BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Get a Cat to Take a Pill: A Complete Guide to Pilling Your Feline

Close-up image of a tabby cat taking pill
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

After visiting the vet with your cat, you were made to grab some pills for your ailing furry friend. On the way home, all you can think about is how relieved you are that you can now relieve your cat of the condition they are suffering from. What you don’t know is that the battle has only just begun. Convincing cats to take their meds is notoriously difficult—especially if those meds come in the form of hard-to-swallow-and-conceal pills. Luckily, you’ve stumbled upon our article on how to get a cat to take a pill.

We understand—all you want is for your feline friend to take their meds so they can get better quickly, but it seems like your cat would rather suffer in pain and misery than take that little pill. You can’t talk to cats and make them understand that this is for their own good the way you can with humans, which is why you’ll need to get one step ahead of them.

You can outsmart your cat by playing tricks on their sharp senses, or you can go the straightforward way and make them swallow that pill using the simple yet effective throat-massage techniques that you’ve probably seen the vet do. Either way, giving your cat the required dose of medication doesn’t have to be a nightmarish experience for either you or your cat.

A cat eating something from her owner

This guide is designed to be a complete summary of all you need to know about pilling your cat—not just about how to do it, but about other things to know along that line too. Learning how to get your cat to take a pill is important because this is a skill that you would probably use often on your journey to becoming a better cat parent.

Important Considerations Before Giving the Cat a Pill

We take pilling very seriously since the slightest error could prove to be fatal for your cat. That’s why, prior to applying the pilling procedures we will provide for you next, there are some things you need to take into consideration first.

Have a Prescription

This looks very basic, but it is nonetheless very important. Before you give any pill to your cat, get a prescription from your vet to back it up. The fact that you had used the same pill for another cat in the past—or a friend of yours had used it to treat a similar ailment in their cat—doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe for you to use it on your cat too.

True, your vet might prescribe the same thing in the end, but you still should ask for an expert’s opinion first. There is no telling what has changed in the body of the cat since the last time you used the drug.

Image of a vet writing a prescription

Likewise, cats have different body chemistries. The meds that worked like a charm on one cat might not work for the other—that is not to mention the fact that there could be sameness in the symptoms you’re observing but difference in the actual ailment your cat is suffering from.

You don’t want to be piling unnecessary chemicals in your cat’s bloodstream while the issue they have remains unaddressed—which is why it’s important to have your vet diagnose the issue first so they can prescribe the right meds.

Ask Before You Break It

We have all faced one frighteningly big pill at one point or another in our lives. Even pills that look minuscule to us will look really big to your cat, but that does not mean you should automatically make it smaller by breaking it apart.

A vet trying to give a pill to a ginger cat

Some pills have time-release ingredients. That means these kinds of pills are made in lumps so that they can be dissolved at different rates, releasing its ingredients into the cat’s body gradually along the line. Breaking/crushing the pill will make the release of the chemicals untimely, which would lessen the pill’s effectiveness—defeating the purpose of the drug.

With Food, or Without Food

The good news is that serving medication to cats by putting it in their food usually works like a charm. The bad news is, not all medications can be served with food. Some medications need to be given before the cat has had anything to eat, so be careful about this.

Dosage

This usually comes with the prescription. If the dosage is graded in weights (usually in milligrams), make sure you do proper calculations to know how many pills will equal the weight. Determine how frequently the pills need to be administered and how many of them to give at a time. Then and only then can you proceed.

Pills spilling out of a pill bottle on wooden table

Should you miss a dose, try to administer it as soon as you remember. If you only have a couple of hours left or less to the next dosage by the time you remember, skip the previous dosage and go on with the plan like nothing happened. For no reason should you try to make up for the missed dose by giving double doses to your cat.

Tips for Giving Cats a Pill

Once you have taken all the factors above into account and you’re sure now of the kind of pill you should give to your cat as well as when you should administer the dose, now it’s time for the real action. There are different ways to give a cat a pill.

Disguise It as Food

This is probably the oldest trick in the book. It involves you being a master of deception, and no, your cat will not hate you for it. We have two methods you can try as you go about passing your cat medicine in their food.

Method #1: Spread the Taste of the Pill

You should do away with dry food at the point of administration. Go for semi-moist or moist cat food, then slip the pill into it. Cats don’t have the heightened sense of smell that dogs do, but that doesn’t make them any less clever. If they notice that there is a pill in the food, they could eat around it, or stop eating that kind of food forever.

Cat Taking Medication from a vet

What you should do to guarantee success is mix a large part of the food with the pill. Mix it thoroughly so that the pill is worked into the food and its scent is distributed uniformly. The reason for scent distribution is, so the cat doesn’t feel that something is off in just one part of the food and avoid it. If the taste has to be off, make it so that the whole bowl of food tastes uniformly off. If your cat avoids the food entirely, you can use the second method below.

Method #2: Crush the Pill and Use a Syringe

Before going with this step, ask your vet if the pills can be broken and pulverized safely without losing their effectiveness. As we mentioned above, not all pills should be broken down into small pieces. If you got an okay, get a syringe, mortar, and pestle. Put the pill in the mortar and grind it with the pestle.

