Giving Cats Tablets (Or Ointment)

The advice you are getting is wrong. I’m to blame as much as anyone else. For years I’ve been blithely telling people how easy it will be. It was a friend of mine who first said, “Andrew, it was nothing like you showed me,” Then my own cat showed me, big time.

There’s a big difference between what happens in my clinic and what happens at home. I like to believe I can safely give pills to almost any of my patients but when it came to treating Grendel, I got scratched.

It showed me that we’re asking and answering the wrong question. In failing to see the problem, we’re causing cats to miss essential medicines and people to get injured. I’ll answer the right question in a minute, but first, we need to talk about safety.

Why Cats Are So Dangerous

It’s not just the teeth and claws. Yes, cats can give you a painful scratch or bite, but the wounds are usually small punctures. They should heal quickly without requiring stitches.

It’s the infection that follows. Every vet knows to go to the doctor as soon as possible after a deep bite but how many cat owners know this? Once the infection sets in, it’s not unusual to need intravenous antibiotics in hospital.

Wounds from cats quickly close over, can’t be disinfected and aren’t exposed to oxygen. The bacteria found on cats’ teeth and claws multiply rapidly and start spreading, even in normal, healthy people. When a person has poor circulation, advanced age or a weak immune system, it only gets worse.

The Right Question To Ask

Now, let’s return to the original problem. When I said that giving cats pills was easy I had two big advantages over you:

  1. Cats at the vet are scared and usually smart enough to cooperate
  2. Our nurses make cat handling look easy

When I went home I was just like you: facing down a stroppy cat with help only from family members. That’s when it became clear; giving pills or ointment is less important than knowing you are safe while you do it. Then you can take your time and do a good job without fear, struggle or injury (and avoid arguments!).

Nowadays, when I demonstrate pilling to cat owners, I tell the person holding the cat that they have the most important job. Yet for all the Google searches on “how to give a cat a tablet” you don’t ever see people searching how to hold cats. It’s time to set the record straight. The question they should ask is:

How Do I Hold A Cat For Medicine?

Holding a cat well is the secret to successful medication.

  1. Get ready by clipping your cat’s nails and wearing long sleeves
  2. Choose a flat surface such as a tabletop or your lap
  3. If you use your lap you need to wear thick trousers or cover your legs in a rug
  4. Position the cat sitting or crouching and faced away from you
  5. Slide each of your hands down the chest until you grasp and control one forearm in each hand
  6. Now tuck your arms in until they box your cat and prevent the hind legs from slipping out
  7. Lean your head back so the other person can get access and away they go
  8. The videos at the start show a good pilling or ointment technique

Your cat will often wriggle out of the hold or get the back legs free. Just start again as calmly and patiently as you can; if you feel yourself getting cross, take a break.

Now have a look at the video. That’s not a happy cat but he’s tolerating it and the good hold makes it easy and quick.

How To Give A Cat A Pill By Yourself

What if you can’t get anyone to help you? Realistically I don’t think it’s safe for most people to do this on their own. If you want to try, the technique is to wrap your cat in a towel and peg it around the neck like at the hairdresser. This keeps the claws under wraps. Then you face the cat away from yourself with your elbows keeping them in place while your hands give the pill.

So is it an option to avoid tablets? Sometimes the answer is yes, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Don’t be shy; we’d rather be successful than have you injured and cats not treated. Visit this page for other ways to medicate cats.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Help! My Pet Is Going Deaf

Deafness in dogs and cats is important to understand. You need to know which puppies and kittens might be born deaf and recognise when it’s a sign of serious problems. You also need to know when it’s normal.

Why Dogs & Cats Go Deaf

There are only three common causes of deafness in dogs and cats:

  1. Being born congenitally deaf
  2. Having a severe and prolonged ear infection
  3. A normal part of aging

Certain medicines can also cause deafness but that’s quite rare.

If we’re lucky we’ll all live with a deaf pet one day. All it takes is for them to live long enough. When that happens, how do you know their hearing loss is just age-related and not a sign of something worse? Let’s go through the causes one by one…

Congenital Hearing Loss

Certain breeds of dog and cat are well known to be at risk of deafness. Within these breeds, deafness is usually more common with particular coat patterns. For example, did you know that you can predict the rate of deafness in Aussie Cattle Dogs by their markings?

Read more in our guide to deafness in puppies and kittens.

