Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 1, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Rumor has it there are some cats who take their pills without putting up a fight, but based on my experience, both personal and during my years working in veterinary clinics, most cats don’t like to get pilled, and some have elevated the act of refusing to take medication to an art form.
If you’ve never had to pill your cat before, try the “proper way” first. Maybe your cat will be one of the compliant ones.
The “proper” way to pill a cat
- Hold the cat securely in your left arm (or right, if you’re left handed).
- Gently grasp your cat’s head by the side of her cheeks with your left thumb and index or middle finger.
- Gently tilt your cat’s head back.
- Take the pill between your right thumb and forefinger.
- With your right middle finger or little finger, gently press down on your cat’s lower front teeth to force his mouth open.
- Fling the pill as far back into your cat’s mouth as you can.
- Gently press your cat’s mouth close.
- Stroke your cat’s throat a few times, and/or blow on her nose. This will trigger the swallow reflex.
- Let go and watch to make sure that your cat doesn’t spit the pill out.
- Reward the cat with a treat if you were successful so she associates this procedure with something pleasant.
If this approach doesn’t work, you have a few other options
- Enlist a helper. One person holds the cat, while the other person gives the pill, following the above steps.
- Use the “kitty burrito” method: securely wrap your cat in a towel
- Use a pill gun.
If none of the above works for you, there may be other options for the reluctant feline.
Some cats take liquids more readily than pills or capsules. Most medications can be compounded into a flavored liquid. Check with your veterinarian whether your cat’s particular medication can be given in liquid form.
Some medications can be compounded into a transdermal gel that is applied to the inside of the cat’s ear. Not all medications are as effective when given this way, so check with your veterinarian.
Compounded chewable treats
Some medications can be compounded into soft, chewable chicken, beef or fish flavored treats. Check with your veterinarian to find out whether this is an option for your cat’s medication.
Pill pockets are soft treats with an opening in the center. You put the pill or capsule in the hole in the center and mold the treat around it. Most cats will think they’re just getting a great and eat the “treat” readily.
Mix the medication with food
Mix the medication with a small amount of food. Once your cat has eaten the medicated portion of her meal, feed the rest of the meal. This is the least desirable method to give medication unless your cat is a good eater and you can be sure that she always eats the entire portion of food that has the medication mixed in. Additionally, some medications have a bitter flavor, and your cat may stop eating altogether because she may think a food she formerly liked now tastes different. Caution: some medications use efficacy when mixed with food. Always check with your veterinarian first.
Some cats may be amenable to get an injection rather than taking medication orally. If that’s the case, and if your cat’s medication is available in injectable form and you’re willing to learn how to give the injection, this may also be an option.
When cats refuse to take medication
And then, there are some cats who just refuse to take medications. This can be very frustrating for their guardians. When a cat runs from you as soon as she sees you coming because she thinks you’re going to “torture” her again, it can completely ruin the bond between cat and human. In a situation like that, a guardian may need to make the difficult decision to stop the medication.
I had to make this choice with Buckley when I decided to stop treating her restrictive cardiomyopathy. She was on multiple cardiac meds, and for several months, she happily took them with pill pockets. Once she started to refuse the pill pockets, the only way I could have gotten the meds into her was through force. Buckley was the kind of cat who, at a mere seven pounds, needed multiple veterinary assistants to restrain her to get anything done. I don’t think she ever had an exam that didn’t require at least mild sedation. There was no way I could have pilled her, nor would I have wanted to put a cat with heart disease through the twice daily stress of it. I also knew that she would come to dread contact with me, and I knew I couldn’t have handled that. I made the choice to stop her heart medications knowing full well that it would shorten her already much too short life even further. But I also knew it was the right decision for her, and for me.
Have you had to pill your cat? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.