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Healthy Paws: Tips on Administering Medication to Pets

Healthy Paws

Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.

As veterinarians, we are fortunate to have a wealth of prescription medications, supplements, vitamins, and other oral products at our disposal to help us effectively treat conditions ranging from thyroid disease to separation anxiety, skin infections to chronic arthritis pain, and dry coats to liver dysfunction.

Veterinarians are able to prescribe not only FDA-approved veterinary-specific drugs, but also can prescribe medications designed for human consumption “off-label” — thanks to the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994, which allows veterinarians to prescribed approved human drugs for appropriate animal uses.

But…the actual act of administering these medications is often easier said than done.  There’s no argument that having to administer a pill is a bit of a hassle, but more so for some pets than others.  The occasional very food-motivated dog may be willing to gobble down their medications simply thrown in with their meals; others need to be enticed with all sorts of delicacies in order to get them down…and cats are a whole other story!

Here are some of our tips:

  1. As mentioned above, some cooperative pets will eat a pill simply mixed in with their food – especially if a bit of canned food is used.
  2. Hot dogs, deli meats, chicken, cheese, peanut butter or bread – often something really enticing or high value such as these foods will be all that’s needed to administer a medication.  For example, the pill can be wrapped in a small bit of cheese and administered.  The caveat here is that any of these have the potential to cause mild GI upset — so we recommend using as small amount as possible, and monitoring to be sure your pet is tolerating them well.
  3. Pill Pockets and similar products, have been a game-changer for administering pills.  These are soft treats with a divot or hole in the center to allow a pill to be placed.  When the treat is “smooshed” around the pill it creates a palatable treat, effectively disguising the medication.  For especially finicky pets, we recommend using one hand to place the medication in the hole, and the other to “squish” the treat, so that there is no residue from the medication on the outside of the treat.  In our experience, about 50 percent of cats will also take Pill Pockets willingly — so this is often our first recommendation for cats.
  4. Manual administration – this involves using hands, fingers, or a special “pill popper” to get the pill to the back of the pet’s throat, where it will then be swallowed.  Care needs to be taken to follow this type of administration with a bit of water, to be sure that the pill does not become lodged in the back of the throat or the esophagus — where certain medications can cause a lot of damage.
  5. Some medications can be specially compounded into a more palatable or easy-to-administer form such as chicken-flavored liquid (surprisingly, we have found that chicken-marshmallow is a popular flavor), or a meat-flavored soft-chew (instead of a bitter tablet).  We recommend talking with your pet’s veterinarian about whether this may be an option for difficult-to-administer medications.  In some cases, two medications can be combined together, to allow only one administration.
  6. For some pets, a liquid formulation is preferable to a tablet or capsule formulation — if you know your pet does better with pills versus liquid, or vice versa, be sure to mention this to your pet’s veterinarian, so they can dispense the medication in the preferred form, if available.  Additionally, For a few conditions, a long-acting injection may be substituted for a daily or twice daily oral medication, so it is worthwhile asking your veterinarian about this if you know your pet is difficult to medicate.

To make matters worse, some medications are best given on an empty stomach due to how they are absorbed. In these cases, we often recommend putting the medication in a mini marshmallow, as this is palatable to many dogs and does not stimulate the gastric secretions like cheese, peanut butter, or even bread might.

Here are some videos demonstrating various techniques of administering medications to cats, who tend to be the most unwilling participants.

While it may take a bit of trial and error, it’s quite often possible to find a method that works consistently and with as little stress to both owner and pet as possible.

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