Medicating your cat often becomes a quality of life issue, and may negatively impact the bond you share. If a cat hides from you out of fear of being pilled, don’t be shy with your veterinarian about asking for alternatives. After all, not only his comfort but also the cat’s life may be at stake.
Topical treatment: Topical application—that is, on-the-skin treatment—usually comes as an ointment, salve, or spray and is the easiest to administer. Pain medicine may come in the form of a patch that’s stuck onto a shaved area of the cat’s body. Tapazol, a drug used to treat hyperthyroid cats, can be compounded into an ointment that’s smeared on the inside of the cat’s ear and absorbed into the system. Take care the cat doesn’t groom away topical medicine before it has a chance to do the job.
Liquid medicine: Applicators similar to eyedroppers or needle-less syringes often come with liquids, and tend to be easier to give than pill forms. Draw up the prescribed amount and then tip the cat’s head up toward the ceiling. Insert the tip of the applicator into the corner of his mouth, and squirt the medicine into his cheek, keeping his mouth closed. You may need to stroke his throat a bit and keep his head tilted up until you see him swallow. Cats usually lick their noses after they’ve swallowed, so watch for that cue.
Pills: Cats hate pills. Although dogs readily take pills hidden in a hunk of cheese, cats usually see through the ruse. Or they may take the treat, but you’ll find the pill later in your shoe. When pills are needed, circle the top of the cat’s muzzle with one hand, pressing his lips gently against his teeth just behind the large, pointed canine teeth. That prompts him to open wide, and when he does, push the pill over the hill of his tongue with your other hand. Aim for the V at the center of the tongue.
If you fear for your fingers, use a pill syringe (pill gun or pill dispenser), a hollow plastic tube that places the pill at the back of his throat. Then close his mouth, and gently hold it closed while stroking his throat or gently blowing on his nose to induce him to swallow. It helps to put butter or margarine on the pill to help grease its trip down his throat. Watch for the nose-licking cue that tells you he’s swallowed. It works best to offer a favorite treat liquid, such as a bit of tuna juice or a syringe full of water, immediately after the pill, so the cat swallows the treat, pill and all. Otherwise, the pill may get stuck.
Eye medicine: Eye medicine usually comes as a liquid or ointment. Tip his head toward the ceiling, gently pull down the lower eyelid, and drip or squirt the recommended amount of medicine into the cupped tissue. Then release the eyelid and allow the cat to blink. That spreads the medicine evenly over the surface of the eye. It may take two pairs of hands to administer eye medication safely.
Ear medicine: The feline ear canal is shaped like an L with the eardrum right at the foot of the L. Keep the cat’s head tipped with the affected ear aimed at the ceiling so that gravity will help get the medicine where it needs to go. Liquid and ointment medicine is dripped into the canal.
Be sure to gently grasp the cat’s ear flap (pinna) to prevent him from shaking the medicine out. Use your free hand to massage the base of the ear. That spreads the medicine deeper into the canal. Cats with itchy ears tend to enjoy this, and may lean into the massage. Painful ears, though, may require a few treatments at the veterinarians to get him to the point of allowing you to medicate him at home.
Veterinarians all over North America have taught millions of people to give fluids at home, from the very young to the elderly. Fluid therapy is one of the main things you can do to make cats with kidney insufficiency comfortable, give them a continuous quality of life, and stabilize their disease. It makes a tremendous difference.
All the proper supplies are available from veterinarians: the IV kit with the plastic line and large gauge needle, and appropriate fluids such as saline for kidney disease, dextrose (sugar) solutions to feed, or a balanced electrolyte solution for other conditions. Injecting fluid into the veins requires special training, but once the veterinarian demonstrates, it’s easy to administer subcutaneous fluids—beneath the skin—to pets at home. When a cat requires fluids regularly, it’s not only less expensive to administer them at home, it is much less stressful for the cat.
• Warm the fluids to body temperature by running warm water over the bag. That makes the experience more pleasant for the cat.
• Suspend the bag higher than the cat, so that gravity helps the fluid run into the right place. You can use a coat hanger to make a holder that fits over the top of a door or cabinet.
• Spread a towel or favorite blanket, or set the cat’s bed on a tabletop, to pad the surface for your pet to lie down and get comfortable. An ironing board makes a great treatment platform. He’ll need to stay still for up to 20 minutes, so make the place as comfortable for you both as possible. A position in front of a window may help distract him. If he’s too antsy, have a second person on hand to help manage him, or you can place him in a pillowcase or “cat bag” restraint or wrap him in a towel. Ask the veterinarian if a heating pad underneath a couple of layers of blanket is a good idea.
• Pets who need fluid therapy will have lots of loose skin, and you need to insert the needle so that the fluid drains into the space right under the loose tissue. Anywhere on the body will work, but the best locations to place the needle are right between the shoulder blades or right above the ribs. Use the same technique as described to give an injection. Grasp the skin with one hand and “tent” it—draw it up off the solid muscle. Then press the sharp end of the needle firmly into the skin, between where your hand holds the flesh and the solid muscle of the pet’s body. You’ll need to push pretty hard, because the needle has to be pretty large to feed enough fluid in, and cat skin can be tough. Push it at a horizontal angle level with the body until you no longer see any of the needle, but only the plastic head that houses the plastic IV line. Don’t be surprised if the pet flinches a bit—but once the needle is in place, he should settle down and won’t be much bothered by the therapy. Hint: alternate needle sites to prevent scar tissue from forming that may make subsequent treatments more difficult.
• Once the needle is in place, let go of the tented skin and let it fall back into place. Open up the release valve on the plastic line, so that the fluid begins to drain down and into the needle. Some cats object if the liquid flows too fast, so adjust the speed to accommodate the comfort of your pet. Watch the container of fluid until the amount your veterinarian recommends has been given. A severely dehydrated pet may need 30 milliliters per pound, while for other conditions, 10 milliliters per pound once a day may be enough.
• As fluid runs into the skin, you’ll soon see the skin start to balloon with liquid. This does not hurt the pet, although it may feel a bit cool, and will tend to settle and spread out under the skin. The fluid will be gradually absorbed into the body and the balloon will deflate.
• Shut off the valve on the IV line to stop the fluid, and then gently remove the needle from your pet. It’s normal for a small amount of fluid to leak back out of the injection site—especially when given over the shoulders. Giving fluid over the ribs with the needle inserted downwards will reduce this loss. You can also help the injection site hole to close by rubbing and massaging the place. Offer your cat a scrumptious treat afterward to help associate the treatment with good things.
By Sarah Zumhofe