LOS ANGELES — Giving pills to your pet may be more traumatic for you than the animal, but it doesn't have to be.
There are many ways to get the job done. You can hold a small dog or cat like a football or a baseball; wrap the cat like a burrito; try decoys and disguises; or arm yourself with squeeze cheese.
Whatever you do, "Be cool, calm, collected and quick," said Janet Winikoff, director of education for the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County in Vero Beach. She has given pills, injections, liquids and subcutaneous fluids to shelter animals and her own pets over the years.
Administer medications with confidence and the least amount of restraint, she said. "For many pets, the more restraint you use, the more they struggle and become stressed."
Cats are usually harder to medicate than dogs. Many dogs, especially bigger ones, appear to inhale their food, so they barely notice a little medicine. Cats are more likely to chew and bite down on a pill, spit it out and leave it behind.
Greenies and Pill Pockets are hollow treats made to hold pills and are extremely popular for both dogs and cats. But you might have something right in your fridge that can disguise a pill: liverwurst, baby food, cream cheese, string cheese, meatballs, tuna or peanut butter. Rolling a pill in butter will make it easier for the pet to swallow.
Everyone seems to have a trick. One person online suggested crushing the pill, mixing it with something sticky and rubbing it on the cat's gum. Someone else suggested dabbing a squirt of squeeze cheese on your cat's paw right after giving a pill so the animal has something else to think about besides the bad taste of the medicine.
For dogs who must take pills for a long time, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests cutting up hot dogs or cheese, or using small chunks of ground beef or chicken, and giving your dog 10 to 20 decoy treats in a row. Do that two or three times a day for several days to prepare your dog before sneaking a pill into one of the bites.
Most vets will tell you to hold the pet's lower jaw in one hand and upper jaw in the other and lift the animal's head toward the ceiling before popping the pill in its mouth.
Ask your vet for a demonstration, and also ask what to do if things don't go as planned, Winikoff said. "Sometimes you think you're successful only to find a half-dissolved pill on the carpet several hours later. Do you re-administer? Wait? Try another method?"
To avoid giving an animal the wrong medication, Winikoff suggests a checklist of "five rights": Right patient, right drug, right dosage, right route, right time."