No matter how much you and your cat hate the idea, at some point in your pet's life, you're going to come home from the veterinary office with medication, and you're going to need to give that medication to your cat.
Is it easy? Not really. Is it necessary? You bet. Seeing your veterinarian and then not following through on care instructions is worse than a waste of money: It may be dangerous for your pet.
Most times you're dealing with a pill. You can try the Sneak Method, attempting to disguise a pill in a bit of something yummy in hopes that your pet doesn't notice the pill inside. Watch your cat carefully for the "spit-out" before considering the procedure a success -- it may not be. In fact, the Sneak Method works a lot better for dogs, who tend to bolt down their food, than for cats, who eat carefully, considering every mouthful. Sneaking a pill past your cat can be difficult.
The No-Nonsense Method is harder, but once you've mastered it, you will know for sure where the pill went. Take a firm but gentle grip on your cat's head from above, pry open his jaw with the index finger of your other hand, and press the pill far enough back on the tongue to trigger swallowing. Although veterinarians can make pilling a cat look like an easy, one-person job, you're likely to find the task easier at first if you have someone else hold your cat while you pill him.
Some people have good luck with "pill guns," plastic devices designed to accept a pill on the tip, press it to the back of your cat's tongue and release with a push on the plunger. Look for these in pet-supply stores or catalogs, or in the back of pet magazines.
The prize for the most ingenious method of pilling a cat has to go to the reader who long ago shared his Screen Door Method. He lifts his cat onto the screen, where the animal naturally reaches out and digs in claws. Once "hung" from the door by his own claws, the cat is in no position to fight, and pilling is fast and easy. It's sure to shorten the life of your screens, but if it works for you and your cat, so what?
For liquid medication, be sure your veterinarian sends you home with some large syringes without their needles. These are marked on the sides to make measuring easy, and they're easier at getting liquid medicine in the right place (an eyedropper can also work). Raise your cat's muzzle with a firm but gentle hold on the top of the head and lift the lip on one side. Ease the tip to the back of the throat and then release the liquid in a slow, steady motion. Your cat will swallow naturally.
For ear medication, put a large towel across your lap and draw up your pet, relaxing the animal with stroking and with soothing words. After your cat's relaxed, apply the ear drops, massaging the base of the ear gently. For eye medication, gently apply a line of medication from the tube across the length of the eye, being careful not to touch the surface of the eye. Try to hit drops squarely in the center. Close the lid for a couple of seconds to let the medication distribute evenly.
As with anything your pet would rather avoid, be patient, gentle and firm when giving medication -- and follow with praise. If you're having trouble medicating your pet, have your veterinarian walk you through it, or discuss alternatives. Whatever you do, don't leave those medications on the shelf. They're meant to be used!
A sad note: Longtime readers may remember my brother Pete's yellow Labrador, Max. The dog was the "first child" of Pete and my sister-in-law, Sally, and he was followed shortly by two-legged kids Kate and Steven. Max grew from a goofy, gangly puppy into the best "kid dog" I've ever known, quick with a slurpy kiss on a tear-stained face and tolerant of ear-pulls, tail-jerks and pony rides. A victim of cancer at the too-young age of 9, he's now teaching is family important lessons about the circle of life. The day after he died, my 7-year-old niece said she had felt him on her bed, protecting her as she slept. It didn't surprise me in the least: He was just that kind of dog.
PETS ON THE WEB
African Grey parrots are known to be among the best talkers around. But even for his species, Buba must be exceptional, with more than 200 phrases in his repertoire, including a handful in Hawaiian. The 11-year-old parrot lives there, no big surprise considering his vocabulary, where his day job involves shredding paper and erasing computer disks for Coconut Info Software. His Web site (www.dublclick.com/coconutinfo/buba.html) lists every word, phrase and sound effect Buba knows, with a few of them available as downloadable sound files, such as Buba asking "What's your ZIP code?" Don't miss the recording of the call from a "Tonight Show" staffer -- the bird has a career in show business ahead of him.
Stainless steel or high-impact plastic makes the best food and water dishes for pets -- easy to clean, unbreakable and resistant to scratches. They last forever, too. I'm still putting kibble in a stainless steel dish I bought 20 years ago. Forget cheap plastic. Some pets are allergic to the material, and the wear-and-tear a pet dishes out on these flimsies will leave scratches and tooth marks that will be hard to clean, and will provide a breeding ground for bacteria. Whether you choose high-impact plastic or stainless steel, remember to keep pet dishes clean. Wash them every day with a swipe of warm soapy water, and once a week, put them all through the dishwasher for a thorough, sterilizing clean.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: My daughter got us a puppy for Christmas. He is supposed to be a golden and something else, and about 3 months old. I am a little concerned because he is losing his baby teeth. Is that normal? We did call the vet, and he said it was OK. What do you think? We had a golden retriever for 14 years, and I don't ever remember her losing her teeth like that. -- T.F., via the Internet
A: Your veterinarian is right. It's perfectly normal for your puppy to be losing his baby teeth. Puppies have 28 of those sharp little puppy teeth, and they're usually replaced by 42 permanent ones by the age of 4 months.
It's not unusual to overlook the loss of puppy teeth. Sometimes they're swallowed; others may land in the grass or somewhere else they'll be hard to spot. Sometimes, though, they're stubborn about leaving, hanging on even when their replacement has erupted. If you observe a double row of teeth, call your veterinarian -- the baby teeth have worn out their welcome and may need to be surgically removed.
Teething can be irritating or even painful for a pup. Be sure to provide lots of chew toys to help your pup through the process. Another aid is a damp washcloth, tied into a knot, frozen and then given to the pup to chew. The cold feels good on those gums!
Q: I thought catnip was supposed to make cats playful and silly. When our cat comes into contact with catnip, he gets so relaxed he rolls onto his back and just chills out. It's as if he goes into a daze: He rubs his face all over the toy, rolls on his back and zones out. Any signs of playfulness he was showing just disappear after he comes into contact with catnip.
It's the funniest thing to see, but I am wondering why it seems to have such a calming effect on him. Any idea? -- K.D., via the Internet.
A: Every cat reacts in his own way to catnip. Some will be giddy, some dazed, and a large percentage won't react at all. (Kittens under the age of 3 months are not affected.)
The ability to appreciate the herb is genetically programmed, with slightly more cats in the catnip fan club than not. Catnip -- (BEGIN ITALS)nepeta cataria(END ITALS) -- contains a substance called "nepetalactone" in its leaves and stems, and this is what sets cats off. Rolling, rubbing, leaping, purring and general uninhibited happiness are all normal for a few minutes after exposure. The "high" is harmless and nonaddictive.
Catnip is fairly easy to grow, as is another plant cats love, valerian. Be sure to protect young plants, or your cats will pull them up by the roots. Clip pieces from established plants for your cat, stuffing them into toys, rubbing them on cat trees, or just offering them plain.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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