Close-up image of two pills  and Syringe on a table

When you have made a fine powder of the pill, mix in some wet cat food. Make sure to be generous with the cat food—mixing good proportions of it with the pulverized pill. Keep mixing until you get a consistent substance. Now, the syringe comes in.

Pulling as much of it as you can into the syringe at once, squirt a small spray onto your cat’s nose. Your cat should respond by licking off the gravy. That lets them know they are in for some really tasty food.  Keep pushing the contents of the syringe into your cat’s mouth—little by little—till there’s nothing left. Your cat shouldn’t resist if they like the taste, but even if they don’t, you’ll still get them to lick their medicine-coated nose clean because cats hate being dirty.

Be Hands-On

If the pill doesn’t go with food, the above methods won’t work for you at all. But no need to panic; it just means that you need to be more hands-on with your approach.

Step #1: Restraining the Cat

Restraining the cat before giving them their pill is best done by two people. That is not to say that a one-man army won’t be successful at it. You can go about this in two ways.

A vet holding a cat in his cabinet

One method of restraining your cat starts by getting them onto a flat surface.

  • Once there, face the cat away from you. Have them in a sitting position.

  • Put your body behind the cat and your arms around them. The aim of having your body behind the cat is to ensure that they can’t back away from you and the pill.

  • Support your elbow with the flat surface, then gently press the cat towards your body with your arm. You will want to make sure that the press is gentle, and that you are getting the forelimbs of the cat pressed against your body.

Another common method is the burrito approach. This method is most advisable when your cat is one that is prone to biting and scratching.

  • Spread a towel on a flat surface before you get your cat onto it.

  • Wrap the towel around the cat in a firm but comfortable way.

  • Make sure the towel gets the cat’s limbs restrained and tightly pressed against their body, leaving the head to stick out at the other end.

Step #2: Giving the Pill

After you have gone with your preferred mode of restraining the cat, it is time to get the pill into their mouth.

  • Using your less dominant hand, make a U shape with your thumb and forefinger around the head of the cat.

  • Try to approach from the sides instead of from above, so the cat doesn’t get startled. Your fingers should be around the cheekbones of the cat now.

  • Slightly angle the cat’s head into a vertical position. This will cause the jaw to open a little.

  • Now, push your thumb and forefinger a little deeper into the mouth of the cat.

  • If you get your fingers between the cat’s lips and teeth, the mouth will open wider since your cat doesn’t want to bite their own lips.

  • With your dominant hand, hold the pill between your thumb and forefinger.

  • With a free finger, rub gently on the cat’s lower chin to open the mouth further.

  • Gently toss the pill to the back of the cat’s tongue, beyond where they can easily spit it out. If he tries to spit it out, the tongue contractions will make the pill fall further back to get it swallowed.

  • Remove your fingers from your cat’s mouth, but don’t let go just yet.

  • If the cat has made a lip-smacking or gulping sound, then the pill is swallowed. But to be sure, blow gently into the nostrils of your cat to trigger a swallowing reflex.

  • Some cats are smart enough to simulate the lip-smacking motion without swallowing the pill. Confirm that the pill is gone by opening the mouth again.

  • When you are sure that it is gone, you can now give your cat some food and water to push the drug down the throat some more

Using a Pill Dropper

A pill dropper is a small mechanism that holds the pill and drops it into the mouth of your cat. You should use a pill dropper if you are wary of putting your hand into your cat’s mouth. Before using a pill dropper to give your cat pills, it’s best to get them used to the dropper first by using it to drop some treats into their mouth.

A vet using a Buster Tablet Introducer

Open the cat’s mouth (you may have to use one of the two restraining methods we detailed above) and use the pill dropper to place the pill at the back of his tongue. Should the pill land on the tip of the tongue, use the forefinger of your dominant hand to push it in. Allow the cat to close his mouth, blow gently into his nose, and wait for the confirmation sound.

Use Gel Caps

Gel caps or pill pockets are generally very safe for your cat, but asking your vet first is never a bad idea.  These pill pockets are sugar-coated. The cat won’t get a whiff of what is underneath, so they will lap it up happily. Once it gets inside your cat’s stomach, the gel caps dissolve, and the drug starts to take action. It’s as simple as that.

A woman storing supplements in a little box

This approach is especially useful if your cat has to take more than one kind of tablet at a time. After confirming that the pills can be broken down into smaller parts, put all the pieces together in the gel cap and make your cat swallow everything in one big gulp.

Wrap Up

Cats, like other pets, do not like to take their medicine. Bad, bad cat, right? Not really; they are acting this way simply because they don’t know that they need to take the pill to get better—but we know better (pun intended), which is why we need to use all kinds of tricks and techniques to get them to swallow their pill.

No one said that pilling your cat was going to be a walk in the park, but it doesn’t have to be like taking a stroll in hell either. With patience and time, you will be able to master the art of giving pills to your cat.

a woman giving a pill to her cat

What did the vet say about your cat’s condition? How often do you need to feed them their pills? Which method do you think will work best for your cat? If we missed any good method, please share your knowledge and experience with us in the comments section below!

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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