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How to Give a Cat a Pill

Helpful Advice for Giving Medicine to Your Cat

Pilling a cat is a somewhat odd colloquialism that simply means giving a cat medicine. This is not always a fun process, but nearly all cat parents need to pill their cats at some point in their (nine) lives. Whether they are suffering from an acute illness or a chronic condition that requires more extensive treatment, cats are notoriously stubborn about taking medication. Since we cannot reason with them or ask them to “pretty please take their prescriptions for their own good,” we have to find clever ways to administer capsules, tablets, or liquids to our feline children–which can be especially challenging if they resist or are just too smart for their own good. 

If your veterinarian has recently prescribed treatment involving medicine to give your cat at home–and you are inexperienced in doing so–slow down and take a deep breath. If your cat is uneasy or nervous about taking medication, this can be a stressful situation for both of you–so try to remain confident, cool, and collected to make the process easier for everyone. With patience, practice, and this helpful guideline, you will learn to play nurse to your beloved feline like a pro. You’ve got this!

Giving Pills to Cats

Pills are a very common form of medication, and if you and your cat are lucky, they will not be overly bitter, sour, or otherwise unpalatable.  If the medication has little to no taste, you can likely sneak it into your cat’s food–without her even knowing–in one of two ways:

Pill Pockets

The best and easiest way to pill a cat is to hide tablets and caplets inside a delicious treat. Most cats find Greenies irresistible, and their pill pockets are no exception. Pill pockets are soft treats with a hole in the center: you simply open the pouch, pop in a pill, smoosh the edges of the treat around the pill until it is completely closed, and then feed it as a regular treat. Aapp likes Greenies because they are made with all-natural ingredients, including salmon and chicken protein, and are low in both fat and sodium. If your cat is somewhat easily fooled, pill pockets are a fantastic option to administer medication. Because this method is usually pleasant for all parties involved, we recommend that you try it first.

Grind and Dine

If your cat is a fairly good detective who eats around or refuses to consume a pill inside a pocket, you can grind her pills using a mortar and pestle, a hammer, or a pill grinder–and then place the finely ground powder in a small amount of your cat’s favorite food. The key is to give her something super tantalizing and ensure she eats the entire thing and gets the full dose, which is why it is best to start with a tiny amount and watch to be sure she takes it all.  You can always give her a bite of the untainted food first and again afterwards, to convince her that there is absolutely nothing amiss with the food (no medicine here, folks!!)

Some cats are really skeptical of pills and they can find them anywhere! Worse, they outsmart us by eating the delicious pill pocket around the pill. Other cats with super tongues can taste the medication you have carefully ground into their food, and simply refuse to eat it. Still others will watch you mix a strange substance into their bowls–tipping them off and making them suspicious. In all of these cases, you have an intelligent cat–sorry and congratulations!!! At least you are in very good company here :)). In these instances, you will need to give your cat medication directly, in a manner that does not allow her to spit it out. There are several options, depending on how hard your cat struggles:

Directly by Hand or by Pet Piller

You can give pills by hand OR by using a tool called a pet piller. If your cat is fairly docile and sweet like the one in this video, you can simply follow their example.

Kitten Burrito

If your cat is NOT cooperative, we recommend transforming her into a kitten burrito–or purrito!–to prevent scratches and escaping. Gently wrap your cat up in a towel with her paws tucked inside so she cannot use her claws. Once she is contained, gently open her mouth and put the pill as far back in her throat as possible without choking her. Then massage her throat until she swallows. You can also use a small syringe full of water to help wash it down. Here is a good video demonstration of this technique, which shows you where to apply pressure to open her mouth and how to hold her head.

Recruit a Back-Up 

The cat in the video above is still relatively calm compared to many of our cats, and if yours is a holy terror when it comes to medication, you may need to seek the help of a second person who is skilled in the art of pilling a cat; or ask someone with compassion to help you restrain your feisty kitty. Two sets of hands can be helpful. Just remember to be gentle, kind, and reassuring, and do everything you can to make your cat as comfortable as possible. 

Seek Veterinary Advice

If your cat is impossible to pill–gah! we empathize!–work with your veterinarian to figure out a solution. Your vet may have your cat’s medication compounded into a flavored liquid she may eat on her own or have you come in for daily injections. 

Giving Liquid Medicines to Your Cat

While liquid medications can come in drops for eyes or ears, your veterinarian may also have your cats’ medications that only come in pill form compounded into a flavored liquid that she will ideally like and eat with her food. This is a fantastic option for the smart, finicky felines we discussed above. In case you haven’t heard of it, compounding is, by definition, any manipulation of a drug beyond what is described on the drug label, and consists of mixing, diluting, concentrating, or even adding flavoring to an otherwise unpalatable medication–it’s like making a medicinal cocktail!  If you would like to read about how compounding works, our friends at the American Veterinary Medical Association offer this handy resource guide

Like pills, liquid medications can be tricky to administer, so you may need to repeat the same steps above, such as restraining your cat and getting help. In addition, it is important to carefully measure and store liquid medications. For more information on how to give liquid medications, we recommend this insightful article by Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Ernest Ward, DVM at VCA, who explain how to use a dosing syringe, as well as how to properly store, shake, and warm up liquid medications.  

Helpful Tools to Have in Advance

Even if your cat does not currently need medication, it is still a good idea to have these basic and relatively inexpensive tools on hand just in case. Add these to your list the next time you shop for your cat:

  • Pill Pockets
  • Pill Grinder
  • Pet Piller
  • Dosing syringe for water or liquid medications.
  • High-value treats or food

Final Tips When Giving Your Cat Pills or Liquid Medicines

  • Stay calm, cool, and collected–never scold your cat for refusing medication. Reassure your cat and stay focused.
  • Practice giving the medication quickly–so it is over before your cat even sees the medicine coming!
  • Work with your veterinarian if things are not going well, and do not give up–you will get the hang of it.
Published On: May 8, 2021|Categories: Cat Health, Pet Health|

About Us

The American Association of Pet Parents (AAPP) is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping pets happy, healthy and in their loving homes – and out of animal shelters.