How To Apply Topical Medicine

Topical medicines can be very convenient – especially for cats and dogs who don’t like to take pills! But if you aren’t used to putting topical medicine on your pet, it can be a bit of a challenge to get it right the first time. Here are our best tips for applying topical medicine, and a short video to show you how it’s done!

Topical medicines are convenient, but putting topical medicine (like flea medicine) on your pet can be hard. Watch our short video and see our tips to make applying topical medicine easy!

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How To Apply Topical Medicine

We know that it can be difficult to remember what your veterinarian tells you about putting medicine on your dog or cat. And it can be even harder to do it yourself! Watch this short video to see how to apply a topical medicine (like flea medicine) to your dog or cat.

How to Put on Topical Medicine

Your veterinarian or veterinary technician probably makes this look pretty easy. There’s a good chance that they have had a lot of practice putting topical medicines on dogs and cats! Here are our five tips for applying topical medicine to your pet:

  1. Have someone help you restrain your dog or cat. This is a different sensation for them. Since you probably only put topical medicine on them once a month, your pet might not be too excited about this. Get a family member or friend to gently restrain your pet while you put the medicine on.
  2. Part the hair so you can see the skin. This step is the most important. These medicines are designed to be absorbed through the skin. If you don’t get the medicine on the skin, it won’t work. Yes, you will get some in your pet’s fur, and that is okay. But you want most of the medicine to be in direct contact with the skin.
  3. Go against the hair. Start back (towards your pet’s tail) just a little farther than you think you need to. (Really, just a tiny bit – less than an inch.) Move the tip of the applicator towards your pet’s head, instead of towards their tail. This will help you stay under the fur and keep the medicine in contact with their skin.
  4. Rub the medicine in. You don’t want to just leave a little puddle of medicine on your pet’s skin. Once you have the medicine squeezed out of the tube, use the tip of the applicator to rub it around just a little bit. You want to stay in the same area, and try to keep the tip of the applicator against your pet’s skin. This will help the medicine be absorbed.
  5. Some of the flea prevention medicines will also repel flies. If your dog has a problem with flies (and you are using a medicine that helps with flies), you can put a few drops at the base of each ear. Be sure to part the hair and get the medicine right on the skin. This might help keep those flies away from your dog’s ears a little better.

How to Open Topical Medicines

Some of the topical medicines can be a little bit tricky to open. And you definitely want to have your medicine open and ready to go when you grab your pet!

how to open advantage and other topical flea medicines

To open most of the topical flea medicines, you just need to use the cap. When you take the cap off, you’ll see that the inside of the tube has a little piece of plastic sticking up. Turn the cap over (so you see the little donut shape like the picture on the left). Push the donut side of the cap down on the tube, and it will break off the plastic part in the tube. Now your medicine is open and ready to use.

how to open activyl and other flea medicines that break open

Some medicines, like Activyl, don’t have a cap, but just have a breakaway section of the container. On these medicines, there will be a line where you should fold the top back to break open the compartment holding the medicine. It should be that easy – just fold the top part back along the line. Sometimes, those fold marks don’t work exactly the way they are supposed to. If the medicine compartment doesn’t break open, just use a pair of scissors to cut on that fold line.

how to open vectra topical flea medicine

Vectra can be a little complicated to open, especially the first time. Its cap is very different from the rest of the topical flea medicines. To open Vectra, all you need to do is pinch the two rings on the cap together. That’s it! You don’t need to open the bottle, you don’t need to unscrew the cap. Just pinch the rings together, and you’re ready to go.

Where to Put Topical Medicine on Cats

Cats can be tricky. They are good groomers, and they are very flexible. So if you put a topical medicine (like flea prevention medicine) in a spot where they can reach, they will lick it off. These medicines will only work if they contact the skin, not if they are eaten. So it is important to put the medicine on in the right spot!

Look at your cat’s head from the back. Draw an imaginary line between the tips of her ears. You want to put the medicine on her head, right between the tips of her ears. If you go too far back on her head towards her neck, she might be able to reach that spot and lick the medicine off.

Where to Put Topical Medicine on Dogs

Dogs are not quite as flexible as cats (most of them, anyway). And even if they are flexible, they don’t groom themselves quite as much as cats do. So for dogs, we have a few better options for applying topical medicines (like flea prevention medicines or some heartworm prevention medicines).

If you have a small- to medium-sized dog, you will only need to put the medicine in one spot. You should put the medicine on right between your dog’s shoulder blades.

Larger dogs need a larger dose of medicine. This larger volume of medicine won’t be absorbed very well if it is all put on in the same spot, so you’ll need to put it in 2 or 3 different spots. Start between your dog’s shoulder blades, and put about 1/2 of the medicine here. (Yes, it can be hard to tell when you’ve put on 1/2 of the medicine in the tube. If you’re starting to see a little puddle, it’s time to move to a new spot.) The next spot you should use is at the base of your dog’s tail. If you still have medicine left (and if you have a very large dog, you might!), you can put it between the two spots, near the middle of your dog’s back. Always try to get the medicine right along your dog’s spine.

Are your pets on flea and tick prevention medicines? Do you have your dog on regular heartworm medicine? Call us or come in and our veterinary technicians or veterinarians can help you choose the best option for your pet. We can even help you apply it a topical medicine the first time if you have any questions!

Check out our Fleas Resource Page and our Heartworms Resource Page for even more information about fleas and heartworms!

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