person trying to give a cat a pill
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How To Give a Cat a Pill

Est. read time: 6 min.

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.

3 options for how to give a cat a pill

Be sure to set yourself up for success by creating an environment that is familiar, free of distractions, and minimizes stress. Grab your cat for their medication at an appropriate time as well. No one wants to be forced to take their medication in the middle of using the bathroom or eating their breakfast. Choosing an appropriate time and environment can make all of the difference!

1. 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.

If household, cat-safe treats and snacks don’t work for your feline, there are a few cat products designed for this purpose. One very popular, tasty option is a pill pocket: these strongly scented, meaty treats have an opening (or pocket) for a pill or capsule. 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. One option is 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. All of these options can easily be purchased either at your local pet supplies store or online without a prescription from your veterinarian. 

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. Changing the form of the medication could also affect the safety and efficacy of the medication. 

2. (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. 

Using a pill shooter can be fast and effective once you and your cat have worked out the kinks. If you’re nervous about using one, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian’s office and ask if they can teach you or demonstrate the proper way to use this type of device. 

3. For the tough cases—do it yourself.

So your cat spurns treats and tools alike? It’s time to take care of business yourself. You can administer pills or capsules with the same basic steps you would use with a pill shooter if your cat’s temperament allows for this. Please don’t put yourself in a situation to be bitten by your cat: that is one of the reasons why pill shooters are so beneficial. 

View this image-based guide for giving a cat pills or capsules, or follow these tips:

  1. First, coat the pill in soft butter to make the pill easier to swallow.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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 arm’s reach.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Simultaneously direct your cat’s nose to the ceiling, causing him to slightly open his lower jaw.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

When in doubt, ask your veterinarian or technician to show you how to give a cat a 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.

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!


human hand trying to feed a grey tabby cat a pill; how to give a cat a pill