Giving your cat a pill is a daunting task, but with a confident and calm approach, and some tips from us, it can be a stress-free experience for both cat and owner.
As a veterinarian with more than 10 years of working with cats of all sizes and characters, as well as being a cat parent to two feisty felines, I’ve given thousands of pills to cats and picked up some handy tips along the way! In this article I’ll describe some methods to try, as well as some tricks to smooth the way.
What’s The Best Way To Give A Cat A Pill?
The best way to give a cat its medication is always the way that is safest, quickest, stress-free, and effective. The first thing to do is to check with your veterinarian whether the pill needs to be given with or without food, if it can be broken or crushed, and any other important information.
There’s no use in battling a pill into your cat if the medication then won’t work! Always check the label of your cat’s medicine for the dosing instructions.
It is also paramount to be prepared: Make sure you are calm, have everything you might need nearby, and are confident in how you are going to approach the task.
Also Read: 10 Subtle Signs Your Cat May Be Sick
Method 1: Give The Pill With Food
If the medication can be given with food (remember to check with your veterinarian!), this is usually the least stressful option for both owner and cat.
Follow this step-by-step guide to successfully get your cat to swallow a pill with food:
- Make sure your cat is hungry. Keep food away from them for preferably eight to 12 hours before the medication is due.
- Some cats will eat flavored tablets designed to be palatable straight from your hand. If this is your cat—hurrah! However, most cats will not oblige as they generally avoid unfamiliar tastes and textures.
- Hide the pill in a small amount of food. Try and use a favorite food, such as a soft cat food, chicken, tuna, cream cheese, or butter. The stickier and tastier the food, the better!
- Make sure the tablet is completely hidden by the food. You can offer it in your cat’s usual food bowl, or in your hand.
- When your cat has eaten the food, check that they have also swallowed the pill. You can then give them the rest of their meal.
- If the pill is safe to be crushed, doing so can help avoid your cat finding the tablet in the food and spitting it out (ask your veterinarian if it’s OK to crush a pill).
Method 2: Give The Pill By Hand
If the medication is not suitable to be given with food, or you would prefer to give the medication directly into your cat, you may opt to give the pill by hand.
The thought of this can make cat owners nervous, but with a calm and confident approach most cats will accept this method without too much fuss.
- Your kitty needs to be restrained safely, but gently. Having another person available to help is very useful, but it is very manageable for sole owners as well.
- Hold your cat on a stable and non-slippery surface, such as a table. Your cat should be sitting, facing away from you, with their back pressed against your front.
- Hold the cat around their chest until you are ready to give the tablet.
- Hold the pill between your thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand.
- With your other hand, hold the top of your cat’s head firmly between your thumb and fingers, with fingers reaching downward across the cheeks toward your cat’s jaw.
- Gently tilt the head upward toward the ceiling, holding the head and upper jaw.
- Use the middle finger of your dominant hand to gently pull the lower jaw downward to open the mouth.
- Drop the medicine into the mouth using your pilling hand, as far back as you can. Aim for the middle of the tongue, right at the back of cat’s throat. The farther back the tablet is placed, the more instinctive it is for them to swallow.
- Hold the jaw closed for a few seconds, and gently rub the throat to encourage swallowing.
Tips For Successfully Pilling Your Cat
If you have tried both the above methods and are still struggling to successfully medicate your cat, you might be feeling frustrated and stressed, which is very understandable. Here are some handy tips that can smooth the way for you.
Tip 1: Use A Pill Giver
A pill giver, or pill popper, is a handy little device. Shaped like a syringe with a long handle, you can place the pill in the soft end and then use it to deposit the pill right at the back of your cat’s mouth by depressing the plunger. Practice the technique first before trying on your cat.
Pill givers are a useful tool to get the pill further back in the mouth, making it less likely the pill will be spat back out again!
Tip 2: Use A Pill-Splitter Or Pill-Crusher
If you have checked with your vet that the medication is suitable to be split or crushed, this can make the job easier, especially if the pills are large.
Smaller pieces are easier to be hidden in food, and if the tablet can be crushed it can be disguised in liquids such as broth, which could then be given to your cat via a syringe if they won’t drink it voluntarily. If you crush or split tablets, make sure you keep track of all the pieces to ensure the correct dose is given.
Tip 3: Use An Empty Gelatine Capsule
If you have to give multiple medications to your pet, or the pills taste bitter, gelatine capsules can be used. These are small capsules which can be pulled in half and small pills or pieces of pill placed inside before the two halves are put back together.
The capsules are shaped as to be easy to give, and can be made nice and slippery and tasty by smearing them with butter, tuna juice, or a little bit of cream cheese.
Tip 4: Use A Little Water
If you can successfully get the pill into your cat’s mouth but they keep spitting it out, try using a small syringe to introduce a small amount of water into your cat’s mouth when you are holding it closed after giving the pill.
The water will prompt them to swallow, which should mean the pill is also swallowed. Make sure you only dribble a small amount of water in, so as not to overwhelm them.
Tip 5: Invest In Pill Pockets
Pill pockets are small, soft treats that can be moulded around a pill. If the medication instructions say that the pill can be given with food, pill pockets are an easy way to give medication. They are usually super palatable so your cat will gobble them up, including the pill.
Tip 6: Use A Towel
If it feels like you need multiple hands to restrain your cat, open their mouth AND give the pill, try using a towel to help hold them still. This trick is especially useful for very wriggly cats!
Put the towel down, and then sit the cat on top. Bring up one side of the towel around your cat’s neck, and then the other side, to make a cat burrito! Their front paws should be firmly enclosed within the towel, and they can then be gently and safely restrained.
Tip 7: Find A Friend
Everything is easier with a friend! If you’re finding it hard to medicate your cat, having another person who can hold your cat while you deliver the pill can be useful.
Having a good plan, a lot of patience and keeping calm is essential to pilling your cat. Always check with your veterinarian as to whether the pills can be given with food, broken up, or crushed.
The above methods, tips, and tricks should make the whole process easier. Always check the dosing instructions on the label any cat medicine, even if you’ve used it before, and contact a vet or pharmacy for advice if unsure.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you trick a cat into taking a pill?
The easiest way to trick a cat is to hide the pill into a small amount of a tasty treat, if the pill is safe to give with food. Pick something super tasty and sticky so that the pill slides straight down their throat.
How do you give an uncooperative cat a pill?
If your cat won’t take a pill in food, or easily by hand, there are some tips to help. Use a friend or towel to restrain your cat, and a pill-popper to make sure the pill gets dropped right to the back of the mouth. A little water squirted into the mouth can make them swallow.
How do you pill a difficult cat by yourself?
Use a towel to restrain your cat’s legs, hold them close against your chest and use one hand to open the mouth and the other hand to drop the table in. A pill popper is useful to get the tablet right to the back of the mouth
Is it okay to crush pills for cats?
Some pills are absolutely fine to be crushed, which makes them easier to disguise in food or liquid. However, some tablets will become ineffective if altered, so always check with your vet or the instructions on the bottle or envelope.