Over the years, I’ve had to give cats pills hundreds of times. This hasn’t always been a good experience — for me or the cats! These are some of the tricks I’ve learned, sometimes by trial and error and sometimes by just trying to think like a cat.
A Word About Pills
When given a choice, I prefer liquid medication. The cat can’t spit it out when you’re not looking. And pills are difficult for a cat to swallow. They tend to get stuck in the cat’s esophagus and can stay there for as long as 15 minutes, causing a painful and sometimes dangerous burning sensation. If you must give your cat pills, follow them with a few bites of wet food or a chaser of water in a syringe.
If your cat is going to be on medication for life, ask your veterinarian for medicine that’s been compounded into liquid that tastes good to cats, soft moist treats or a gel that you’d rub inside an ear tip. Don’t take no for an answer! You and your cat have to live with each other, and if you have a major struggle over medicine twice a day, he’s soon going to decide he hates you or is terrified of you. If you don’t have a compounding pharmacy in the town where you live, you’ll find many good ones online.
As with everything cat, your attitude will determine whether you’re able to give your cat a pill without a major struggle and trauma to both of you. If you’re calm and confident and treat him with love and respect, chances are he’ll take his medicine willingly. Here are some ways to make the experience as painless as possible.
— Make the cat comfortable. Some feel more comfortable taking their medicine when they’re up high, so try putting your cat on a table, counter, or perch of your cat tree.
— Disguise the pill. Cats aren’t easy to fool, but these disguises work for most cats. If your cat is on long-term medication, you might have to disguise the pills in different ways as time goes on.
- Try Pill Pockets, soft moist treats with little pockets for hiding pills. The capsule size Pill Pockets for dogs seem to work best because they have a stronger smell. Break off a little piece of the Pill Pocket and wrap it around the pill. Cats can tire of Pill Pockets quickly, but your cat might accept them again if you sandwich them between regular treats.
- Sandwich the pill into a soft moist treat. Even if the pill falls out of the treat, the cat will eat it because it tastes like the treat. Or, cut a treat with a soft center (Temptations, for instance) in half, put the pill into the soft center and reassemble the treat.
- Hide the pill in just a bite of food. Most cats know when their food has been tampered with and won’t eat it. So use something your cat doesn’t eat all the time. Turkey, chicken and ham baby food make great disguises for pills. So does a little bit of tuna. Try hiding a whole pill in the food first. If your cat eats around the pill, dissolve it in a couple of drops of water and mix it into the food. Give him only as much food as he can eat in a couple of bites. If he doesn’t finish it all, he won’t have gotten all of his medicine.
- Some cats like a tiny bit of plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream, even if a crushed pill is mixed in.
- Wrap the pill in a “treat food,” like liverwurst, white American cheese or Monterrey Jack.
The Straightforward Approach
If you and your cat decide the straightforward approach is best for the two of you, this is the way that works best for my cat friends and me.
- Be positive and upbeat: “Let’s do your medicine.”
- Dip the pill in a little bit of wet food so it will be easier to swallow. You can also use butter, but a buttery pill is slippery and hard to hold on to.
- Sit on the floor with the cat and wrap your legs around the him while petting his head or scratching his neck. If he’s the kind of cat who will swat at you just for the fun of it, sit with his back to you and press your knees around him.
- Tilt his head back, open his mouth and drop or gently toss the pill into his mouth just beyond the hump in his tongue. Let him close his mouth. Do this quickly!
- Rub his throat or blow gently in his face to make him swallow. Opening his mouth just a little bit will also make him swallow. While you’re doing this, tell him what a smart cat he is to take his medicine because it will make him feel much better.
- The second he swallows the pill, give him some treats or something he likes to eat to show how much you appreciate his cooperation. A reward will make medicating him next time easier.
- If your cat is on several different kinds of medication, consider putting all of his pills in one empty gelatin capsule coated with butter or wet food. He’ll appreciate getting the medication over with in one gulp.
Tools To Help You Give Your Cat A Pill
- Capsule size Pill Pockets are smellier than the cat size and better at disguising pills. Just break off a piece and wrap it around your cat’s medicine.
- The Bullseye Pill Gun was invented by a vet and is accurate and easy to use. It’s great for cats who take multiple meds because the barrel holds several pills or a couple of capsules.
- If your cat is on a couple kinds of medicine, a size three gel cap can hold two small pills or several halves and quarters. Gel cap sizes go from 000 to 4. Four is the smallest and will hold just one small pill.
- If your cat is very fractious and difficult to medicate, the Cat Sack will probably work better than wrapping him burrito style in a towel.