How to Give a Cat a Pill

gray cat and black and white dog
By Pet Expert Team
Updated: 7/16/20242-4 minutes
A cat is taking a pill

Getting your kitty to do anything she doesn’t want to do is always a challenge. But most likely there will be times in your cat’s life, whether it’s giving your cat an antibiotic for an infection or a pain reliever after surgery, when you will have to give her pills or liquid medication.

Learning how to give a cat medicine is a key part of being a pet parent. In this article, we provide tips for making cat pills easier to administer and step-by-step instructions for how to give a cat liquid medicine or a pill while minimizing the stress to you and your cat.

Why Vets Prescribe Medications or Recommend Supplements

To help your cat feel her best, your vet may prescribe medicines that treat a specific condition or recommend supplements that support her health. Whether it’s supplements or medicine, it’s important to follow through with your vet’s recommended treatments.

Medicine or pharmaceutical drugs are chemical compounds that have been developed to treat, prevent, or manage a physical ailment, or ease the symptoms associated with an ailment or condition.

Generally, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals do not taste very good, and are often quite bitter. While it’s easy for people to swallow a bitter pill with a glass of water, pet parents must work a little harder to get a cat to take a pill.

While cats and people may take similar drugs for certain conditions, the formulations and dosages are usually different. Never give your cat or any pet a drug made for humans without first checking with your vet. What works for people may be toxic to your cat.

How do you give supplements to cats? Unlike medicinal drugs, cat supplements are usually formulated in a flavor that cats like. Remember, although your cat may enjoy the taste, supplements are not treats, and you should not give more than the dosage recommended for your cat.

In addition to medicine and supplements, your vet may recommend veterinary-formula cat food to help support your cat’s condition.

Types and Forms of Medication or Supplements

Supplements for cats may come in a variety of forms including: 

Medications for cats are also available in several forms, depending on the drug, such as: 

  • Pills or tablets 
  • Capsules 
  • Dissolvable tablets 
  • Liquids 
  • Injections 
  • Transdermal – where pets absorb the medicine through the skin

Some medicines are available in multiple forms. If you find it easier to give your cat liquid medicine rather than a pill or capsule, ask your vet if the medicine comes in that form. 

Transdermal medications get rubbed into your cat’s skin where there is less fur, and that’s usually the fleshy part of the ears. Just make sure you use gloves or wash your hands immediately after applying the meds, as you don’t want to absorb your cat’s medicine through your skin.

What to Consider Before Giving Your Cat Tablets

Most medicines are not going to taste very good to your cat. That’s changing as more and more common cat medications are being formulated in dosages and flavors for cats.

If your vet prescribes a medicine, ask if it comes in a pet-friendly formula with a flavor your cat will like or if it can be compounded into an easier-to-administer form. Many vets, as well as neighborhood independent compounding pharmacies and online pet pharmacies, can prepare liquid formulations in fish or liver flavors your cat may like.

Your vet or pharmacy may also be able to prepare a transdermal medicine. This is often an option for cats who need, but can’t tolerate, oral hyperthyroid medication. Be aware, these compounded versions will usually cost more than the regular drug and will take more time for your vet or pharmacist to prepare. 

If the options above are not available and your cat will have to take a pill, check with your vet for any restrictions on how the medication should be administered. Certain pills can be mixed with food, while others can’t. Some pills can be crushed or divided, and others require that they are taken whole or else they may damage your cat’s esophagus or stomach.

What’s the Easiest Way to Give a Pill to a Cat?

There are some methods you can try when learning how to give cats pills, which will (hopefully) leave you scratch-free! Of course, if you start training kittens when they are young to get comfortable with you holding their mouths, it will make it easier to give them pills when they are adults.

Here are a few ways to give your cat a pill without getting bitten or scratched:

Give Your Cat Medication With Food

If the medication can be given with food, the easiest way to give your cat a pill is to hide it in something she loves to eat. The best foods to hide cat pills in are ones your cat really likes. This might include tuna, wet cat food, especially paté-style Fancy Feast, treats, plain chicken or turkey baby food, and edible pill wrap. Just make sure the food doesn’t contain garlic or onions, and check with your vet to make sure the medicine you are giving your cat is compatible with the treat you’re hiding it in.

You might want to mix up the pill wraps so you’re hiding the pill in tuna one day, then canned cat food the next day, and so on. Mixing it up can keep your cat from associating the flavor of the treat with the pill. 

Waiting until just before mealtime to give your cat a pill hidden in food may help. If she’s hungry, your cat may be less likely to refuse food. Use only a small amount of the food to ensure your cat consumes the pill, and if your cat doesn’t finish, pick up the bowl to avoid other household pets from eating it.

What Happens if Your Cat Spits Out Her Pill?

Cats are experts at eating around the pill or spitting it out later when you’re not looking. To make sure they’re swallowing it, check the food they’ve eaten and stay with them while they eat. If they continue to spit the pill out, try another method.

Use a Pill Crusher

Can you crush your cat’s pills? Ask your vet first, and if it’s okay, crush the pill in a pill crusher and then add the powder to a small amount of canned cat food, broths, gravies, or purées and give it to your cat before she gets the rest of her meal.

Wrap Your Cat in a Purrito

Wrapping your cat in a towel where just her head is poking out is one way to restrain your cat while you give her a pill. Some pet parents, and even vet techs, will use this method before giving a cat medicine, brushing her teeth, or cleaning her eyes and ears.

