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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Pill Popping

Your veterinarian makes it look so easy: Pill. Pet. And like a magic trick, suddenly the pill is inside the pet, and the pet seemingly none the wiser.
If only it were that easy for you.
You go home, and you can't even find your cat when it's time for medication. Under the bed? Maybe. Behind the couch? Maybe not. How does the cat know, and how is he able to disappear as if by another talented magician?
Your dog is only marginally easier, maybe. Not quite as fussy as your cat, he'll eat the pill if it's hidden in something yummy, or so you think. But later you find the pill on the kitchen floor, and you realize he was somehow able to extricate the yummy stuff from the medicine and hide the pill in his jowls for spitting out later. Outsmarted again!
You figure it's a victory if you get half the pills in for half the number of days they're prescribed, and you hope that's good enough.
Problem is, it's not. One of the biggest problems veterinarians have in helping your pet get better is ... you. If you aren't able to follow through with medications, your pet will likely be back at the vet.
Do you dread walking out of your veterinarian's office with pills? Here are some strategies to make the pill-popping easier:

  • Pop and treat. Have your veterinarian demonstrate. Always start with a positive attitude and end with a treat and praise. You can find "pill guns" through pet retailers that help with getting the pill quickly in the right place -- at the back of the throat for easier swallowing. 

  • Stealth. Perhaps the most popular method is to hide the pill in something cats love, although most cats figure this out soon enough and start eating around the pill. Try treats that are designed for pill-popping: They're yummy little bits with pockets for hiding the medicine.

  • Presto-chango. For pets who just won't tolerate pills (or people who just hate giving them), ask your veterinarian about using a compounding pharmacy. These businesses take all manner of medications and turn them into edible treats in pet-friendly flavors.

  • New technologies. Ask your veterinarian for the latest options. The medication you're using may be available in an easier-to-use format, such as trans-dermal.

Once you get the pill down your pet, it's very important to follow with a drink of water to protect your pet from having the pill dissolve in the esophagus. Ask your veterinarian for a syringe with the needle removed to squirt the "chaser" to the pill.
No matter what, always give pet medications exactly as prescribed and to the end of the supply. If you have questions or problems, or if the condition hasn't improved after the medications are gone, you must call your veterinarian for advice for the health of your pet.
If you need help, ask! Your veterinarian wants your pet to get better just as much as you do. - By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Training a kitten makes a better cat
Q: We just got a kitten. Can you offer some training tips?  -- via email
A: Kittens are a kick, no doubt about it, but they're not always easy to live with.
Kittens climb up the back of the sofa and launch themselves off it. They climb up the curtains to get a better view out the window. They leap up to the fireplace mantel and knock over one of the pair of antique vases you inherited from Grandma, or worse yet a family member's cremains and then use the contents as a makeshift litter box (I've known this to happen!). And kittenhood can last up to three years before the little bundle of cuteness even thinks about settling down into sedate cathood.
Be aware that this tiny feline firecracker will need a lot of attention, exercise and play to help him stay out of trouble. He needs consistent, appropriate outlets for his youthful exuberance. Whereas puppies have an oral fixation, kittens have a climbing/scratching one. Most of all, he needs an owner who can set limits in a kind and intelligent way, so the kitten learns what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
Kittens are like modeling clay. If they get a good start with plenty of handling at a young age, you can shape them through training to become the cat of your dreams. Young kittens are especially receptive to touch between two and eight weeks of age. With early exposure to kind and gentle human hands, plus kittygarten classes (ask your veterinarian for information) before they are 12 weeks old, kittens are less likely to develop behavior problems as they grow up. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to
The Buzz
Military dogs get new care standards

  • New guidelines recently issued by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan alert military doctors on how to provide medical care to military dogs injured in combat. There are seven teams of military veterinarians in Afghanistan and two veterinary clinics. Since May 2010, six dogs have been wounded and 14 dogs have died in combat.
    Before being treated at military veterinary clinics, injured dogs are transported by helicopter to field hospitals. The new guidelines inform military doctors on the differences in human and dog anatomies, which include dogs' heartbeats being about 20 beats per minute faster and their temperatures being 2 to 3 degrees warmer, with similar blood pressure. The guidelines also address post-traumatic stress disorder in dogs.

  • One of the most common beliefs about cats is that they are independent and aloof, preferring their own company to that of people. It's true that cats in general are less "needy" than dogs, but most cats love spending time with their people, whether it's spent playing with toys or just sitting in a lap, motor-purring. Know that being a lap-cat is genetically influenced. Feline behaviorists used to think you could turn any cat into a lap-cat, but not so. When cat lovers understand that sitting within 18 inches is friendly for some cats, they'll feel better about not having a full-on lap-cat and accept their pets as they are.

  • The first dog in the world to have prosthetic paws is Naki'o, a red cattle dog from Nebraska who lost all four paws to frostbite. OrthoPet, a Denver company specializing in prosthetics for pets, helped Naki'o, who had only stumps left for paws after his winter ordeal and had to crawl on his belly to get around. After getting prosthetic paws, he has regained mobility. Prosthetics can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per prosthetic. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker 

Date Published: 7/18/2011 7:38:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 07/18/2011


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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