Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
We are giving our cat new medication for an infection. She foamed at the mouth when we did it. What makes a cat do this and should we be concerned?
Siouxsie: Well, Sue, typically a cat will foam at the mouth when given a pill because most pills are extremely bitter. The foaming at the mouth is one way we protect ourselves from caustic substances.
Thomas: That’s right. One time, Mama had to give us a worm medicine called Drontal. She wasn’t very good at giving pills back then, and she put the pill on my tongue. Then I bit down on it, and it tasted even worse! Immediately I started foaming at the mouth, and I fought and clawed and ran away!
Dahlia: Fortunately I wasn’t there at the time of this medical mistake. But poor Siouxsie and Thomas sure suffered. And so did Mama, because they left all kinds of scratches on her hands and arms.
Siouxsie: The best way to avoid this foaming-at-the-mouth reaction is to give the pill properly. That means you have to put it so far back in your kitty’s mouth that she can’t taste it so strongly and she’ll have to swallow it rather than spit it out.
Thomas: The taste buds on the front of our tongue (the part nearest our nose) are much more sensitive to bitter tastes. This keeps us from eating things that are poisonous, because usually poisons are very bitter.
Dahlia: The unfortunate exception to this bitter poison rule is antifreeze. And since it’s now winter in the northern hemisphere, we should take a minute to warn you of the perils of this common substance. Antifreeze tastes sweet to cats (and dogs), and just a very tiny bit can cause an animal to die of acute kidney failure in short order. So if you live in a place that may have old antifreeze around, make sure it’s in a covered container and clean up any spills very well.
Siouxsie: And if you think your cat has gotten into antifreeze, take him to the vet right away! Quick treatment can save your cat’s life, even if he ingests some of this lethal toxin.
Thomas: Now, back to the pill situation. It may be difficult for you to get your cat to take any more pills now that she knows how awful they taste, so you may have to trick her into taking the medicine. Do not mix bitter pills into wet cat food; all that will do is taint the food, and your cat will refuse to eat the food OR the pill.
Dahlia: Some time ago, we wrote a column on how to give a pill to a cat. You will probably find this information quite helpful when you continue your cat’s medication regimen. It’s a tried and true method that Mama has used successfully for years.
Siouxsie: Antibiotics can be compounded into liquids. These tend to be sweet-tasting and can be easier to administer. All you have to do is hold your kitty in the manner we described in our cat pilling column and squirt the medicine into her mouth. Be careful not to shove the dropper too far back in her mouth or your cat might get some of the liquid in her lungs.
Thomas: We’ve had to take liquid antibiotics before, and although they don’t taste all that great to us, they’re certainly more appealing than nasty, bitter pills!
Dahlia: Whatever form the antibiotics come in, you must give them all to your kitty. If you stop giving the antibiotics too soon because it looks like she’s feeling better, there may still be some bacteria in her body. Those bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, and when they spread it will make it even harder to treat infections in cats.
Siouxsie: Mama says there’s a big problem with antibiotic-resistant infections in the human world. We don’t want the same thing to happen to us, because there aren’t that many antibiotics that are safe to give to cats.
Thomas: So, Sue, the foaming at the mouth is nothing to worry about. It’s a natural reaction to the bitter taste of the medicine.
Dahlia: Taking pills is definitely one our very least favorite things in the world. But we’ve all had to take pills at one time or another. We hope you will become more confident about giving pills when you read our how-to column, and that your cat will be calmer about the pilling because it’s so quick she barely knows what happened.