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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When giving pets oral medication, using their natural tendencies to persuade them is essential

One of the most common tasks that I need to ensure gets done when caring for my charges is giving any medication. Though a few meds are dispensed as a suspension, as a transdermal gel or even by injection (something that I had to begin recently with both of my pets), pills or capsules are the most common mode of delivery.

This doesn't make most animals feel especially cooperative, as many a pet owner can attest -- especially when it comes to the latter. Their size and shape can make things a bit more challenging.

There's a bit of an art to making the task of taking meds stress-free for dogs and cats, and as a caregiver to many four-legged charges, I've figured out a couple of tricks to facilitate this.

Dogs can be pretty easygoing when it comes to administering pills, as they are food motivated and believe me — I take full advantage of that. For most dogs, pill pockets work well, though some dogs get wise to the tactic so mixing things up a bit and employing a stealthy technique can be helpful.

There are a variety of things that you can use as treats to act as a foil for medications as most dog treats aren't soft enough to work with.
  • Cheese cubes (co-jack is ideal, because of it's soft, smushy yet firm texture)
  • a gob cream cheese
  • a piece of hot dog that's cut just big enough to hide the pill in
  • liverwurst (or cooked chicken livers that have been mashed and formed into balls)
  • a regular-sized marshmallow
  • a gob of Daiya (cheddar-style wedge)
  • canned dog food that's chilled and formed into a bite-sized meatball. (A bit of pâté-style canned cat food formed into a small meatball can be used as well.)


The trick to getting even the most reluctant canine to scarf down any one of these things is to make sure that they are good and hungry (give them before a meal), and have 4-5 treats in your hand, ready to offer one after another in rapid-fire succession, ensuring the highest value treats are doled out somewhere in the middle. For example, you might give a crunchy treat, a slightly higher value treat, then whatever you've hidden the medication in, then whatever is left in your hand. Most dogs are too busy thinking about getting the next treat that they don't pay attention to anything, and using this tactic seldom fails.

Cats can be a very different story, but it's important to note that there are pill pockets for our feline friends and some actually do eat the treat, pill and all so they are worth a try first.

Most cats require the use of a piller (swaddling helps calm them and keep you safe), and they can be obtained at your vet's office or at better pet stores. These gadgets make it easier and above all, they keep your fingers safe from those very sharp teeth. Though I am very experienced at pilling the most challenging feline, there are always a few out there that refuse any attempt to be coaxed into doing it or having it popped down the hatch with a piller.

Recently, I stumbled on a technique that has worked well, but I have yet to use it on every one of my feline charges that needs a pill. It's very simple and works on very much the same premise as the one that I fleshed out for dogs. It's genius!

Michelle Danna-Christian, DVM of Baltimore, MD gave the details on DVM360.com.

"I use Easy Cheese (Kraft). I make a line of cheese, then a dot, then another line. The dot contains the pill. Cats eat the cheese quickly, and because there is a second line, they continue to eat very quickly and swallow the pill without noticing they consumed it."

It doesn't seem to work if the pill is just stuck in a glob of cheese, Danna-Christian clarifies, as the cat will eat the cheese, leaving the pill behind.

"It's the line-dot-line technique that consistently works for my clients and me."


See my own cat, Silver, demonstrate how easily the aerosol cheese technique works. In the past, he's notoriously fractious when it comes to taking medication.


Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a regular contributor for The Ann Arbor News -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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