How to Get a Cat to Take a Pill

Black and white cat meowing at the camera

Not sure how to give a cat a pill? You're not alone. Pet owners often dread administering prescriptions to their feline friends, since cats are notorious for spitting out pills or unleashing teeth or claws. 

Before we dive into our tips for how to get a cat to take a pill, check with your vet for the proper procedure. Many pills can be mixed with food or crushed, but others must be swallowed whole. Dividing some medications can be dangerous for your cat’s esophagus or stomach, as breaking a tablet destroys its protective layer.

After you know what's off-limits for your pet's medication, you can proceed to our helpful tips for giving a cat a pill.

How to Give a Cat a Pill by Hand

Some medications should be administered by hand rather than placed in a food or beverage. Here are some tips for hand administering pills.

1. Monitor Your Cat's Mood

Watch for signs that your cat is stressed, scared or angry before giving her medication. If you've never given a cat a pill, ask your cat's veterinary office to demonstrate how you can safely administer oral medication.

2. Choose the Right Surface

Put your cat on a stable surface that isn't elevated or bumpy, such as a tabletop or floor. Laying down a towel helps prevent slippage.

3. Stand Behind or Beside Your Cat

Don't take your cat by surprise, as this may result in an injury. Consider enlisting help from a friend or family member, as they can hold the kitty against your body. This helps prevent your cat from escaping or injuring you.

4. Use Two Hands

Gently hold your cat's mouth open with one hand using your thumb and index fingers. Tilt your cat's head upward, then use your other hand to gently open her lower jaw and place the pill in her mouth.

Place the pill as far back as you can on your cat's tongue, then close your cat's mouth and gently caress her throat for several seconds. Return her head to its usual position, then watch for your cat to lick her lips and swallow.

5. Make Sure the Pill Was Swallowed

Carefully examine your cat's mouth and the corner of her lips. If you don't see the pill, that's a good sign. If it's still there, add a small amount of water — not milk — and repeat the steps above.

6. Treat Your Kitty

Surprise your feline friend with her favourite food, treats and toys after she takes medication. This helps make your cat less fearful of medication in the future.

Safety Tips When Giving a Cat a Pill

Your cat may scratch or bite as you're learning how to give a cat a pill. Keep yourself and your kitty safe by following these suggestions:

  • Wrap your cat's body and legs in a towel, leaving their head exposed.
  • Keep hold of the top of your cat's head.
  • Consider having another person hold your furry friend while you administer the pill.
  • Take breaks as needed, and soothe your cat before trying again if she's scared. Don't push through if your cat hisses, meows angrily or tries to attack you.

Let your doctor know if your cat bites you, as this may cause an infection.

What to Do if You Aren't Sure How to Give a Cat a Pill by Hand

After following the tips above, you may still need help figuring out how to get a cat to take a pill. Here are some suggestions for finicky felines.

Try a Pill Popper

A pill popper eliminates the need to place your fingers in your kitty's mouth, but it's important to use it correctly. You should not use a pill popper unless a veterinary worker has trained you on the proper use of one.

Pill poppers work by holding a pill in place as you press a plunger. The plunger then releases the tablet into your cat's mouth, so you don't have to use your fingers.

Mix Medication With Food

If the vet says it's okay to mix the medication with food, hide the pill in your cat’s favourite treat. Choose small treats that your cat doesn't have to chew. Start with a treat, then give your cat a pill, then another treat.

Avoid placing pills in shared food bowls. You cannot be sure your cat will take them, especially if you have multiple cats in your home.

Crush Medication

Crushed medication is an option for some cats. If your vet okays it, use a pill crusher to make sure you break apart the medication correctly. Your cat must receive the full pill rather than just a portion of it.

As mentioned earlier, don't let other cats consume your kitty's food. They can get very sick if they eat pills that are not intended for them.

Request Alternatives

Oral liquids or veterinary injections are an option for some cats. Consider these options if your cat won't take medication.

Every cat handles medication differently. Some cats have no problems with pills, while others fight their humans every step of the way. The tips above can simplify the process, but you may still need additional suggestions. Check with your vet if you need help learning how to give your cat a pill, as it can be dangerous to skip prescribed medication.

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