Tips For Giving Pills to Your Cat

The idea of giving a cat medicine in the form of a pill can strike dread in the heart of cat owners everywhere. When cats are held down against their will for anything, but especially for something as unpleasant as taking a pill, their reaction is enough to make you think about disowning them!

Pet owner giving his cat a pill/tablet
credit: bradleyhebdon/iStock/GettyImages

But giving your cat a pill doesn't have to mean that your skin and clothing gets shredded up and you need to ask a friend to drive you to the hospital! Some tips when you first start to give pills to your cat can help, as well as ways to change things up if they get resistant to the idea (which they might!).

Gather supplies

Your cat may not like being held down while you drop a pill into her mouth. Many times, this is the worst part about giving a pill to a cat. The pill often isn't the hard part, it's keeping the cat still enough to get the pill into their mouth. Consider wrapping your cat up in a towel with only their head exposed while you hold them.

Gather the pill, the towel and a treat. Try to create a mellow environment around you and the cat (quiet the kids, keep the dog barking to a minimum) so the cat is as comfortable as possible. Try to hold your cat against your body with one hand so you have a free hand to deliver the pill. You can use a similar technique to keep calm if you have to give a cat liquid medicine.

Open their mouth

Your cat will likely resist opening their mouth so you may have to do it for them. Gently grab their bottom jaw and open it with your free hand and then drop the pill right into the back of their throat. Continue holding them in this position until you can see that they have swallowed. VCA Hospitals says placing the pill on the back third of the tongue will stimulate an automatic swallowing reflex.

Chocolate black Scottish fold cat is swallowing parasite pill with food at animal hospital with veterinarian
credit: Ayzenstayn/Moment/GettyImages

Follow up by petting them or brushing them, talking in a reassuring manner (begging for forgiveness!) and offering them a treat. If you can make the act of giving the pill as pleasant as possible by sweetening it with a treat afterward, this may help.

Use a pill shooter

It's not always easy to drop the pill right into the cat's throat. They may try to spit it out, or if they are really not liking the pills, they may actually try to hold it in their mouth and then spit it out when you're not looking! Animal Planet mentions this pill delivery tool that you can get at your veterinarian office or probably at any pet supply store that is called a "pill shooter."

The pill shooter looks and functions kind of like a syringe. It has a soft rubbery tip with a little pocket on the end where you can insert the pill. Position the pill shooter far back in the cat's mouth. Push in the handle and it ejects the pill into the cat's mouth.

Use pill pockets

Many cats enjoy the taste of pill pockets. These are soft treats that have a hole in the center where the pill can go. It's similar to giving a treat except that the pill pocket has a robust flavor that makes them overlook the fact that they are eating a pill.

A problem can arise though, if you have to give your cat medicine more than once a day, like you might have to for a thyroid problem, because they can begin to refuse to eat the pill pockets after a while. If this happens, try wrapping the pill up in some soft cheese or even cream cheese. Many cats love to lick the cheese and they won't notice the pill.

Scottish cat in color Whiskas. A cat receives a dose of medication from Veteneur on a white background, isolate
credit: Anton Ostapenko/iStock/GettyImages

Use margarine or butter

VCA Hospitals has the great suggestion to lubricate the pill with a little bit of margarine or butter before you give it to the cat. No matter which method you use of actually giving the pill to your cat, using a little margarine or butter could help it go down your cat's throat a little easier. The whole idea is to make the experience as painless as possible.

Vary the routine

One trick that can lead to success in giving your cat pills, especially if you have to give them on an ongoing basis, is to not do the same thing each time. Your cat may begin to recognize the sound of the pill bottle being opened and run and hide. If you always give the pill at mealtime (which is a convenient way to remember to do it) your cat may associate meals with the pills and begin to hide.

If this starts to happen, you can try to catch the cat in a room, such as the bathroom, until you're ready to give it to her. You may have to give the pill at various times of the day so she does not begin to run away. Try giving her the pill along with different foods that you know she likes, such as tuna, to make her extra happy.

Try a transdermal gel

Some medicines are available as a transdermal gel. Transdermal means it is delivered through skin. To use this, you can put a little plastic glove over the tip of your finger, scoop up some of the medicine, and apply it to the inside skin of your cat's ear. This is not as unpleasant as giving a pill, but you still have to catch and hold your cat.

Ask your veterinarian if the medicine you need to give your cat is available in this format. Some, like those given for hypothyroidism (overactive thyroid production) are available this way. Thyroid medication is typically given twice a day, so if your cat has this condition they may get tired of taking pills pretty fast! Having the gel as an option and varying your pill-giving routine can be enough to keep your cat from becoming too feisty about it!