Home Medical Care: pulse, heart rate


For how to take your cat’s pulse and measure the heart rate.


The only way to be sure your cat has really swallowed medication in pill, capsule, or tablet form is to administer it in the following way: Place your cat on a table or other similar platform and get your pet to sit or stand relatively quietly. Grasp the pill between the thumb and forefinger of one hand so you have it ready to administer. Then place the opposite hand over the top of your cat’s head, thumb and index finger near the corners of the mouth as illustrated and tilt the head backward until the nose points toward the ceiling. Press against the cat’s lips with your index finger and thumb to open the mouth and use the third finger of your pill-containing hand to hold the lower jaw open. Then quickly drop or place the pill over the back of the cat’s tongue.

(With practice, you can give the pill a quick and gentle shove with your index finger to send it on its way down the throat.) Then immediately allow the cat’s mouth to close and hold it lightly closed until the pill is swallowed. If your cat licks his or her nose as soon as you release your grip, you can be fairly certain the medication has been swallowed. (To be successful be sure to keep the cat’s nose pointed upward during the whole procedure.) If pilling is to be successful it is extremely important to perform these maneuvers quickly and smoothly. If you spend too long in preparation, an uncooperative cat has mustered his or her full counterforces by the time you actually attempt to give the drug, and you are destined for failure.

Although it may seem difficult at first, with a little practice giving medication in solid form to all but the fiercest cats becomes very easy. For these cats, tubular plastic pill “guns” are available in pet supply stores or through your veterinarian to hold the tablets, pills, or capsules and shoot them into the back of the cat’s throat. In preparation for the day when you may have to nurse your cat at home, it is a good idea to go through the motions of administering medication to develop your skill while your cat is still young, cooperative, and healthy. You can use a small piece of dry kibble as a practice pill. If you have trouble with the above- described traditional restraint method and/or your cat is an uncooperative type, you can try the alternative method illustrated at right.

This method (sometimes called the Hilton technique in honor of the veterinarian who first published it) induces many cats to reflexively remain still while their ears are grasped and their neck is turned sharply.

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Problems most often occur when the pill is not placed or dropped properly over the base of the tongue. If you drop the pill off center or not far enough back, the cat will spit it out or bite into it. If this happens and the cat is still cooperative, try again. Many times when this occurs the cat tastes the medication and begins to drool profusely. This is no cause for concern, but usually requires that you wait a few minutes before trying to administer the medication again.

Buttering uncoated tablets helps with this problem and is also useful if the pills don’t seem slippery enough or seem a little on the large side. If you find it absolutely impossible to give solid medication in the manner described you can try crushing a tablet or pill (pill cutters and crushers are available at drugstores) or emptying the contents of a capsule and mixing the drug thoroughly with a small portion of meat or some other favorite food. Sometimes the medicine can be mixed with water and administered as a liquid. Most medicines taste so bad, however, that a sick cat will not take them voluntarily in food or liquid.

So if it can be avoided, do not use these methods of administration. You can never be sure that your cat has taken all the medication when it is administered in food, and some drugs are inactivated in the presence of food. If you grind an enteric-coated (coated to be absorbed in the intestine) tablet or empty the contents of a capsule into food you may be preventing normal absorption of the drug from the gut. Coverings are often designed to remain intact until the drug reaches the part of the gut where it is best and most safely absorbed.

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