5 Steps to Take The Stress Out of Medicating Your Cat
Now that you know the stress triggers, think creatively about what can be eliminated or changed. If your cat is struggling with a pill, consider a liquid, tiny taste tab, transdermal or injectable. If your cat hisses, swats, or attempts to bite stop! Do the opposite of what the past process was to decrease the aggression. If he/she was held – use food for the cat to eat, and no one holds the cat. If you'd have to chase you cat down, teach your cat to come to the medication area by giving treats every day for coming to the area without medicating.
Set up a home care area. For instance, a counter or tabletop with a nice blanket, and super delicious treats are the basics to have. Now, call your cat up to this area for treats and nothing else. You want your cat to experience this medication spot as a fun place to be at any time. You could also use Feliway spray (available at your veterinary hospital) to mark the area.
Ask yourself how you give medication, and what your cat acts like before, during, and after. The touch, reach, or item that causes the cat to hide, or struggle is the trigger for stress. Avoiding these triggers, and changing the approach is the quickest way to decrease stress. Download the Feline Ladder of Aggression here and match what your cat looks like with each step of the process of medicating the cat. This will help you find the triggers to eliminate
Every step of the process of giving the medication needs to be matched with whatever is rewarding to your cat – tidbits of treat, rubbing the cheeks, a soothing voice. This helps your cat to learn each step has a reward for him/her. If your cat will not eat or starts to increase in body tension – stop! Do not go further. Check to see what you can eliminate (get your hands off their body) or can keep that stimulus to no longer than one second. If you keep touching your cat, you may over-stimulate him/her, and cause stress escalation. Keeping holds and touch short, limits escalation. This concept can be the toughest part to change for cat parents. We think logically – that holding longer will prevent the cat from struggling but, they struggle more. Be aware of keeping any restraint to a minimum and relax your hold quickly.
Give your cat some time and rewards when you have finished relaxing on the medication spot. This is the concept of the “Last Memory is the lasting memory.” If you allow your cat to jump down or run away, they are doing so in fear. If you give your cat a few seconds to calm down and they take a reward, it builds the good memory that this spot is nice to be on. And that is the point of Low-Stress care – to have the pet choose to cooperate for care.
by Sally J. Foote DVM.