Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to Give Your Cat a Pill

By Langley Cornwell

My neighbor has a cat with asthma. She travels for work, and when she’s gone I cat-sit for her. The cat is generally easy to care for but recently she needed oral meds and I had to give her a pill every day. We have a cat but fortunately our little guy has never had to take a pill so I had absolutely no experience in this area. I consulted a few cat-loving friends and got loads of good advice.

One friend used to give her cat a daily thyroid pill. She was able to hide the pill inside a tiny bit of something the cat liked, such as cream cheese, butter, turkey, or a bite of FELIDAE wet cat food. She would cover the pill with the ‘good stuff’ and roll it into a bite-sized ball. The cat looked forward to this and would gulp the whole thing down. My friend doesn’t know if her cat knew the pill was in there or not. Maybe she knew but just didn't care because the ‘treat’ was so good. Whatever the case, this method worked well and she never had the stress of worrying about how to get her cat to take a pill. This probably works best with very small pills. The asthma pills for my neighbor’s cat were a bit large but it was worth a try.

No luck. It didn’t matter what I wrapped the pill in, that cat would devour the delicious outer coating and spit out the whole pill. My neighbor laughed at me via text; she had warned me that the ‘hide the pill’ method was going to be unsuccessful but I needed to prove it to myself because the alternative seemed so difficult.

If you’ve ever had to give a cat a pill, you already know how hard it is. Maybe I’m wrong here but I think even the most seasoned cat-people would rather not have to do it the manual way. In fact, Animal Planet says cats enjoy taking a pill as well as they enjoy taking a bubble bath – and I honestly think giving my neighbor’s cat a bath would have been easier.

Here’s a combination of what the experts at Animal Planet recommend and what worked for me:

Have the pill within arm’s reach before you even think about starting the process. Some people recommend lubricating the pill with butter to make it easier to swallow.

Confine your cat to one room; preferably a room the cat is familiar with. Equip the room with the pill and a blanket or large towel. Check to see if the pill can be taken with food. If so, have a high-value treat like FELIDAE TidNips on hand.

Hang out in the room with your cat, breathe deeply or do whatever makes you calm. A cat can easily sense if you’re nervous or apprehensive and that will likely agitate him. In a relaxed way, pet him and talk soothingly.

As you pet your cat, wrap him in the blanket with his head sticking out. Gently tuck the cat under one arm and hold him snugly against your body. Grab the pill with your free hand.

Gently pry his mouth open from the hinge of his jaws using your thumb and middle finger. Slightly tilt his head backwards and drop the pill in the back of his mouth, where the tongue begins.

Let the cat close his mouth, keeping him nestled under your arm. Place a hand under the cat's chin to prevent him from spitting out the pill (speaking from experience).

Stroke your cat’s throat to encourage swallowing. Most cats lick their lips when they swallow something so watch for that sign. I’ve also heard that blowing into a cat’s nostrils encourages swallowing but I didn’t try that.

Some experts recommend giving your cat a drink of water from a needleless syringe so the pill dissolves easily but I didn’t try that either.

After it’s all done, give the cat a treat or a bite of his favorite canned food. This will help the pill go down so the cat can’t hack it back up (again, experience). Praise the cat too, so the process is a positive one. It also makes sense to give the treats to your cat every now and then without the pill.

If all this seems impossible, some companies make pills that taste good to pets. See if that option exists for the meds your cat requires. I’ve also heard of a pill shooter type device that makes the process easier, but I don’t have any experience with those.

Do any of you have tips or tricks to share?

Photo by Raymond Johnston

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. Well this is the first serious post about pilling cats I've seen. There have been plenty of silly ones out there! I've had success with a pill popper. It's like a syringe that allows you to get the pill far back enough in their mouth that they are more inclined to swallow. First though, I've asked for liquid medication. A plastic syringe works great for this and liquid is not as easy to spit out. Neither of these is easy, but I would think that if the pill has to be a regular occurrence, it would become easier with time.

    Katie HATES to be picked up or held. And although some cats have to take a trip to the Vet to get their nails clipped, she lets me do all 10 in one sitting with little or no protesting. She doesn't like it, but she accepts it.

    : ) Glogirly

  2. Oh I forgot...
    What I REALLY want to know is how you got that photo of your kitty with the pill bottle on it's head! It doesn't look like Photoshop. ; )

  3. What an excellent post. We've had to do most of these when giving poor Inigo his medication (twice a day, some times as many as 4 pills and he HATED them) We had the pill popper (which helped for a bit) We also tried the Greenies Pill Pocket, but somehow he saw thru anything we tired to hide it in.

  4. I became a bit annoyed with my vet when I found out that I could get my cat's medicine in liquid form, and that it came in various flavors but that they didn't normally 'stock' the flavors that cats like (as opposed to the banana, or whatever, flavor that dogs liked). As if cat owners wouldn't opt for liquid instead of pills, especially if cats liked the taste! So now I always ask if liquid is available because I know they're going to go with what's easiest for them, not what's easiest for me.

  5. We all take pills just dine if we need to, my Dad gives them and none of us argue at all. I know that isn't usually the case. My Sister Gracie has asthma but we are able to use a rescue inhaler for her.

  6. In my experience, it gets easier the more times you have to pill the cat...I find the two-person approach works well with Person A cradling kitty and Person B pilling. I have three kitties that need meds and they've gotten used to it and I've gotten GOOD at it so it's become a stress-free event. Also, I've gotten over the fear of being bitten and that helps enormously.

  7. For the really difficult cases, I finely grind the pill in a small mortar/pestle, add a few drops of water or chicken broth and use a plastic syringe. One quick squirt in the corner of the mouth and it's done. It's important not use more than about 8 drops of water and to place in the mouth pocket and NOT down the throat. Praise afterwards and maybe a treat.

  8. Our mom is really good at giving us pills. Oh, we still will spit them out on occasion, but for the most part, if she gets it "right down the pipe," as she says, we can't spit it out. Sometimes she'll use pill pockets and wrap the pill up. But that usually works only if the pill is small. The one thing that she does which makes getting pills bearable is she gives us a treat or some foods every time she gives us a pill.

  9. Our Mom is really good at popping pills down our throat too. We have two cats at the moment that need pills and we don't object too much. We just swallow them because Mom doesn't make a big deal out of it. She just keeps us from backing up and opens our mouth and pops the pill in. And after a number of times of doing it, we got used to it. But that was a great post.

  10. I have to laugh at praising the cat. If my cat is mad at me, her legs take her off fast for one of her hiding spots and she cares nothing for praise. I think your neighbor is very lucky to have your help! I tend to break up the pill if it is large or ask for liquid.

    Zkhat's Mom

  11. Yes that is the way we gave Tiger his pill everyday!!! He always knew the pill was coming but he never ran he just took his pill!! He was a good boy!!! He made it to 17.

  12. I never managed to master the pill pushing :( lol


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