Treating Your Pet

When I asked for suggestions of what folks would find it useful for me to talk about here, one of the more common requests I got was for an explanation on how to give medicine to your pet.  Unfortunately, that’s not something I can easily describe in text-only, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all description.  Every pet is different, as is every person trying to treat them, and the best suggestion I can make is to ask your vet to demonstrate how give *this* medication to *that* animal – whether it’s pills, eye drops, insulin injections, or hairball paste.

But I did realize that there is one aspect of medicating (or treating in general) that I can talk about here, and that is how to find a medication form that works for you, your pet, and your lifestyle.  One of the most common problems I see – not just in hospice but in veterinary medicine in general – is people giving up on treating their pet because they feel it is difficult or impossible to give them medicine.  People get frustrated, pets go without treatment, and everybody suffers, because people don’t know that other options are available.  And if there’s one lesson I’d love to teach everyone reading this, it’s just that:

There are *ALMOST ALWAYS* more options available.

Not 100% of the time – some conditions demand to be treated only one way.  But in nearly every situation there are multiple options for getting medication into your pet, and your vet can work with you to find the one that works best.

So, how do you find the best way to treat your pet?  There are a lot of facets and steps:

1. Have confidence in yourself.

Yes, there are a lot of jokes out there about how to pill a cat, and yes, in general giving medicine is a skill.  But if you’re reading this, you’ve already mastered a whole lot of much more difficult and complicated skills.  I have confidence in you, and you can learn to do this.  It just takes time and practice.

2. Talk to your veterinarian.

As I said above, ask them to demonstrate how to give the medication.  Any considerate veterinarian should be able to either show you how to give a medication or have one of their nurses or technicians teach you.  If once isn’t enough, it’s okay to ask for another appointment when the next dose is due, for them to help walk you through it again.  We all went through this same learning curve, so we understand how challenging it can be at first.

3. Follow up with your veterinarian.

If you’re having trouble medicating, don’t just give up, or assume that this just isn’t going to work.  Let your vet know what’s going on.  They can’t help you, or suggest alternatives, if they don’t know there’s a problem in the first place.  On the other hand, if everything is going well, let them know too so they can note what types of treatment your pet tolerates for future reference.

Let’s say, though, that your pet is particularly challenging, and just won’t tolerate pills.  That’s not the automatic end of the road.  There are other ways to get medication – even oral meds – into your pet.

Compounding is an amazing tool for veterinary medicine.  It means getting medication custom-made for your pet.  This is very helpful in the case of super-small (or super-large) animals, because it means that we don’t have to worry about giving your 5-pound cat 1/16 of a tablet of something, or your Great Dane 5 pills three times a day.  It also means that, for pets who don’t want to take a pill, we can find something a little more palatable.

Compounded meds can be made up in a few forms:

-Chewable treats:  These are just what they sound like – chewy little treats that have medicine mixed into them.   They can be made up in several flavors, so let your vet know what kind of treats your pet tends to prefer.

-Flavored liquid: This is similar to other liquid medications, but instead of tasting like chalk or bubblegum, it can be made in flavors that are more appealing to pets.  (This is particularly common for cats, who may not always be as motivated to take flavored treats.)

-Unflavored capsules: For medications that taste very bitter, and whose flavor can’t be easily masked by chewables or liquid, we can hide the flavor by putting it into a capsule.  You still have to give this medication like you would a pill, but without the bitter taste, many animals take it a lot more easily.

-Transdermal:  Some (but not all!) medications can be made into a topical formula that is applied to the inner surface of your pet’s ear.  Be careful when requesting transdermal medications; not every drug can be absorbed through this route, so have your veterinarian double-check before requesting any specific medication be made in this formula.  Some pharmacies will compound any medication in any formula, regardless of efficacy, so having this option available doesn’t guarantee it will still work in every case, but for the situations where it does work, it can be a literal life-saver.

There are some things to keep in mind about compounding.  It’s not something your veterinarian can do at their own hospital (unless your veterinarian has a specialized compounding pharmacy on their premises), so they will need to call your prescription into an outside pharmacy.  Compounding takes time, so you’ll need to keep track of how much medicine you have on hand, and request your refills at least a few days before you run out of medicine.  And because the compounding requires special equipment and takes more hands-on time from the pharmacist, it is more expensive than just buying pills from your vet or a standard pharmacy.

However, if this is the best way to get medicine into your pet that will keep them alive or maintain their quality of life, it can be absolutely worth it.  And, most importantly, it’s free to ask.

And compounding medication isn’t the only alternative out there.  In some situations, medicine can also be given by injection, either at your vet’s office or, in some cases, with training at home.  Also, depending on where you live, you may be able to contact a traveling vet tech or skilled pet sitter to help medicate your pet.

Ultimately, the most important detail is that the first thing we try is almost never the only option.  Sometimes it takes trying a few different routes and techniques before we find the best way to treat a particular pet, to help maintain both their health and their positive relationship with their family.  Talk to your vet, let them know if you’re having trouble, and ask them to work with you to find the best way to treat your pet and their condition.  Together, we’ll find something that works.