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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My kitty is 17 and has always been very healthy and very affectionate — she follows me everywhere. About 6 days ago, she stopped following me around and stopped eating her favorite canned food (and any food at all). I took her to the vet, and after lots of testing it was revealed that she has mild hyperthyroid (HT) disease and a bit of heart disease and fluid in the lungs. The vet prescribed a pill for the heart, a pill for the HT and 0.2cc of a liquid diuretic to get the fluid out of the lungs. The vet says she could get better and that the heart disease may reverse if we get the HT under control.

It’s been about 3 days now and I am having a really hard time giving her these pills. I’ve read everything online, and I’ve tried everything, but there’s nothing to do but wrestle her to give her the pills. This morning, my mother and I spent 2.5 hours trying over and over again. It was awful. She tries to get away from us, her breathing gets really bad and her little heart (already taxed) beats like it’s going to explode. I can’t comfort her even after all the pills have been taken; she won’t go anywhere near me. She won’t sleep in her usual comfy places, but prefers a dark cold corner between two dressers.

That’s the background, here’s the question: Is my kitty’s time just up? I don’t want to wrestle her for hours each morning and make her last days awful, I want to be fair to her and not just keep her around for me. Or will she stop acting like this when she starts to feel better and I should just stick with it? Please help.

~A concerned kitty mama

Siouxsie: This is a difficult issue for a lot of people, Kitty Mama. You’re not the only person who has struggled with giving their beloved cats a lifesaving medication.

Thomas: The good news is that it is possible to give some medications without forcing a cat to take pills.

Dahlia: Methimazole (brand name Tapazole), the most commonly prescribed medicine for hyperthyroidism, is one of them. Tapazole, which works by suppressing the function of an overactive thyroid gland, can be compounded into a paste that you can rub on the inside of your cat’s ear flap, thereby avoiding the problem of giving daily pills and taxing her already-strained heart.

Siouxsie: When you give the Tapazole in this way, the medication is absorbed through the cat’s skin. Of course, you need to wear latex gloves when applying the medication, because it can be absorbed through your skin, too — and you don’t want your thyroid function suppressed!

Thomas: We definitely recommend that you have a serious talk with your vet about whether or not it’s necessary to give all the other medications right now, especially as the vet thinks the heart disease may come under control once her thyroid function is regulated.

Dahlia: Even if your kitty still needs to take other medications, it’s possible that these meds can be compounded into tasty liquids or administered through the skin, too.

Siouxsie: Your vet should be willing to work with you to make your cat’s quality of life as high as possible. Even at age 17, she could still live several more years. Mama knew a cat that lived to be 25!

Thomas: A recent issue of Cat Fancy magazine showed the winners of an “oldest cat” contest. The winner was 35 years old, and still quite healthy! Go figure!

Dahlia: Once a cat reaches a venerable age like 17, the decisions you make regarding her care should revolve mostly around her quality of life. Clearly, pilling your cat every day is making both you and your cat
miserable. But there are other options available, so don’t be afraid to ask about them.

Siouxsie: We do think that once your kitty starts feeling better, she’ll start acting more like herself again. This is especially true if you are able to medicate her without giving her pills.

Thomas: Here’s a suggestion for you. Once you get the transdermal medication for your cat’s hyperthyroid disease, don’t approach her with the immediate intent of giving it to her. Make sure you have everything ready — the seal of the tube opened, gloves, etc. — and then bring them with you to your favorite comfortable chair. Sit down and relax. Read a book, watch TV, or do whatever you do that makes your cat want to come to you and sit in your lap for a snuggle.

Dahlia: Spend some time petting her and loving her without doing anything with the medication. Don’t forget to give her some nice, gentle ear rubs (most cats love to have their ears rubbed gently). Then, once she’s relaxed and perhaps even snoozing lightly, put on the glove, dispense the proper amount of medication onto your finger, and rub it gently into the skin where your vet has told you to do so.

Siouxsie: If you use this technique, your kitty probably won’t even realize she’s being medicated. She might be annoyed by the feel of the paste on her skin, but we cats do have a way of finding medications a little less awful once we realize we’re starting to feel better.

Thomas: With the help of your vet, some transdermal medicines, and a method of medicating that is less stressful for you, we think you and your cat can enjoy many more happy days (and perhaps even years) together.

Dahlia: Good luck, Kitty Mama. Please let us know how things turn out!