Place a bath towel on a table or floor and put your cat on the towel about 1 foot from one end. Fold the edge of the towel over your cat’s feet. Then wrap the short side of the towel snugly so that her entire body is covered except for her face. Pull the front edge under her neck and then pull the other end of the towel over and then under your cat to make sure she’s secure.

It helps to start wrapping your cat in a purrito when she’s a kitten, and it may take a few tries before you get the hang of it and she gets used to it.

Use a Pill Popper or Piller Device

This device removes the need to place your fingers in the cat’s mouth but can damage the back of her throat if used incorrectly. Only use a pill popper if you have been shown the safe technique by a vet or vet tech. 

Pet poppers or pet pill devices hold the pill at the end of a long tube with a plunger. Once you’ve placed the tube in your cat’s mouth, you depress the plunger, and the pill drops into the mouth. Then you close your cat’s mouth, gently blow on her nose, or stroke her neck to prompt the swallowing reflex.

Some people prefer to use pet pillers to give cats pills and find it easier than using their fingers. The one advantage is if your cat bites down while you’re pilling her, she bites the tube, not your hand. Follow the instructions below, using the pet pill device rather than your fingers on step 6.

How to Give a Cat a Pill By Hand in 10 Steps

How do you give a cat a pill when she’s not eating? Or if she’s gotten wise to the pill hidden in the treat? If you’re wondering how to give a pill to a stubborn cat, you’ll need to learn how to give a cat a pill orally.

If you’ve never given your cat a pill, it might be a good idea to have your vet or vet tech demonstrate how to do it with the first dose. Or check with reliable, dependable cat sitters in your area. They may be available to come to your house and pill your cat for you, until you get the hang of it, or show you how to do it.

If that’s not an option, learn how to give your cat a pill by yourself with these step-by-step instructions for giving a cat a pill without food: 

  1. Try to approach the task calmly, aiming to minimize stress to your cat. Do not put yourself at risk of getting bitten, and watch your cat closely for signs that they are becoming angry or distressed. 
  2. Have all the medications that you are about to give your cat prepared before you bring your cat in. Tablets and capsules should be individually set out or placed in the pill popper (see above). 
  3. Place your cat on a flat, stable surface such as the floor or a tabletop. It can be helpful to put down a towel to stop her from slipping. It will be easier to give your cat the pill from behind or sitting next to her. However, avoid taking your cat by surprise as this will startle her and may result in a defensive scratch or nip. 
  4. Having a second pair of hands can be very helpful but is not essential. You want your cat to be facing away from you as this will make it easier to restrain her legs or any other movement she might use to try and escape your grasp. You may find it helpful to hold her securely against your body to prevent her from reversing, or wrap her in a purrito (see above). 
  5. Take the pill in one hand, and with the other hand gently hold over the top of your cat’s head with your thumb and index fingers on either side of her jaw and tilt your cat’s head upwards. Use the other hand to gently open the lower jaw to open her mouth. 
  6. Use your index finger or the piller device to place the pill in the middle of her tongue, as far back as you can. 
  7. Close your cat’s mouth, gently rub her throat for a few seconds, and then return her head to a normal position and wait for her to lick her lips as she swallows. 
  8. Once you think your cat has swallowed, check her mouth and the corner of her lips, if she will let you. If you can’t spot the pill, then you can be reasonably confident that you’ve been successful. 
  9. If you see she hasn’t swallowed it, just try to place it at the back of her tongue again, close her mouth and gently rub her throat. You could squirt a very small amount of water in her mouth to encourage her to swallow the tablet, but not too much as this may cause her to choke. In some cases, it’s best to let her spit it out completely and start the process again. 
  10. The final step is to treat your cat with their favorite food and cat toys once they have ingested their medication. This helps to develop a positive association between receiving medication and having a treat and can help to make the process a little easier in future.  

How to Give Your Cat Liquid Medicine

Use these instructions to learn how to give a cat liquid medicine with a syringe or dropper:  

  1. Follow steps 1 through 4 above, making sure the liquid medicine has been drawn up into an oral syringe or dropper before bringing your cat in.  
  2. Do NOT tilt your cat’s chin upward as you would for a pill.  
  3. Place the liquid-filled syringe into the side of the mouth, just past the lower teeth. 
  4. Slowly squirt a small amount into your cat’s mouth. 
  5. Pause between squirts to allow your cat to swallow the medication without gagging or choking.

Safety Tips When Giving a Cat a Pill

Always hold over the top of their head to reduce the risk of being bitten. 

  • If your cat is particularly unruly, get another person to hold them while you administer the pill. 
  • If you or your cat are getting stressed, stop and give them a few treats and gently stroke and soothe them before trying again. 
  • If you get bitten by your cat, and especially if the wound is deep or bleeding, contact your doctor for advice or go to an urgent care facility as soon as possible. Cat’s teeth harbor nasty bacteria which can cause an infection.

Remember, it is important that you follow your vet’s instructions, and you give your cat all the medication that was prescribed for the number of days indicated on the prescription. 

If you continue to have difficulty giving your cat a pill, contact your veterinarian for advice and assistance. 

For more expert tips for the health of your cat, explore our other cat health articles.

 

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