One of the questions often asked on our cat forums is, how can I give a pill to my cat? Unless you find a super-tasty pill your cat happens to love (like the one shown in the picture here), you need to know how to properly administer a pill.
Technically speaking, the procedure itself is simple enough. Here’s how you can give a pill to your cat:
Place your thumb and forefinger on each side of the cat's mouth and apply gentle pressure to get the mouth open. Using your other hand, gently press down the lower jaw and pop in the pill so it goes deep inside, onto the back of the tongue. Close the cat's mouth and hold gently but firmly, while massaging the throat until the cat swallows. Notice the cat's tongue popping out to lick the nose? Well done, the pill is in!
Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? The problem is that the majority of felines refuse to go along with the aforementioned scenario, and this is where the fun begins... How do you actually get your cat to let you gently press its jaws and pop in that little pill? Therein lays the real challenge of the question “How can I give a pill to my cat?”
One approach, almost magical to watch in action, is that of the Cat Whisperer. The Cat Whisperer is usually extremely experienced and has that extra-special touch that allows her to casually walk up to an unsuspecting cat, regardless of its temperament, and within seconds have the pill down its throat. She works effortlessly, without any resistance, just smoothly and efficiently and above all, quickly.
Most of us have neither the experience nor that special touch that the Cat Whisperer has, but keep her in mind as you contemplate pilling your cat because she applies the two most important principles in the process - speed and calmness. You should always remember these two guidelines, especially the absolute need to remain calm and tranquil, before and during the process. If you approach your cat all a-jitter, she is likely to pick up on that, and pilling her becomes even more challenging.
Restraining the Cat
Chances are you will have to restrain your cat to some extent. With some cats, just putting the cat up on a table and then holding him firmly under your arm, while using your hands to administer the pill, maybe enough. An alternative technique is for you to kneel on the floor and fold your feet under you. Then place the cat between your legs so that her head is in the front. The cat is likely to try to back away, but your folded legs will keep her securely in place. With other cats, you are likely to need someone to help you restrain the cat. Make sure that your helper is well acquainted with cats and approaches this calmly and with confidence. It's better for all involved if the helper is acquainted with the specific cat you are going to give to pill to and vice versa. The helper needs to firmly hold the cat, preferably by grabbing hold of the scruff with one hand, while firmly supporting the cat's body. If the cat is likely to claw at you or your helper, you may want to consider restraining the cat within a tightly wrapped thick towel, so that only the cat's head is showing.
Whichever method of restraining you end up using, remember the guidelines: Keep calm and make it quick. You don't want to restrain your cat for any longer than absolutely necessary, and you want to keep the process as stress-free as possible by remaining calm as possible throughout.
A Few Important Tips on How To Give a Pill To your Cat
- Cover the pill with a little bit of butter. This will not only make it taste better but, more importantly, help it slide down the cat's throat.
- Use a pill popper to quickly and effectively shoot the pill into the cat's mouth and get it positioned properly over the inner part of the tongue. Keep in mind that you are not trying to shoot anything directly down the cat's throat. The point is to get the pill on the surface of the tongue, deep enough to get the cat to swallow, without risking your fingers.
- Don't break the pill. Some pills are covered in a flimsy coat that keeps away the bad taste of the medicine. If you break the pill, you lose that effect and are more likely to end up with a foaming cat.
- Some types of medication are available in flavored versions, developed specifically for pets. Ask your vet about this option.
- You could try hiding the pill inside a cat treat. Some cat treats have a hollow center for this purpose, or you could work your way through a soft cat treat using your fingers. This doesn't work with all cats, and not with just any type of medicine either. Many cats will smell the medicine through the camouflage and will either ignore the treat or take it and make sure to spit the pill out in disdain.
- Ask your vet if you could get the pill in liquid form. Medicating a cat with liquids, using a syringe (without the needle!) can be easier with some cats.
Whatever technique you apply, and whichever tips you wish to follow, always remember this: Plan ahead, and then make the procedure itself as quick and as calm as possible.
When You Can't Give a Pill to Your Cat
Some cats can be very difficult to pill. The truth is that with some cats and some owners, the answer to the question of “How can I give a pill to my cat?” sometimes has to be, "You can't". As one of our forum members described it, they turn into Tasmanian Devils and even a team of two handlers can't get them to take a pill, not without the risk of serious injury. If you have such a devil of a cat to deal with, talk to your vet about other options for administering the necessary medication. Your vet may be able to provide the same treatment in the form of either pastes or even injections, and with some felines, these may actually prove to be less stressful, for both cat and owner.
Nothing Quite Like Personal Experience
Our forum and team member Columbine wrote a wonderful addition to this article, which deals with liquid medication, as well as pilling.
