If you’ve had a cat that needs medication, you know the routine. Most dogs will accept pills readily if you make a minimal effort to hide it in cheese, peanut butter, or anything sticky that the dog likes. Dogs, apparently unaware that they have teeth, will gulp down the entire package, none the wiser. If it’s not something that tastes particularly nasty,
sometimes you can forgo the disguise and toss it like a treat (my sweet but meat headed Labrador eventually caught on). I once had a patient so eager to take pills that the techs fought over giving him his medications.
As for cats? Cats are…well, out of consideration for you diehard dog fans, I don’t want to say smarter. They are, however, a little more…discriminating. You might be able to fool your cat once, but when it comes to anything unpleasant, cats have the memory of an elephant. Not to mention sharp teeth. To effectively pill a cat, one has to get that sucker waaay in the back of the mouth.
The traditional response to this dilemma has been the pill gun:
This device, at least, allows you to keep your fingers out of the no-fly zone. Alternatively, some medications come in a liquid form that is somewhat easier to give. Neither solves the problem, however, that your cat is going to quickly start picking up on the early signs of your approach with the Taste of Death. And a cat who does not wish to be found, will not be found.
I’m not saying it isn’t possible to pill a cat. Heck, Ninja Cat-Piller is a bullet point on my resume. I don’t want to pill my own cats, however, and I especially sympathize with cat owners presented with a bottle of something particularly horrible tasting like metronidazole or tramadol and blithely instructed to give twice daily for one week. Even a successful pilling often results in foaming at the mouth, intense stink-eye, and semi-permanent shunning of the offending human. Some clients are (admirably, I feel) game for pilling their cat for maybe a week or two tops, but when the need arises for long-term treatment, except for the most exceptionally long-suffering pet owners and tolerant cats, this is no way to enhance the human-animal bond!
So what to do? There is a better way, although it costs a bit more. Many drugs can be compounded into a liquid formulation, capsules, or even as a gel that is absorbed through the skin. Flavoring is especially helpful. Even if the following turn your stomach, cats are carnivores and prefer flavorings like beef, poultry, or fish. I have tested metronidazole in three different formats and “triple fish” seems to be the most acceptable to cats. Compounding also makes it possible to deliver smaller doses of drugs to our feline patients. Many specialty compounding pharmacies now offer this service, but I prefer to work with a local business whenever possible (and they will compound for people too! Beef flavoring optional).
I should add some important qualifiers:
- Currently, the FDA is reviewing the compounding of bulk substances for animal use. This does not apply to drugs that are already FDA approved for veterinary use – but it’s an important point because many common medications are used “off label” in companion animals. These medications are safe and effective, but they never went through the FDA approval process, usually for economic reasons. The American Veterinary Medical Association has an excellent overview of the issue if you want to know more. The main point is that compounding is safe when backed by scientific evidence and performed by a qualified professional (that is why I like to know my pharmacists).
- There are some limitations to compounding. Not all bitter tastes can be masked by flavoring, and not all medications can be effectively absorbed through the skin. Ask your veterinarian what evidence exists to support the use of topical medication if you are considering this route.
Caring for a chronically ill cat should not be stressful for you or the cat. It is important to consider the impact any long-term treatment will have on the pet’s quality of life. Compounding is just one tool for taking some of the stress out of deciding what’s the best option for you.
P.S. – Compounding can be good for dogs too!