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Monday, January 16, 2012

The art of pilling a cat

When recently faced with the doom of giving our cat a pill, I naturally turned to my daughter in Seattle, a licensed Veterinary Technician who has seen it all and then some...

Her advice was spot-on and delivered in her usual dry sardonic voice, which begs to be shared, so I will. April's ninja cat-pilling technique follows: pilling is an artform.  I used to have a hilarious account of "How to Pill a Cat" that had steps like "Retrieve pill from underside of couch" and "Remove cat from curtains."  It was posted on the volunteer board in Pasado's Kitty City where I was pilling dozens of cats on a daily basis...or worse, administering eye drops or giving fluids daily!
[At the Center for Bird & Exotic Animal Medicine where she works now] We give our patients their first dose and at the same time instruct the owner in how to give it, so they can see exactly how to give the medicine as we are giving it and ask any questions.  Considering what a chore cat pilling can be if you don't know what to do, it helps to have some visuals.  It's not that hard if you know what to do and do it with confidence.  If you are wishy-washy at all in your technique, the cat will win.  If you are calm, confident, and FAST, the cat will be pilled every time.

This is going to be difficult to explain over email, but I'll give it a shot.  It works much better in person where you can see how the hold works and where, because positioning is everything and above all, you want to go quickly.  Fast, fast, fast, before the kitteh can figure out an escape plan and wriggle out of your grasp.  It helps to grow a third arm. 
Make sure you have the pill out on the counter and ready to use BEFORE you catch the cat.  There will be no time to fumble with opening bottles or sorting out pills once you have caught the cat. Set out the pill on the counter, make sure anything you don't want knocked over is removed from the space, and catch the cat.  You're going to want to put him/her on a counter top or table top so that you have leverage (humans work best when they are standing.  If you try to do this sitting or on the floor, you won't have enough leverage).  Tuck her rump under your arm, against your side and chest.  I would recommend doing this on your left side if you are right handed.  Pull your elbow in toward your body (kitty's first instinct will be to back-peddle when the pilling starts--if you don't block her with your elbow, she will slide out from under your arm).  Using the left hand, grasp over the top of the head firmly gripping under the occipital arch. (There is a place where the bones of the eye socket connect to the skull--it slightly indents. It's sort of below the ears, behind the edge of the eyes. This is the place you want to grasp.)  If you are in the right place, you will have a firm grasp of her head, out of the range of any moveable parts and below the actual eye, so there is not any pressure on the soft tissue.  It should feel bony.  Tilt her head back (nose pointing upward). 
The construction of a cat's jaw prevents them from being able to firmly close the mandible in this position, which means her front teeth will slide slightly apart, giving you room to place your finger.  If the hold is correct, you will have control of her head and she will not be able to bite you or exert enough force with the incisors to matter.  Using your right hand, pick up the pill (between thumb and forefinger), and pull the lower jaw open enough to poke the pill into the back of the mouth (use the middle finger to lever the mouth open, and poke with forefinger).  Aim for the throat, not the oral cavity.  The further in it goes, the higher the chance she will swallow it.  If it is in the center of the mouth or near the front of the mouth, she can use her tongue to push it back out.  You want to do this QUICKLY, in a swift, fluid movement and then close your hand around her muzzle gently to keep her mouth closed.  Keep the head tilted upward and either brush against her throat with a downward stroke or blow very gently on her nostrils to induce swallowing.  The moment you feel she has swallowed, let go of the cat and back up so she can explode away from you and not through you.

If you do this quickly and hold kitty as I've instructed, she will not be able to get away from you or maneuver to bite you in the process.  Be firm and don't let go until you're done.  If your grip loosens, or you are unsure of yourself and you let go, she will be gone and she'll be 10X harder to pill the second time around because she'll be anticipating it (AND anticipating that if she fights hard enough, she'll get free!  Don't let her learn that as an option)!  Each time you do it, make it quick so that it's over before she has a chance to realize what just happened.  If you give her time to realize, "OH! We're doing THIS again!" it will become a fight. If you just scoop her up as if it's nothing and then pill her quickly and let her go, she'll be over it just as fast, and it won't be such a big deal for cat or humans.
Yes, she's right. This works every time if you are fast enough and bold enough. A moment's hesitation or indecision and all is lost!

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