Giving your cat a pill doesn’t have to be a battle. When it comes to giving cats medicine, most owners will imagine chasing them around the house, being bitten or scratched, and even damaging the bond they share with their beloved pet. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
Cats are unique and it is totally normal for them to hide, refuse to eat, or show uncharacteristic aggression when they don’t feel well. Because of these natural behaviours, your cat will need your help to take their medication.
Your vet can help you decide whether your cat’s pills can be safely crushed to make them easier to give or whether there are alternative versions of the medication such as a liquid or transdermal ear gel. But, if a pill is the best option, don’t despair.
You can give a pill safely without harming the precious bond between you and your cat. Some cats will take a pill hidden in tasty food, Pill Pockets, or an intriguing “treat maze”. When giving a pill by hand, using a towel wrap and even a handy tool like a pill popper can make it a safe, comfy experience.
Let me show you how!
Be Familiar With the Medication & How to Administer It
Talk with your vet about whether the pills will still be effective if they are crushed, split into smaller pieces, or dissolved in food or liquid. Also, be sure to ask about expected side effects and whether the pills need to be given with food or water. Some pills have a bitter taste when crushed or are no longer effective when split open. And if you suspect that your cat will not take a pill easily, ask whether there are other forms of the medication that could be prescribed, such as an injection.
Luckily for cat owners, there are some excellent alternative methods for cats to take medication. Many of these need to be prescribed through a compounding pharmacy (a pharmacy capable of mixing medications together) that is familiar with pet treatments. Your vet may be able to prescribe your cat’s medication in one of these forms:
- Flavoured chewable
- Transdermal ear gel (which absorbs through the skin on your cat’s ear)
However, some medications cannot be made into alternative forms and not everyone has access to a pet compounding pharmacy. In that case, it’s time to learn how to give your cat a pill.
Prepare Your Cat to Take the Pill
The two general ways to give a cat a pill are to hide it in food or to place it directly into your cat’s mouth. If your cat devours their dinner and is tempted by treats then there’s a good chance they will take a pill hidden in food. If your cat is suspicious of dietary changes then try a towel wrap and plan to give the pill by mouth.
Giving a Pill by Food
For this technique, you can try hiding the pill in a portion of wet food, Pill Pockets, treats your cat loves, or liquid such as Churu.
Cats are unable to taste sweet things so you can even ask your vet to add vanilla or cherry flavour to compounded pills to mask bitter-tasting medicine.
You can also try certain creamy foods and liquids, such as whipped cream, yoghurt, baby food, squeezy cheese, melted vanilla ice cream, tuna juice, or low-sodium chicken broth. Always be aware of food allergies specific to your pet before giving any food or treats.
Four Ways to Give a Pill to a Cat Who Loves to Eat
- Mix the pill with a serving of canned food and watch your cat gobble it up.
- Hide the pill in a Pill Pocket or other soft treat and prepare three to five additional titbits. Give them one at a time, starting and ending with a pill-free treat. Hopefully, your cat will be so busy enjoying the treats that they won’t notice when they encounter the one containing the pill!
- Create a “maze” on a plate using whipped cream or squeezy cheese. Draw lines and dots across the surface and hide the pill within the design. Your cat may be so intrigued by following the lines that they consume the pill without realising it.
- If you can safely dissolve the pill in liquid: mix the crushed pill with a small amount of tuna juice or low-sodium chicken broth for your cat to lap up.
Giving a Pill by Mouth
If your cat is too clever to be fooled by a pill hidden in food or broth, you will need to give it by mouth. If putting your fingers between your cat’s sharp teeth sounds a little too risky, there is a tool for that—a pill popper. It’s a long plunger with a soft tip that can help you place a pill safely into your cat’s mouth.
The pill-giving process will likely feel strange for your cat at first. However, a calm attitude and gentle handling will help reassure your pet. Swaddling your cat in a towel is a cosy way to prepare them to take a pill. You will need to gather a fluffy towel, a pill popper or syringe, and a confident attitude to get started.
The Towel Wrap Method
Towel wraps are a wonderful way to reduce stress while administering treatments to your cat.
- Lay out a large towel on a table and position your cat in the centre of the towel, facing away from you.
- Fold the towel snugly over your cat’s back, one side at a time, to create a “kitty burrito”.
- Place your arms on the table on either side of your cat and your hands at the base of their neck.
- Apply gentle pressure with your arms to keep your cat from squirming, and massage their neck or chin to keep them calm.
Most cats enjoy being swaddled in a warm towel, but some may feel trapped. If your cat is struggling excessively, skip the towel wrap and hold them firmly but gently on your lap instead (you may want to use the towel on top of your lap for this)!
Five Steps to Give a Pill to a Cat Manually
- Position your cat in a towel wrap or on your lap, facing away from you.
- Place one hand over the top of your cat’s head with your thumb on one side and fingers on the other side. Tilt their head back and slowly insert your fingers into the side of their mouth until their jaw drops open.
- Using your other hand, do one of the following: Use your fingers to place the pill on the back of their tongue; place the pill into a pill popper and insert it gently into the back of your cat’s mouth and push the plunger to release the pill; or insert a syringe containing the pill dissolved in water just inside your cat’s cheek and slowly press the plunger, making sure they swallow as you go to prevent the liquid being inhaled.
- Hold their mouth gently closed. Massage your cat’s neck lightly until you see them swallow. Then watch to make sure they don’t spit the pill or liquid out.
- Reward your cat with lots of love, praise, and a treat. You both deserve it!
Congratulations, You Successfully Gave Your Cat a Pill!
Giving your cat a pill can be daunting. Among their many quirks, cats tend to be suspicious and highly sensitive to new smells, tastes, and textures. This makes them difficult to deceive by simply slipping a pill into their dinner.
But by learning about your cat’s medication from your vet, and using calm, compassionate restraint or creative tricks to conceal pills in your kitty’s food, you will be able to successfully give your pet their medicine while reducing stress for both of you.