Dry Pilling Cats: Uncomfortable, and Potentially Dangerous

cat with medication

Pilling cats can be challenging, to say the least. Even if you mange to get your cat to take pills by popping them directly into her mouth, you may be doing more harm than good. This practice is known as “dry pilling,” and it can not only be uncomfortable for your cat, it can cause serious damage to the delicate lining of the esophagus.

Think about the last time you took a pill, capsule or vitamin. You most likely took it with a glass of water. And even if you did, depending on the size of the pill, it may have gotten lodged halfway down. Remember that uncomfortable feeling? You probably immediately drank some more water. Unfortunately, our cats don’t have the instinct to do that if something gets stuck in their esophagus.

Dr. Lisa Pierson, the founder of catinfo.org, one of the best and most comprehensive websites about feline nutrition, wrote a comprehensive article on Pilling Cats (and Dogs) and Erosive Esophagitis. In her article, she quotes one of her colleagues:

“Last year, I was prescribed clindamycin (Antirobe) for a dental infection and was instructed to take each capsule with a full glass of water. One night, being lazy, I took the capsule with just a gulp of water. What ensued was the worst case of heartburn/esophagitis I have ever had. At first, the pain was so intense I thought I was having a heart attack. This cured me of ever pilling a cat without a water or food chaser.”

Dry pilling should be immediately followed with 4-5 milliliters (cc’s) of water, tuna juice or meat broth given orally via a syringe, or the consumption of some canned food.  “Offering canned food, tuna juice, meat baby food, or a meat broth for them to lap up on their own are also very good options and ones that are less stressful than syringing,” says Dr. Pierson.

Dr. Pierson’s article also addresses other little known tips on how to properly administer medication using Pill Pockets, flavored compounded liquid medication, or transdermal medications. She stresses to never use an entire Pill Pocket to avoid having your cat bite down on the medication hidden inside. Use just enough of the Pill Pocket dough to cover the pill. That way, cats are more likely to swallow the entire treat and pill whole rather than chew it. She also explains why you should never tilt your cat’s head up while giving a pill.

I think Dr. Pierson’s article is a must read for all cat guardians.

Pilling Cats (and Dogs) and Erosive Esophagitis

Photo: istockphoto

34 Comments on Dry Pilling Cats: Uncomfortable, and Potentially Dangerous

  1. Dia Pott
    October 11, 2012 at 1:19 pm (2 years ago)

    Our Bubba loved pill pockets for a while, then got wise to them. A change in flavor helped only for a while. Dr. Pierson’s pilling technique works! I roll his pill in a small amount of pill pocket and then mix that in with 4 or 5 other small treats, putting them down quickly one at a time, as recommended. So far, he gobbles them down and hasn’t appeared to detect the pill as yet, so we are keeping our fingers crossed! Great suggestion and so logical. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm (2 years ago)

      That’s a great idea to mix the pill pocket in with a few other treats, Dia.

      Reply
  2. Bernadette
    July 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm (3 years ago)

    A long time ago a veterinarian advised to coat the pill with butter so it would slide down. I did that for years until my current veterinarian (of 18 years) mentioned giving a water chaser, both before and after if possible. She’s not fond of pill pockets and I’ve never used them, or of topical applications for any medication because it’s not as reliable. But I do water before and after, and either right before or after a meal, whichever is advised.

    Reply
  3. Kitty
    July 25, 2012 at 8:01 am (3 years ago)

    I think this is a really good point. But we have a cat with asthma who will vomit if we give her any food or water at all within about an hour of her pill. She vomits a lot just on her own. Worse, she is already very skittish about being held or getting pilled in the first place, even after years of treatment. It feels impossible to do it comfortably and she refuses to eat it if it is hidden in something.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 25, 2012 at 8:13 am (3 years ago)

      That makes things challenging, Kitty. Can you get the medication in liquid or transdermal form?

