of cheese! Mine wouldn't even chew the third piece. Sometimes I'd give her a small fourth piece to end the encounter on a nice note!
posted by JujuB at 10:10 PM on July 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

SDCB: My cat does not like fish. I can put a good hunk of salmon (raw or cooked) next to his dry food, and it's all about the dry food. The only non-dry food he will eat is egg and cheese. Raw or cooked, he loves it all.
Nthing that the piller works.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:56 PM on July 1, 2007

I'm coming to this late, so hopefully you've already found a method that's a little easier for you, but here is an alternative option that my vet friend told me -

Crush the pill up in some jam and smear the jam all over the front of their paws (not the pads, the top of their paws and a little way up the legs). Cats absolutely can't stand having anything dirty on their paws, especially something so sticky and messy as jam, so will spend ages licking every last drop off...and voila!! Pill has been taken!

It seems a little mean smearing jam all over your poorly kitty's paws, but I've tried it as a last result and it did work.
posted by schmoo at 2:41 AM on July 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Similar to schmoo's idea, our vet had us crush a pill, mix it with Karo (corn) syrup, and smear it on her face & paws. Cat licked up every last bit.

But if you can get something in liquid form, we've found that to be the easiest for our two current cats.
posted by xsquared-1 at 4:39 AM on July 2, 2007

You can also construct a pill dispenser with two plastic straws: cut slits into the end of one straw, and then shove the second straw inside the first, until the end reaches just above the slits. Place the pill in the slits, and depress the second straw to release the pill in Kitty's mouth. The straws are much thinner than manufactured dispensers, which we found easier and less slobber-inducing when we had to give our cat four pills per day for nearly a year.

Also, if you use pill pockets of any kind, be sure never to get the scent of the pill on the outside of the pocket. The first time our cat figured out there was a pill inside was the last time she would go near a pill pocket.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 6:07 AM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

On pilling, I can offer one tiny bit of advice: for me and my kitty, the key was immediately holding her jaw shut and stroking her throat to trigger the swallowing reflex (same advice from vet as pullayup). As soon as that pill got in there, I just held her jaw shut. She had just had teeth removed, too. It made me feel really bad to kind of manhandle her mouth, but, you know... kitty needed the medicine.

But then what really helped was finding her weakness food: tuna. I know you said that treats aren't really working, but while my cat was able to smell the pill in a lot of other foods, she didn't seem to mind the tuna. I've known people to crush the pills and put them in tuna water, too.

And I'm nthing the Clavamox in liquid form, if available. That's what I prefer now. Just shoot it in back of kitty's throat , kitty makes funny slurping faces, kitty gets medicine.

Reading responses, though, I'm also filing away the "smear stuff on her paws" method.
posted by lillygog at 7:01 AM on July 2, 2007

What worked for me consistently was to kneel behind the cat so that when she tried to squirm away, she was held securely. I gently pressed on each side of the jaw with my left hand, inserted the pill with my right (as far back as possible, in the middle and not the cheek), and held her jaw shut until she swallowed--this usually only took a few seconds--about the time it took to figure out how to wriggle free.
posted by jenh at 7:25 PM on July 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your input, everyone. There's some ideas in there that I might try and some that I know won't work. (She's even more sensitive to food things than I imagined -- we were feeding her kitten food to build her weight back up, and after putting a dissolved pill in with the kitten food once she won't even touch it unadultered now.)

I think we were really just having a run of bad luck. The last three pills have gone down first or second try with a much tighter kitty burrito and the pill gun/popper/pusher/thingy, and she's still snuggly and affectionate five minutes after it's over so she can't be too distressed.

But if we get back to "impossible" before the end of this prescription I'll give some of the other techniques a shot!
posted by mendel at 6:14 AM on July 3, 2007

My neighbor uses those PILL POCKETS for his dog and he calls them "doggie crack." They love it. But if your cat won't take the treats, then crushing or liquid form might work better.
posted by Sabine3283 at 8:44 AM on July 5, 2007

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