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Pets: Getting cats to take their meds

Q: Do you have any suggestions for giving my cat the anti-seizure meds she needs three times a day? I use Pill Pockets (flavored treats to hide pills inside), and sometimes she’ll take them. I’m planning a trip in late summer and am very concerned about the pet sitter being able to give the meds. Is there anything cats can’t resist that I might use to fool my cat into taking her pill?

– N.C., Margate, Fla.

A: “Over the years, many cat owners have told me it’s impossible to get pills into their cats,” says feline veterinarian Dr. Margie Scherk, of Vancouver, British Columbia. “They ask for liquid formulations because they think these will be easier (to give). Some ask for transdermal formulations, which are medications in a cream/ointment format that you rub on the inside of the ear. My favorites (for medical effectiveness) are pills or capsules.”

Scherk explains that “using a liquid, some of the dose remains in the syringe or dropper, and a lot of times the liquid that is delivered dribbles out of the cat’s mouth. So, some of the dose is on the furniture, on Fluffy’s chin and on the owner. Not so great.

“Even though we can get many medications compounded with flavors that cats like, such as tuna, chicken, beef, or liver, these specially formulated liquids are often not stable for the full duration that the cat needs them,” Scherk says. “The same goes for medicated chews. Unfortunately, there’s no assurance of stability or quality in any compounded product.”

Scherk says many transdermal products haven’t been tested. Of the approximately one dozen transdermals that have been evaluated, only three actually get into the blood stream at therapeutically effective doses. She says, “Traditional pills/capsules deliver a known dose. I like that. But there is a technique to getting them into a reluctant kitty. Trust me; I’ve pilled hundreds of cats! You’re using Pill Pockets, and they are terrific in most cases.”

But Scherk also has another idea: “If the pill doesn’t have an outrageously obnoxious flavor and if kitty has a soft spot for a particular kind of canned ‘junk’ cat food, using an inexpensive pill crusher from the drugstore, you can crush the pill into powder and mix it into a small, appetizer-size portion of the yummy food (your cat) doesn’t get as her main diet. Or try anchovy paste, Cheez Whiz, salmon cream cheese, smooth peanut butter, plain yogurt; all depending on what kitty thinks is fabulous.”

For cats for whom this doesn’t work, you can certainly use a pilling device, or “pilling gun,” available online and at some pet stores. Remember to flush the pill down with a bit of water, tuna juice or clam juice. Even when pilling by hand, you need that liquid chaser so pills don’t stick in your kitty’s throat.

Be quick and confident delivering pills, which may take practice. And reward your kitty with a special treat afterward.

As for pet sitters, some are more experienced at pilling cats than others. Consider a test run. Invite the pet sitter over and see how he or she handles giving meds to your pet. Or hire Scherk for the job!

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Q: I have three dogs and three cats, and they all get fleas. What am I doing wrong?

– D.C., Louisville, Ky.

A: Here’s the million-dollar question: Are you using a flea preventive on all pets in the home or just the dogs? According to veterinary parasitologist Dr. Michael Dryden, of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, “you also need to protect the cats, even if they’re indoors only. People tend to protect their dogs, which is wonderful. Then the fleas go to whomever they can bite, and they’re happy to take their blood meal from the cats.”

There are terrific feline flea products available for cats, Dryden says, including Advantage-Multi, Activyl for Cats, Revolution or Vectra for Cats. “All of these products have excellent residual speed of kill,” he says, “which means less biting, and that equates with fewer allergy responses and less suffering, not to mention cutting off flea reproduction. In other words, these products work.”

Flea products available through veterinary channels are far superior to random choices at big-box stores or buying online without veterinary advice.