      Reply
      • Kitty
        July 26, 2012 at 9:16 am (3 years ago)

        :( No. She had been taking a steroid shot, but the asthma continued to worsen, and it’s not good for long-term use. The only thing she is able to take are the two medications in pill form. She takes one every day, and one every other day, so every other day we even have to give her two. Luckily they are very small pills, but she is one of the most stubborn cats I’ve ever met!!! I wish she’d just take them in a docile way. More than that, though, I wish there were a gentle way we could give them to her and still be assured she would keep them down.

        Reply
  4. Erin Nellen
    July 25, 2012 at 3:47 am (3 years ago)

    I’m definetely gonna have to sit and read this when it’s not 3 am. We have a cat who is indoor/outdoor so of course she eats mice which means regular dewormer in pill form. I always drink something with my pills it just never occurred to me what they went through. I will definetely have to read and see if there is advise on how to do this with a very finicy cat LOL. Thanks again Ingrid for getting us more vital info!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 25, 2012 at 6:38 am (3 years ago)

      Let me know if any of the suggestions work for you kitty, Erin.

      Reply
  5. Susanna
    July 25, 2012 at 2:28 am (3 years ago)

    I put my cats’s pill inside a piece of meat, he loves it. He has Feline Gastrointestinal Eosinophilic Sclerosing Fibroplasia (what a mouthful) and needs a cortisone pill every day.

    Reply
    • Peggy Ballard
      May 24, 2014 at 10:35 am (10 months ago)

      PLEASE, e-mail me because my cat was just diagnosed with this and I am devastated and need information and direction on what to do. Thank you so much!

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        May 24, 2014 at 10:46 am (10 months ago)

        Peggy, what was your cat diagnosed with?

        Reply
        • Peggy Ballard
          June 19, 2014 at 11:23 am (9 months ago)

          Need info on feline gastrointestinal eosinophilic sclerosing fibroplasia if anyone has knowledge or experience please!

          Reply
  6. Jessica Sala
    July 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm (3 years ago)

    Very interesting article! I’ve always searched for a better way to pill the cats. My pups are so easy, they will eat anything as long as it is covered in peanut butter, but the cats are so much finickier!

    Reply
  7. Deborah Julian Cat Art DeborahJulian.etsy.com
    July 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm (3 years ago)

    What an interesting article. I had a problem pilling my cat George. I tried it once and it really upset him. I am sensitive to my cats reactions to things so have tried to find other ways to deal with pills. I have had good results with Pill Pockets and have instinctively put a small amount of the pill pocket material around the pill. I have always felt that I should find a way to give them medication that didn’t upset them. It never occurred to me that they could experience physical problems from pilling. I am so happy to see these types of articles that look at things from the cat’s point of view.

    BTW, Ingrid- to follow up on an earlier post, I just made an appointment with a home visit vet. Wish I had done it long ago. Thanks so much for these discussions.

    http://www.DeborahJulian.etsy.com

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 24, 2012 at 6:55 am (3 years ago)

      That’s great that you knew to only use a small amount of the Pill Pocket, Debbie.

      Let me know how the home vet visit goes!

      Reply
  8. catherine turley
    July 23, 2012 at 11:53 am (3 years ago)

    just yesterday, i was reading one of her articles and she mentioned that she always keeps fortiflora on hand because you can roll the pill pockets in it or put it on anything, if a cat starts rejecting whatever you normally use. they love it, apparently. about $20 on ebay.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm (3 years ago)

      Fortiflora seems to be a favorite with a lot of kitties. I don’t think I’d buy it off Ebay, though – I’d buy it from a reputable online pet retailer.

      Reply
      • Laura Kurek
        July 24, 2012 at 8:45 am (3 years ago)

        I found it on Amazon cheaper than that.

        Reply
  9. Cherry City Kitties
    July 23, 2012 at 10:59 am (3 years ago)

    Thanks for sharing this excellent article. Hopefully we don’t have to take pills, but if we do….

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm (3 years ago)

      I, too, hope you’ll never need this advice!

      Reply
  10. Laura Kurek
    July 23, 2012 at 10:52 am (3 years ago)

    This is great article! I have a recept adoptee with URI symptoms that refuses to be pilled and wont eat anything other than a her dry kibble. We foster quite often and I will take a liquid over a pill anyday, but after reading that I’ll definitely ask for liquid meds. We normally have a syringe of water as a chaser anyway.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm (3 years ago)

      I’m glad the article helped, Laura.

