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 or capsule. 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 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.
This post was first published in 2012 and has been updated.