Hard Pill to Swallow?
Pills and capsules tend to be the mainstays of medicating cats and dogs. But what if your pooch or kitty is difficult to “pill?”
Lots of dogs and many … most? … cats can be quite “unaccepting” of such forms of medications. So much so that a joke about the trials and tribulations of giving a cat a pill became a bit of a viral sensation. So what are you to do when Fluffy or Fido need meds?
Sure, you could likely force them to take their medicine. But that’s not ideal ... for anyone. You (or they) may get injured in the process, and you’ll almost certainly injure your relationship with them. Fortunately there are (often) better options and tricks. Take a peek at the list below and share your tips and tricks for medicating cats and dogs with our Preventive Vet community in the comments section at the end of this article.
If you ever give your pets pills without any "disguisers," like in the list below, particularly your cats, it's important that you always "chase" their medication afterwards to prevent the pills or capsules from getting stuck in their esophagus and causing (potentially very serious) problems.
Pill Disguisers — What's Safe To Use?
There’s all kinds of ways and products to help you hide pills, tablets, and capsules. These products and tricks tend to work well, but it's unique to your pet's personality and their food likes and dislikes. Try different ones out and also see what their stomach will tolerate. Some food items, like hot dogs or cheese, for example, could cause stomach upset in some pets, so use your best judgement and be sure to test it out. Often the stinkier the pill disguiser is, the better!
- cheese (cream cheese, slices/chunks or even “squeeze cheese”)
- bread or tortilla wrap (small piece)
- peanut butter (of course, DO NOT use a peanut butter that contains the sweetener Xylitol!)
- butter (likely not the best bet though, especially if your pet has a history of pancreatitis — which happens in cats, too!)
- “meatballs” of boiled white rice (it’s plenty sticky) or made out of their favorite canned dog/cat food
- canned tuna (canned in water, not oil)
- hot dog pieces or lunch meat (make sure lunch meats are not coated with spices, like peppercorns)
- baby food (one without onion powder, as onions and its powder can damage a pet’s red blood cells)
- Pill Pockets
- Pill Wrap
- Nutri-Cal gel (great option for many cats!)
Keep in mind that whatever you use as a "disguiser" will likely add more calories to your pet's daily intake, so be sure to account for these extra calories in the food and treats you give them throughout the day, especially if your pet is on a weight loss program (or your cat or dog should be).
The pill gun used in the video (featured below) is also a favorite among many vet practices.
A syringe for water is another essential tool in your pilling arsenal.
When Disguising the Pill Won't Work
Liquids and Injections
Even with all the great disguising tricks and products, there are still some cats and dogs that just simply won’t take a pill (or capsule). If that’s the case for your little critter, let your veterinarian know, as there are some medicines — including certain pain medications, antibiotics, and others — that are available as liquid suspensions which may be easier for you to administer.
There are also some times where injectable medications are an option — either for you to give yourself at home (after being shown how) or that you can bring your pet to your vet’s office periodically to have given. And who knows, if you ask nicely (and offer to pay them for their time), one of the veterinary technicians at your vet’s office may even go to your house to help you give the injections (or even pills) to your pet.
Compounding … Sometimes the Best Option
If giving a pill, capsule, or injection isn’t practical or possible, and if there isn’t a suitable liquid form readily available, then perhaps a reputable and licensed compounding pharmacy could help you and your veterinarian by making their necessary medications into a more palatable (yummy) or otherwise easier to administer form. Not all medications can be compounded, and even those that can, can’t always be compounded into all of the different formulations (see list below). But if your pet needs a medication that can be compounded you might just be in luck! Some examples of compounded formulations include:
- flavored liquid suspensions
- flavored “chews” and treats
- transdermal gels
- smaller capsules
A very important note regarding compounding pharmacies … like with everything else, not all compounding pharmacies are the same. You need to speak with your veterinarian and "do your homework" to ensure that you’re using a compounding pharmacy that is reputable and licensed.
The compounding pharmacy also needs to be accustomed to making medications for pets. This is very important, but even then, there’s still the possibility of errors. Do you remember this National News Headline from 2009 about the compounding pharmacy’s error that led to the death of 21 horses?
I know I’ve likely just made compounding pharmacies sound like horrible “rolls of the dice,” which they really typically aren't, and their services are very important in helping to make sure that “difficult to medicate” pets can more easily receive the medications they need. Like me, lots of vets out there have plenty of pets on compounded medications — both in the short term and for longer periods of medicating. Excellent compounding pharmacies exist, just “do your homework.” You can find a compounding pharmacy in your area and ask questions so you can best assess them (see half way down the article) and, of course, talk with your veterinarian. There's likely a compounding pharmacy they use regularly.