Just when you think you know everything about how to pill a cat, something new comes along. That’s how one of my readers felt after a recent hospital visit with one of her cats. Here’s what she asked, and my response:
Q: There’s a new young veterinarian at the hospital where we take our cats. One of our cats is on daily medications, and we’ve gotten very good at “pilling” her. The new vet mentioned that we should follow the pill with a little water to wash it down. She said doing so could prevent a very serious medical condition. Is this new information? Because we’ve been pilling cats for years and this was news to us.
A: This advice has been around for more than few years now. “Dry-pilling” a cat is thought to be one of the triggers for a condition called esophageal stricture. A tablet stuck in the esophagus — the tube leading to the stomach — may trigger inflammation and scarring. Once this occurs, a cat may have difficulty swallowing food or water.
I recently saw startling imagery of what these strictures look like. At a seminar at the Western Veterinary Conference on how to best help these cats, presenters showed images in which the shape of a pill was a near-perfect match for the shape of the scarring.
According to research by veterinarians at Colorado State University, the risk of pill-related stricture is almost completely eliminated by “chasing” the pill with water. Researchers found that without water, almost two-thirds of the pill had yet to reach the stomach within five minutes. But with water, 100 percent of the pill was safely in the stomach within a single minute.
One of the simplest ways to keep a pill moving is by filling a needleless syringe with about a teaspoon of water (6 milliliters) and following the pill with the water in the same way you would give a liquid medication. Your veterinarian can provide you with appropriately sized syringes and demonstrate technique.
There may be an easier option, though. My friend Dr. Susan Little, an expert in feline medicine who has long been associated with Winn Feline Foundation, has written that a smidge of butter or cream cheese given to your cat as a post-pilling treat will accomplish the same goal.
Read about pet therapy, the top ten pet birds, and more in this week’s Pet Connection.