"How can I give medication to my cat?" is one of the most frequently asked questions here. The easiest way is for the cat to take it willingly, either mixed into some extra-yummy food or wrapped in a suitable treat.
In some places, you can even go to a compounding pharmacy and have them make up the medication with flavors (usually meat or fish-based) for added kitty-appeal. However, some cats just won’t fall for these tricks or are maybe not very interested in food when they’re sick. If you’re in this situation, you have no choice but to give the medication manually.
This brings with it a whole other set of problems.
You might be one of those lucky few who has a very compliant, accepting cat to treat. This is very rare. Most owners feel their hearts sink through the floor when the vet mentions medication.
For years, I was one of those owners. When Calidor was first diagnosed with heart disease, I found him impossible to pill. My grappling with him (generally resulting in chases through the house) was so stressful for both of us, that even the vet concluded that trying to medicate him at that point was doing more harm than good!
That was fine…as long as it lasted. Eventually, we reached a point where he absolutely HAD to have daily medication. For maybe a month or so, I’d be back and forth to the vet every other day for longer-acting injections of the medication. We were at the point where even a vet visit was less stressful than giving him oral medication at home!
For anyone out there struggling to medicate a cat - I feel your pain! That used to be me, too.
As Calidor got sicker, he forced me to approach giving meds in a different way. For him, I found that liquid medication was less stressful than pills (mostly because he couldn’t hide the liquid in his mouth and spit it out when I wasn’t looking).
It was crunch time. Getting him stressed with his meds inevitably resulted in respiratory distress, and an emergency vet visit to stabilize him. I had to make this work, somehow. In desperation, I tried waiting for him to be chilled out somewhere before trying to medicate him (previously, I had a set time in my head that I’d stick to, or do it when it was convenient to me).
This was a game-changer.
I found that if I stayed calm and patient, and waited for a suitable moment, I could give him his medications with very little stress to either of us. Cali passed some years ago now, but what he taught me has stayed with me. It even works with Asha, who I found living as a feral on a farm, and even now she’s far less accepting of/overstimulated by touch than many kitties are.
Here are the steps I now use to medicate a cat -
- Wait for the cat to be relaxed and settled in some convenient place (I often use the windowsills with Asha). Remember to make sure they’re facing the right way too.
- Go up alongside the cat, pill, or syringe at the ready.
- Use your non-dominant hand (the one nearest the cat) to gently but firmly restrain forward movement, and your arm and body to block backward movement.
- Gently encourage the cat to open its mouth with your fingers
- Using your dominant hand, slip the pill or syringe tip into the kitty’s mouth. Aim for a slightly diagonal line, so the medication goes into the back of the cheek rather than straight down the throat (especially important with liquid meds, because of the risk of aspiration).
- If liquid meds, slowly shoot the liquid in, giving swallowing breaks if there are more than 1-2 ml.
- Give Kitty a little head rub, and tell them how good they’ve been. A few treats to take the taste away never go amiss either 😉
Alternative start technique (for cats who are very accepting of touch and being picked up)
- Pick the cat up and kneel with it on the floor (or bed). There should be a cat-sized gap between your legs to snuggle Kitty into.
- Your body and feet prevent backward motion, and your non-dominant hand on the kitty’s chest prevents forward motion.
- Continue from step 4 above
Keep the following in mind -
- Keep yourself as calm and chilled as possible. If you’re tense, the cat will be too.
- Be absolutely clear in your mind that this treatment is going to happen, even though Kitty doesn’t like it. Be calm but firm and definite in your movements. If you’re tentative or nervous, Kitty will be too. (Think of how a vet or vet tech handles a cat, and try to mimic that).
- Move swiftly, too. The biggest key to medicating a cat is to not give them time to think about it. The idea is that it’s over almost before they’ve realized what you’re doing 😉
- If it helps, talk calmly, softly and rhythmically to kitty as you give the meds, telling them how good and brave they are. This is especially useful with multiple treatments or longer ones (such as an asthma inhaler and chamber).
- Be prepared! Have everything to hand before you start. Use a helper if necessary (again, useful if giving multiple meds at one time).
- Don’t let it become a fight. If Kitty runs off, walk away. You can try again later when the kitty’s more settled. Better to be a little late than have you both stressed out and frustrated.
- If using liquid meds, have a damp washcloth or cat-safe baby wipe to hand, to clean up any spills before they dry into Kitty’s coat.
And Columbine was kind enough to take videos of medicating her cats. These are short - as per her recommendations to do everything decidedly and quickly!
Read more on Pilling Cats: Must-know Tips For Hiding Pills
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