One of my friends is really good about taking her cats to the veterinarian when they're sick, but really bad about follow-up care. I explain to her (as does her veterinarian) that medication doesn't work if you don't put it in the cat as directed.
In response, she shrugs. "I do my best," she says, "but cats don't like to be pilled."
And she's right: Of all the pill-taking questions and suggestions I've received over the years, the most consistent complaints have come from cat lovers. Cats don't want to be bamboozled, cajoled or otherwise messed with. Take that pill and ... well, you know. And put the drops, creams and shots there, too.
But you just can't do that. 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.
So what do you do if your cat hates being medicated?
You can try to disguise a pill in a bit of something yummy in hopes that your pet doesn't notice the pill inside. Problem is, this 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.
For medicines that must be given for more than a short period, it's best to learn to pill your cat the way your veterinarian does. The direct method seems harder at first, but it can be easier on both you and your cat once you've mastered it. The trick is to be swift and deliberate: 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. A tip: Ask your veterinarian to demonstrate and to assist you in learning.
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 and treats. If you're having trouble medicating your pet, have your veterinarian walk you through it, or discuss alternatives.
Whatever you do, don't avoid giving your pet the medications he needs to get better. Get them in your cat, at prescribed intervals, for as long as you're instructed to.
A final important note about medications: Don't stop because your cat seems better, unless your veterinarian gives the OK first. Otherwise, you're flirting with a rebound of what made your cat sick in the first place.
If you have a tip for getting medications into your cat, let me know! I'll share them in an upcoming column.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Pet Loss Grief Support Web site (www.petloss.com) isn't the flashiest or slickest site around, but you'll never find one with more heart. The site includes bulletin boards and a chat room where people can share their feelings of grief (and often guilt), and get advice from other pet lovers who are also going through a difficult time. Memorial pages allow people to post their memories and pictures, while every Monday night the site hosts a candle ceremony to honor pets who have died.
Do have tissues at hand before visiting, though, because everything on the site is heartfelt -- and often heartbreaking.
Retrieving games are great for getting your dog some exercise and for strengthening the bond between the two of you. But sometimes those rousing games of fetch can end in serious injury if you're not careful about how you play the game.
Never throw things for your pet in a way that makes him leap high in the air or twist to catch it. If you do, your pet might seriously injure his legs or back upon landing, with the kind of damage that often requires expensive and painful surgery to correct.
Instead, throw the ball or other toy so it stays low and in front of your pet, to help him keep his body near the ground, running instead of leaping.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Would you please change your attitude about declawing? I have a cat I found outside last November. She was about 6 to 8 weeks old, and at times she acted very feral. I thought she scratched my dog's eye, so I decided she needed to be declawed. Now she is friendlier to my dog and to me, more loving and sociable. -- M.B., via e-mail
A: I'm not completely against declawing. As a last-chance cure for behaviors some people find intolerable, the surgery has kept a lot of cats from being dumped.
However, I am very much against the idea that declawing should be an automatic response to the first sign of scratching, or a pre-emptive strike to prevent a behavior problem that may never have occurred on its own.
Did it occur to you that the socializing you did with this kitten was what turned her temperament around, not the declawing? Chances are that your cat became more lovable because she learned to trust you and feel safe in your home, not because you had her toes surgically amputated at the first joint.
My advice to cat lovers: Don't assume scratching is going to be a problem, and if it becomes one, try training before surgery. If you provide your cat with places to scratch and train the animal to avoid furniture (such as by attaching double-sided tape), you may well be able to live quite happily with your cat, claws and all. As for the occasional swipe of the paw -- it's just part of living with a cat and rarely causes serious damage.
Q: On weekends, my husband and I love to get up early and take our Labrador on hikes. On more than one occasion, Sam has sniffed out and decided to roll in another animal's feces, such as horse or deer. He always seems extremely proud of himself after doing it, too. Why does he do this? Is there a way to stop it? -- B.H., via e-mail
A: For a few years, I had to avoid going to the river trail by my home when fish where spawning, because one of my dogs took such delight in rolling in the most rotting fish carcass he could find. And then there was the time at the ocean when the same dog happily found and threw himself into the bloated remains of a seal who had been dead for a very long time -- ugh!
Some behaviorists believe wolves and dogs instinctively want to smell like something they're not for camouflage purposes, to help them sneak up on prey. While that's a fine theory, the happy look on my own stinky dogs' faces over the years makes me think dogs just like rotten smells, want to wear them and enjoy sharing the stench with those they love.
What can you do? I'd suggest seeing a trainer who can help you strengthen your off-leash control over your dog, so he comes when you call him no matter the temptation. Ask the trainer about teaching the "don't touch" or "leave it" command as well.
Realistically, though, your dog may find rolling in feces or worse so delightful that the only way to stop this disgusting fun is to keep him on leash. Failing that, keep old sheets on the car seats and plenty of dog shampoo at home.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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