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A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

Or the nail trim easier: Tips for giving meds and doing nail trims in kitties.

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We’ve all been there. Its time to give a cat his or her medication. You take a deep breath and give yourself a little pep talk. But the pep talk is not quite enough so you delve into some physical warm ups - a few jumping jacks, a few lunges, you know… getting ready to engage with “ the cat”. You have the medicine out, you have your eyes on the cat, and you are all warmed up and ready to go! You tell yourself "I’ve got this! “

Fast forward 4 seconds….

Human: 0 Cat: 1

Deep will try again later but this time with gardening gloves on or maybe a towel. Right?!? Stop right there. There are easier ways…I promise. While there is no one way that will work for every kitty, we can usually find solutions for the vast majority of them.

This post will talk about one simple thing all cat owners, cat fosters, cat rescue, veterinarians, pet sitters, shelter workers etc….can do to make giving cats medications and nail trims much easier, less stressful, and more humane for all involved. The earlier in the cat’s life these strategies are used, the more successful they will likely be.

Here are the two things you need:

1. A syringe or popsicle or kitty kong (in other words, a device to hold food)

2. Food that will go in a syringe, kong, or on a popsicle that the kitten/cat really likes.

Our personal favorite at the Animal Behavior Clinic in New Jersey is baby food! Other options to try would be whip cream, tuna/sardine juice, pureed meat, and canned kitten food. It must be something the kitty really likes. Take time to do some taste testing. If none of the above entices your kitty, try getting pure bites cat treats ( or fish flakes and sticking them to a popsicle stick with peanut butter and use the popsicle stick instead of a syringe. For nail trims, we personally like syringes because you can control when and how much food to give with more ease and precision when necessary.

Start getting your kitty used to eating something yummy out of the syringe with NO STRINGS ATTACHED. That means, you are not giving medication or doing a nail trim. You are simply teaching your cat that when this syringe comes out, good things happen! We want kitties to run to you when they see the syringe. If this is part of their life routine, it will make your life much easier. When you are first doing this, try to do it every day for a week, then a couple times a week and then a few times a month. Now you have a helpful tool.

If they need medication that is a liquid ( or can be compounded into a liquid) you can just mix it right into the syringe with food. For those of you who did not know, most compounded liquid medications can be doubled flavored which can be helpful.

Click the link below to see Liberty Humane staff using the syringe method to administer antibiotics to kitties in a shelter setting that have upper respiratory infections. Super easy on everyone!!!

If you are lucky to have a very food motivated kitty, you can just feed them while trimming their nails…

Click the link below to see a video of some kittens that were being fostered by our behavior tech, Deb Edwards. No training or prep involved in this video. This was literally the video of them having their nails trimmed for the first time and the first time with being fed baby food out of a syringe. This was done on their first day of being dropped off in the clinic. Their little nails were very sharp and needed attention ASAP to keep people from getting all scratched up.

For cats that already have some fear associated with nail trims or getting medications, more advanced techniques may be needed. For that, please contact a veterinarian skilled in behavior protocols: a board certified veterinary behaviorist or an experienced qualified cat trainer.

This information is useless if it does not get into the hands of those working with cats, so please share this information with any cat person you know!

If any of you have great ideas or strategies when working with kitties, please email them to with the subject line being “cat tip”. We love to disseminate good information and its it time cats got as much attention as dogs!

Emily D. Levine DVM DACVB

Animal Behavior Clinic of AERA
Fairfield, NJ

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