Few things are as frustrating for pet parents as having to medicate a cat. Instead of simply rolling up a pill in a piece of cheese—which seems to fool practically any dog—you often end up in an all-out wrangling match with your feline until one of you has bested the other. Let’s find out how to give a cat a pill … without losing an eye.
Three options for how to give a cat a pill
Start with tricks, aka treats. (Maybe you have an easy cat!)
Some cats can be tricked into taking their medicine through the use of tasty distractions. Coat the pill with a small amount of cream cheese, soft butter, peanut butter, yogurt, tuna, or salmon. Your cat may just gobble it up without being the wiser.
Another tasty option is a pill pocket, which has an opening (or pocket) for a pill. These small, moist treats come in a variety of delectable flavors, such as chicken, salmon, and tuna and cheese. If your cat is already a Greenies fan, this could be your answer!
There are additional pill “wraps” and pastes that mask the medicinal flavor of a pill. Jackson Galaxy recommends the Tomlyn Pill-Masker, a bacon-flavored paste that you can roll the pill into. You might also try Vetoquinol Pill Wrap, a shapeable liver-flavored paste that works pretty much the same way.
(Okay, your cat isn’t gullible.) Move on to devices.
For the cat that turns his nose up at your attempted tricks, you may want to turn to a device called a pill shooter (or pill dispenser, or pill popper). A pill shooter looks like a straw with a soft rubber tip that encases the pill, the other end of which functions like a syringe. Let your cat sniff and get familiar with the device before you use it. Once you’re ready, open your cat’s mouth, place the shooter gently into the back of the mouth, and plunge it to administer the pill. Hold your cat’s mouth closed, stroking his throat until he swallows the pill.
You can also talk to your veterinarian about having your cat’s medication compounded into a flavored formulation. Vet pharmacies can prepare many common medications into liquid or treat formulas that taste like chicken or tuna.
For the tough cases—do it yourself.
So your cat spurns treats and tools alike? It’s time to take care of business yourself. Litter-Robot resident veterinarian Dr. Justine Lee has a few tips for how to give a cat a pill (or check out the video below):
- First, coat the pill in soft butter to make the pill easier to swallow.
- Be calm and patient. You might want to wrap your cat in a blanket or towel with his head protruding. This secures him and protects you from flailing claws.
- Before starting, make sure that you either are holding the pill between the thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand or that it is placed near you, within an arm’s reach.
- The easiest way to begin is to position your cat correctly: With his back to you, gently wedge him between your legs as you squat over him. Or, if he seems calm, place him on a flat surface at your hip level.
- Using your nondominant hand, place your forefinger and your thumb around the cheeks of your cat—safely behind those canine teeth (the large pointy ones) of the upper jaw so he can’t bite you.
- Simultaneously direct your cat’s nose to the ceiling, causing him to slightly open his lower jaw.
- Place the dominant hand’s middle finger between your cat’s lower canine teeth and quickly pull down on his bottom jaw as you drop the pill held by your thumb and forefinger into the back of his throat, continuing to keep his nose lifted toward the ceiling.
- Use gentle pressure to close your cat’s mouth while he licks around and (hopefully) swallows the medication. It can also help to gently stroke his throat, which will encourage involuntary swallowing.
Dr. Lee suggests that, when in doubt, ask your veterinarian or technician to show you how to give a cat a pill. And unless your vet recommends it, don’t crush or grind pills to put in your cat’s food or water. Crushed medication can taste bitter, so your cat probably won't get the full dosage.
Medicating your cat is rarely easy, but necessary from time to time. There are many methods for how to give a cat a pill—we wish you good luck finding the one that works for you and your cat!
Cover photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash