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Survey says – cat owners have a hard time medicating their cats

If you’re a cat owner, you most likely have had to administer some form of medication to your cat. Whether pills, eye drops, injections, a liquid, an inhaler, a spot-on treatment, or similar – many of us have been faced with a moment of wondering – just how are we supposed to get this in (or on) our cat? You’re assessing your cat’s claws, thinking about their teeth…and now you’re supposed to put a pill in their mouth??

You can rest assured, you’re not alone if you’ve felt this way. A lot of people have challenges with giving their cats medications, which can have serious consequences – for the cat’s health (if they don’t get their medication), for the human (stress and possible injury), and for the cat-human bond (if the cat becomes fearful or avoidant of their human).

A new survey-based study, “Online survey of owners’ experiences of medicating their cats at home,” published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, asked cat owners just how they feel about giving their cats medication. Over 2500 valid responses were received, with almost 800 of them coming from people with some level of veterinary or behavioral experience (they were called “cat owners+”). Almost all of the participants had at some point given their cats medication. The most commonly administered meds were pills, spot-on (e.g., flea/tick treatment), and liquid medication.

Almost half of participants said that their veterinary clinic always gave them instruction on giving their cats medication, meaning that almost half said they only got advice “sometimes” or “never.” Two-thirds of owners were advised about whether the medication should be given with food, but less than half were informed as to whether pills could be crushed or if medications could be mixed with food. Cat owners often sought information online about how to medicate their cat.

Cat owners overwhelmingly preferred to give their cats medication that was in a liquid form, with many also noting that they like to hide the medication in food or a treat. A close runner-up was just putting a pill in their cat’s mouth. However, owners were much more likely to rank giving cats a pill as difficult, often due to the cat spitting out the pill. Around 40% of participants rated pills and capsules as difficult to administer, with almost 9% rating pills as “impossible” to give. Over 70% of owners also reported that their cat would refuse food with medication in it. On top of this, 77% of cat owners said their cat tried to bite or scratch them when they tried to medicate them, and almost 50% were afraid they might hurt their cat while giving them medication.

Luckily, most people were able to finish their cat’s course of treatment, but over 10% had stopped medicating their cats because “the medicine was difficult to give.” Of those who had difficulties, only 41.8% contacted their veterinarian for help. In general, the “cat owners+” reported fewer difficulties with medicating their cats, suggesting that more experience with handling cats can make it easier to treat them.

What can be done to help cats get their medicine without stressing out owners? I’ve got a few ideas!

  1. Veterinary clinics should provide more assistance and demonstrations of how to medicate cats
  2. Veterinary clinics should check in with all clients who are medicating their cats a few days after meds are prescribed, to see if they are having any struggles, and to let them know to reach out ASAP if they are
  3. Clients need referrals to readily available, high-quality, online resources on medicating cats (see below for a list!)
  4. Cat owners need to be aware of options for compounding medications – some can be turned into tasty treats, liquids, mini-melts (which break down as soon as they contact mucous membranes in the mouth), or ear gels. There are also products like Pill Pockets and pill pastes that can help hide medications and make your cat think they’re just getting a treat

Personally, I’m a big fan of the “gel cap + churu” method that has been demonstrated by Ingrid Johnson, Deb Jones & Dr. Kris Chandroo among others. You can either get meds compounded into a capsule, or place a pill inside a gel cap (you can even place multiple pills inside one gel cap). Coat the capsule with something delicious your cat loves, and they may just swallow the gel cap without even knowing you just medicated them! No hands in mouths! No pinning down your cat. No spitting out pills due to a terrible taste or texture! I practice on my cats regularly with empty size 3 gel caps so they are ready when they need actual meds.

But there are plenty of options for help out there! One of my cat training heroes, Caroline Crevier-Chabot has created a website with an extensive collection of videos on various aspects of training and medicating, including cooperative care (where your cat actively participates and gives permission to get medication and handling). This should be bookmarked on everyone’s computer!!!

Ingrid Johnson has several great videos on medicating cats (also included in the aforementioned collection) and offers consultations specifically for those needing help medicating their cats.

Dr. Kris Chandroo (who I’ve previously interviewed), has a website and course to help medicating cats when you have challenges.

Finally, J.R. Henderson offers a great class on training and “cat herding” including prepping your cat for some aspects of cooperative care (such as stationing and a chin rest).

No cat should go without necessary medical treatment because an owner is struggling with getting medication into their cat. I hope these resources help people know there are options, and that this recently published research helps veterinary professionals understand the extent to which their clients might be struggling!

Reference

Taylor, S., Caney, S., Bessant, C., & Gunn-Moore, D. (2022). Online survey of owners’ experiences of medicating their cats at home. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 1098612X221083752.

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