By Christie Long
Veterinarians like to measure something called “compliance.” Compliance is the rate at which our clients, the owners of the animals we treat, follow our treatment recommendations. In its simplest form it often comes down to whether owners give their pets the medications we prescribe.
I’ll admit, I can sometimes have a cavalier attitude surrounding the ease with which medications can be given. When you medicate patients day in and day out like I do, you get pretty good at it. But if it’s not something you do every day, or if you’ve never done it, it can be daunting.
In my career, I’ve known several dogs, and even a couple of cats, that would eat pills out of hand, no questions asked.
This, unfortunately, is the exception, and not the rule. Medicating dogs and cats usually involves disguising the drug in some way, although some of them will allow you to open their mouths and place medication on the back of their tongues, and will swallow them after a gentle shove down the throat with your finger.
One of the most successful veterinary products to come down the pike in recent years is something called a Pill Pocket. Made by the people who brought us Greenies, the breath-freshening dental chew, Pill Pockets are a soft chew designed to have a hollow center. It’s easy to put almost any tablet or capsule into the center of a Pill Pocket, and mold the treat so that it’s closed over the medication. With flavors ranging from peanut butter to hickory smoked barbeque, it’s rare to find the dog that can’t be medicated if the owners have Pill Pockets in their arsenal.
I, however, have one of them, a tiny Chihuahua with a big attitude. Gizmo is automatically suspicious of anything apparently unearned and delicious. For him and those like him, liquid medications that can be administered through an oral syringe are useful. Thanks to veterinary compounding pharmacies, medications can be precisely formulated to your veterinarian’s specifications, and flavored to taste like chicken, tuna, beef, and even carrots and grapes for pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs.
Owners often ask if they can just put medications or supplements onto their pet’s food. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Cats are especially suspicious of anything that smells “different” in their food, and it can clearly be inefficacious or even dangerous for your pet to get only some or none of the prescribed dose of medication. Some of my clients have had success dissolving pills or putting liquid medications into a very small amount of something extremely tasty, such as baby food or tuna juice, and offering it as a treat.
A few medications work if they are formulated into a lotion and rubbed onto the skin. Cats with overactive thyroid glands are often extremely difficult to medicate, and this strategy is very popular with their owners.
It’s important to make sure other cats in the household are not licking the medication off the skin once applied.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.