Of all the readers I heard from following my column on giving pills to cats, I got the biggest laugh from a fellow who perfectly captured the challenge of keeping kitties medicated.
"Tried your pill-giving method on our big orange tomcat," e-mailed Soap Dowell from the Sacramento, Calif., suburb of Gold River. "Expect to be up and around for Independence Day."
Well, Mr. Dowell, here's hoping your supply of Band-Aids is well-stocked. And read on for some pill-popping suggestions from cat-loving readers:
-- "My cat likes people food, such as tapioca, but he won't eat it from a dish on the floor. It has to be spoon-fed. When the veterinarian gave me antibiotics for him, I put the dose in a dropper, put a dab of orange yogurt on a teaspoon and added a few drops of the medicine from the dropper. After a few bites, all the medicine was in him."
-- "My method involves getting the cat's mind on something other than what you are doing to him. I set an open tin of cat tuna on the counter, then set down the pills or open container of fluid medication. I put the cat just far enough away from the food so he can't start eating immediately. Give the cat a moment to savor the odor, perhaps begin to salivate, then quickly open the mouth, pop in the pill or fluid, and push the food under the cat's nose. Allow him to eat a bit of it so he feels rewarded."
-- "In my work I have used a lot of syringes, and I would not recommend them for providing fluid medication to a cat. The ends are too flat and many have that awkward double ring of plastic flanges. A plastic eyedropper is the way to go. These days most fluid medication comes with a marked plastic dropper."
-- "Run the pill or capsule under a little water before putting it down the cat's throat. They'll swallow it a little more easily."
-- "Don't bother trying to disguise medicines in food. Cats will lick a pill perfectly clean of food or, if the pill is crushed, will eat only part (or none) of the food so you won't know whether he's gotten a full dose. Instead, coat the pill very lightly with butter or margarine to help it slip down more easily."
-- "Have the cat seated on a table and have the pill and a pencil with an eraser at hand. Secure his body with your left arm, tip his head back into your left hand, gently pressing his mouth open with left thumb and middle finger. With your right hand quickly drop the pill into the back of his mouth, pick up the pencil, and with the eraser end lightly tap the pill down his throat. He'll swallow immediately." (Another variation on this came from a reader who secures the pill to the eraser with a dab of Vaseline and then pushes the pencil, eraser-end first, to the back of the cat's throat.)
-- "If the pill is small enough to fit through a straw, tape one end of the straw shut. (Or if the pill is too big, cut the pill in half.) Then drop the pill down the straw. Open the cat's mouth and aim the straw into the cat's throat, behind the tongue. The pill will fall out of the straw, into the cat's throat."
-- "We crush the pill in about a teaspoon of canned cat food. This works best when it is a fresh can of something she likes, of course. If we have any doubt about how well received the food will be (she does get finicky, of course), we then use about a half-teaspoon of hairball remedy. The flavor is strong enough to disguise any medicinal taste, and she, like most cats, loves it. As a bonus, we are preventing hairballs at the same time."
-- "When it comes to applying eye ointment, I first thoroughly wash my hands. Then I put a short line of ointment on one finger and -- using the other hand to hold the cat's eye open and head steady -- wipe the ointment from my finger into the lower eyelid. I then close the eye, release the cat, offer an already prepared bowl of tuna and then wash my hands again."
-- "I am a registered veterinary technician, and this is how I demonstrate it to our clients: Grasp the cat firmly (but gently) by the scruff of the neck and lift up so the cat's front feet are just off the ground and the cat is looking at the ceiling. The cat will be relaxed and you can easily open the mouth and slip a pill in. Follow with a small amount of water in a syringe or eyedropper. Pets get pills stuck in their throats, too! Also, the liquid will induce the cat to swallow."
Several cat owners as well as veterinarians and veterinary technicians pointed out that there are options to pills. If you absolutely can't "pill" your cat, talk to your veterinarian about getting the medication in a different form. One possibility may be a gel that is absorbed through the skin.
Thanks to all the readers who offered suggestions. Because of your advice, a lot more cats will be getting the medication they need to stay healthy.
PETS ON THE WEB
I don't find many bird-care Web sites I like -- too many rely on old wives' tales and home remedies that are years out of date and can be dangerous. But Wingwise (www.wingwise.com) is one I can recommend without reservation. The site is impressively broad in its scope, with information on basic care such as nutrition, common illnesses and emergency situations. I especially like the pop-up glossary feature: If you click on a highlighted word, the definition comes up in a small new window.
All pets need a ready supply of water, especially when the weather gets hot. For pets who drink from water bottles (such as birds, rabbits and hamsters), touch the tip of the bottle's neck with your finger a couple of times a day to be sure there's no clog. For outdoor pets, be sure the water source is protected from the sun and is in a place where your pet can always get to it. To keep things cool for pets who get their water in a dish, freeze water in margarine tubs and put one or more of these ice blocks into your pet's water dish before leaving for work.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We just adopted a 10-month-old semi-longhaired female cat from the humane society. Her actual breed is not important to me, but I'd like to be able to describe her color correctly. She was originally listed as a tortie, but then it was changed to calico. She is a combination of solid gold, black and white with some tiger stripes on her front legs. What is the difference between a calico and a tortie, or are they synonymous? Do the terms calico and tortie refer to a breed or a color? -- E.P., via e-mail
A: Calico and tortoiseshell refer to markings, not a breed. In fact, the calico and tortie patterns turn up in many different breeds of pedigreed cats. The difference: The orange, black and white colors are distinct, separate and solid patches on the calico, while on the tortie the colors are swirled together.
Your cat sounds like what my mom used to call "Heinz 57," a mix of a lot of genetic influences, with both the genes for the calico/tortie and the tabby patterns in place.
I'd just call her "beautiful" and be done with it. Your veterinarian will likely put her down on the medical record as a DSH or DLH: domestic shorthair or domestic longhair.
Q: What can I give my dog for pain after surgery? -- S.R., via e-mail
A: Although a lot of people give over-the-counter people medications to their pets regularly -- and I admit to being one of them, at times -- I prefer to recommend that you check with your veterinarian.
Chances are you'll be told to give buffered or coated aspirin, or you may be given a prescription for one of the handful of pain-relievers common in veterinary practice. The decision of what to give (if anything) should be made with the help of your veterinarian. Communication with this health-care professional is key to getting the best care for your pet.
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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