vet gives medication to cat
Want to learn how to give your cat a pill in 20 easy steps? Get in line.

Although it may seem pedestrian and trite at first blush, this is a serious subject. There’s nothing as sad as having to euthanize a patient because an owner can’t or won’t deliver the necessary drugs as directed.

It happens — and more often than you’d think.

Medicating felines is a stressful thing that colors much of our veterinary working lives, which invariably gets me thinking about cat owners who protest too much. Honestly, have they ever tried pilling a resistant hamster?

My point is not that felines aren’t tough to medicate. It’s that all animals are hard to medicate — humans included. This is why drug delivery is such a crucial issue in medicine. In case you can’t already tell, this topic is a personal favorite of mine. Maybe it’s because I have trouble giving one of my dogs any kind of oral medication whatsoever or perhaps it’s because I’m aware of my own less-than-perfect behavior when it comes to taking meds.

There’s also the in-between reality: Spotty drug delivery often affects a pet’s response to recommended therapy. In these cases, pets languish longer in sickly states, and they take longer to recover from wounds — turning drug delivery into an animal welfare issue and not just a concern for nerdy vets who want to see patients respond well to their care.

So how does this veterinarian handle the drug delivery thing? Here are five modern vet solutions for dealing with hard-to-swallow drugs:

1. Take the Time to Educate Yourself

This is a no-brainer first line of defense for any pet owner. Pilling is a skill that can be learned. Of course, not all pets are amenable to the procedure, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Plus, there are many cool tips that vets can offer you, so there’s no earthly reason why you shouldn’t ask for help.

2. Ask for an Alternative Method

Don’t be shy. If you’re unable to accomplish what your vet recommends even after you’ve tried your best, be honest. This way, your vet can look for chewable, liquid or even topical alternatives.

3. Consider Using Drugs That Last Longer

With antibiotics, in particular, there’s nothing worse than an intermittent ability to medicate. After all, antibiotic resistance is a big issue that’s only amplified by difficult animal behavior. The solution: Ask your vet if there is a more long-lasting drug that will work for your pet.

4. Turn Drug Time Into Fun Time

There are plenty of creative ways to give pets their meds to make the drugs more appealing to them, like putting pills in cream cheese or peanut butter or using cool games. Some people even take it further and look into compounding pharmacies for pets, which can combine medications, add flavors or offer other drug delivery tools. Talk to your vet to see if this is right for your animal.

5. Consider Hospitalization

If medicating is completely out of the question, veterinarians may recommend hospitalization for the course of the treatment, or a one-time fix in the case of irradiation and surgery.

This may not be an exhaustive how-to list, but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s better than those 20 “easy” steps if they don’t work for you.

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