      Even though this is off topic, and you probably already know this, I’d encourage you to keep trying to switch your kitty to canned food. Here are some suggestions on how to transition even hard core dry food addicts: http://consciouscat.net/2011/07/25/how-to-your-cat-off-dry-food/

      Reply
      • Laura Kurek
        July 24, 2012 at 8:44 am (3 years ago)

        I saw that! We have to sit down and make a game plan on how we are going to do this. We also have a very obese cat (we adopted him this way) that we’ve been unable to get any weight off of despite our efforts and food changes. I am determined this year to see progress! Thanks for all your great tips & articles.

        Reply
        • Cathy Smotherman
          July 25, 2012 at 7:43 pm (3 years ago)

          Laura,
          If you’ve already put this cat on a healthy diet and not seen any changes I just want to suggest that there may be something other than past overeating going on. There could be a medical condition. They are learning more and more in research on human weight control that our bodies vary widely and do not all respond the same way to an equal number of calories. I have 3 dogs that are all about 75 pounds (an appropriate weight for their sizes) and one dog eats much less than the other 2 and yet if you were to say one of them has a little tendency toward pugginess it would be that dog. Just wanted to throw these thoughts out there in case it’s not a matter of overeating with your kitty.

          Reply
          • Ingrid
            July 25, 2012 at 8:54 pm (3 years ago)

            It’s always possible that there’s an underlying medical condition, Cathy, and I would certainly recommend ruling that out first. However, cats are different than dogs in that most of the time when cats are overweight and/or unable to lose weight, it’s because they’re on diets that are not appropriate for an obligate carnivore. It’s not just about calories. They are not designed to digest carbs, which is yet another reason to not feed dry food. Most cats will loose weight safely and fairly easily once they’re transitioned to a grain-free canned or raw diet.

  11. Caren Gittleman
    July 23, 2012 at 9:43 am (3 years ago)

    Wow!! I have NEVER thought of this before and I THANK YOU for bringing this to my attention.

    Thankfully, Cody is good about being pilled because what I was doing anyway was putting his canned food down, then picking him up to give him his pill (when he has to take one) then putting him back down to finish his food……I was unknowingly doing the right thing but now that I DO know the possible dangers I will make it a point to always be cognizant.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm (3 years ago)

      I love your method, Caren!

      Reply
  12. Dorene
    July 23, 2012 at 7:41 am (3 years ago)

    Lindsey gets a daily Denamarin and it seems to be helping him. I’ve coated the pill with cream cheese, popped it down his throat and then let him lick more cream cheese off my finger. It’s seemed to work for us, but I’m wondering if he needs more liquid than cream cheese provides. Should I try some meat baby food afterwards?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm (3 years ago)

      It probably couldn’t hurt to use a baby food chaser, or some canned food. I like Caren’s method (below) of giving the pill just before a canned meal.

      Reply
  13. Anne from TheCatSite.com
    July 23, 2012 at 5:08 am (3 years ago)

    Very important topic. Especially for those who have to regularly pill a cat. I think capsules may be more gentle on the throat than regular round dry pills? The capsules feel more gentle on our own throats, being covered in plastic.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 23, 2012 at 6:31 am (3 years ago)

      Actually, it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s pills or capsules, Anne. There may be less of a chance with a capsule of getting stuck on the way down, but if the cat bites down on it, or if the capsule does get stuck, the end result is the same.

      Reply
  14. Teri and the cats of Curlz and Swirlz
    July 23, 2012 at 4:59 am (3 years ago)

    Excellent post and something many veterinarians (or their staff) don’t take the time to explain to clients, especially mixed practices that ‘think with their Dog Brains’… I am sharing this on my FB page, as well as the FB page of the cat hospital where I work.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 23, 2012 at 6:32 am (3 years ago)

      Thanks for sharing, Teri. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a vet, mixed or feline only, where this was explained to owners.

      Reply

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