Cats can Learn to Earn Treats by Taking Medicine

Question:

How do I give a pill to a cat? My previous cats have been cooperative, but this cat is much more difficult. She foams and drools after I have given her a pill and I am not even sure she swallows it.

 

Dr. Nichol:

I have known many cantankerous cats like yours. Some have learned from experience to fear these wrestling matches; for others it’s the pill’s bitter taste that causes them to froth and panic. Fast and furious attempts to get it “over-with quickly” instill even greater dread, resulting in defensive-aggression toward the people who love them. Force damages relationships.

 

It should be a lot easier. Pill Pockets are great for many kitties. Medication that’s compounded in a flavored liquid can eliminate the problem for some cats. Transdermal gels work with certain drugs but others, like behavior medications, don’t absorb reliably this way.

 

If teaching your recalcitrant cat to swallow a pill is your only choice she’ll need gradual desensitization and counterconditioning. Slowly, over several weeks, hold the pill just a little closer to her face as you reward calm behavior with tasty treats (Boniva fish flakes work great). Next, she’ll have to earn those tempting morsels by tipping her head back and opening her mouth on command. The final frontier will be giving her the food after the pill is swallowed. This takes patience but it isn’t hard. Contact my office if you’d like some hands-on help.