Ear Infections

In our Adelaide clinic, the number one reason for an appointment is a dog with an ear infection. They are so common that any pet with hearing loss should be checked for an infection first. Cats don’t get them as much, but when they do they are usually worse and more likely to damage hearing.

Despite the pain, pets don’t always tell you when they have an ear infection. Signs of an ear problem include:

  • Discharge visible in the ear
  • Shaking the head
  • A smell from the ear
  • And of course, deafness

Your vet will need to use an otoscope to inspect the deep part of the canal and eardrum. Once you see the diagram of the ear on our page explaining ear infections you will understand why.

Loss of hearing can be due to the buildup of this wax or infected discharge. Worse, it can be due to eardrum rupture and inner ear disease. Get your vet involved; as soon as we know about it we can make it better.

Drug-Induced Hearing Loss

There is a long list of potentially ototoxic drugs. In reality, most of these can be safely used without ever seeing problems with hearing. In fact, in my clinic, I have never seen permanent deafness caused by medication.

Why? We know which drugs to be careful with, and there are usually safer alternatives. We also never put harmful drugs into ears when the eardrum may be ruptured. That’s why you should never put any treatment, and especially ear cleaners, into an infected ear without a checkup first. That’s also sometimes why we won’t be happy to treat an ear without an anaesthetic first.

Age-Related Hearing Loss

The danger with loss of hearing in the elderly is in assuming an animal is deaf just because they are old. Too many pets are walking around with ear problems that could be fixed. To be confident that deafness is a part of normal aging, I need all these three things to be true:

  1. A normal ear examination
  2. No history of ear damage
  3. A dog to be over 13, or a cat over 15

How To Tell If A Dog Or Cat Is Deaf

Most of the time, a responsive owner will easily pick up the early signs of hearing loss. These include:

  • Failure to come when called. This should get worse the further away you are.
  • Failure to respond when distracted. Early hearing loss looks like selective hearing because if they aren’t concentrating they don’t notice you.
  • Spending more time sleeping.
  • Acting startled when roused from sleep

Warning: young puppies and kittens up to 12 weeks can do all of these things and still have good hearing. They just aren’t as responsive as adults.

If in doubt, see the vet. We get asked about potential deafness all the time, know what a normal animal looks like and can inspect the entire ear for an infection.

Pet Hearing Test

  1. Choose a time when your dog or cat is relaxed on the floor but not asleep
  2. Make a noise from behind where the movement can’t be seen
  3. Start quietly in case they get frightened and don’t do it so close you make a puff of air
  4. You may need to make a loud clap or use a favourite squeaker
  5. Watch the ears or eyes: a positive response may only be a quick twitch in your direction

Specialised hearing tests for breeding purposes called BAER are necessary to look for deafness in just one ear. In South Australia this can be performed at Adelaide Plains Veterinary Surgery.

Living With A Deaf Dog or Cat

Here are some simple considerations I learned from having deaf pets of my own:

  • Sleeping pets need to be woken gently as they can easily get startled. However, if you don’t seek them out, they may sleep their lives away.
  • Training needs to be tailored to deaf dogs. Emphasis needs to be on gaining a dog’s attention and using hand signals instead of voice. Vibrating collars are also available.
  • For their own safety, off-leash activity for dogs and outdoor access for cats are probably best not done at all.

Indoors isn’t just to avoid short-term dangers either. Congenitally deaf animals usually lack the same skin pigments that help protect against sunburn and skin cancer.

Other than these ideas I can’t pretend to be an expert, but you can find plenty of trainers who are. Whether they are born deaf, or lose hearing later, dogs and cats without hearing will live normal, happy lives. All it takes is a bit of flexibility and an understanding of their disability.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

The Look Of Thyroid Problems

The picture above shows Bingo, a cat from our clinic before and after treatment. I need all cat owners to know the warning signs of this insidious disease.

You are looking at one of the top three diseases of older cats. Without treatment, it causes significant health problems leading to early death. I would say that when you compare the pictures, it’s obvious. Yet it’s still missed all the time. Read more

Help! My Cat Is Drinking A Lot

At A Glance (Details Below)

What To Do

If A Cat Drinks More Than Usual

  1. It could be due to diabetes, kidney or thyroid disease
  2. These are all easily diagnosed on routine blood & urine testing
  3. The top three causes can all be managed or treated if detected in time
  4. If testing is normal, there’s usually nothing to worry about


Now dive deeper… Read more