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How to Give a Cat a Pill

Success Without the Mess

By Sora Wondra. December 13, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

    DVM

A Cat Sitting In Front A Food Bowl

Getting a cat to swallow a pill can be a tricky little process. Cats can usually figure out when "something's up." Here are a couple of tips and tricks on how to give a cat a pill.

Giving your cat a pill can be tricky. Cats usually hate the taste and hate being restrained, and they may go to great lengths to avoid getting their medicine in the future once they know what you’re up to. However, using a couple training techniques, you can teach your cat that taking medicine is pleasant. Here’s how to give a cat a pill.

Check the Instructions

Many pills can be taken with food, but others require an empty stomach. Some can be powdered and added to food, but only a vet or pharmacist should make that decision. Chances are, the pill is intended to be swallowed whole.

Method 1: Hiding Pills in Food or Treats

One method for giving pills is to sneak them inside a “meatball” of wet food or treats. The problem is that cats have a tendency to chew their food, which means they might eat around the capsule, or if they bite into it and taste it, they will refuse pills in the future.

To avoid these problems, you should always do a couple test meatballs before inserting medicine. Experiment with sizes and types of food to see if you can encourage them to swallow the “meatball” whole. Once you've found your method, prepare several of these treats and stick the pill in the middle of the series—always try to end with pure treats to avoid a medicine flavor.

Method 2: Giving Pills by Hand

It's much more likely that you'll need to manually give your cat their pill. This can be challenging if they try to escape or get upset and bite you. To avoid these problems in advance, slowly train them to accept your hand around their head, holding their cheeks. If you use treats to encourage this behavior, it will be easier when the time arises to give medication.

  • Get everything ready—a towel, a treat, and the pill. You may want to coat the pill in peanut butter to mask the bitter taste, depending on your cat. It may also help to have a friend hold your cat.
  • Put the cat on a non slippery surface, like a table, and have your friend restrain the cat while you place a towel loosely around their neck and over their front legs to avoid scratching.
  • Restrain the cat in the crook of your non-dominant elbow and hold them against your body.
  • Hold the cat by their cheekbones with your non-dominant hand.
  • Tilt their head up slightly and their lower jaw should open. If it doesn't, gently open using a finger on your dominant hand. Make sure you avoid putting your finger over their sharp canine teeth.
  • Using your dominant hand, quickly place the pill in the middle of their tongue and push it as far back on the tongue as possible. Be careful to do this rapidly and maintain a hold on their cheeks to avoid being bitten.
  • Let the mouth close by releasing your dominant hand and blow on their nose or massage their throat. This will encourage the cat to swallow.
  • If your cat licks their lips, the pill is probably swallowed, but keep an eye out. Once you believe it has been swallowed, go ahead and release the hold on their head but keep them close. Giving them a treat or a little water right after can help ensure swallowing.

If your cat is prone to biting, you may want to use a pilling device instead. The plastic syringe-style device can place the pill while keeping your fingers clear. Bites can be very painful and infect you with bacteria from the cat's mouth. If you are bitten, clean the wound thoroughly and contact your doctor.

If Pills Aren't Working

Try to make pilling sessions quick and positive. Give a lot of love and attention before and afterward and use favorite treats. Nevertheless, some cats cannot be easily restrained and you may find it too difficult to administer medication. You may need to work with your vet to get the same medicine in liquid or powder form.

More on Cat Health

How to Brush Your Cat's Teeth
How to Wash a Cat
How to Give Your Cat Thyroid Medicine

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Cats and Pills at a glance

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  • 1Make sure you know the details about when and how medicine can be given.
  • 2If the pill is small, try hiding it in food or a treat, but make sure your cat won't chew it.
  • 3Have a friend help you restrain your cat when you must manually give pills.
  • 4You may also want to use a pilling device.