How to Get Your Cat to Take a Pill

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In an ideal world, giving your cat a pill would be as simple as putting it on top of their food. However, this is rarely the case. A tip for how to give a cat a pill? Patience.

Whether you're a new or seasoned cat parent, it can be difficult — but it can be done!

How to Get Your Cat to Take a Pill

The main objective is getting the pill into their mouth. While a deceptively simple and somewhat formidable task, it's still an important part of being a pet parent.

Woman holding cat's mouth open to give a pill.Here are a few tactics you can use to achieve your goal.

Put the Pill Directly in the Cat's Mouth

Even if your kitty is a snuggler, they'll probably instinctively know you're up to something when it comes time to take a pill. Be sure to hold them properly and safely by cradling them in one arm and supporting their back legs. It's helpful to wrap them in a towel in order to restrain their legs and prevent them from scratching you. Next, you should:

  • Approach your cat from the back, never the front.
  • Hold your cat's head steady by grasping their cheekbones firmly but gently, allowing their jawbone to drop open.
  • Hold the pill between your thumb and forefinger and place another finger on their small incisor teeth to hold open their mouth. Never place your fingers on their sharp teeth, or you risk getting a puncture wound.
  • Drop the pill onto the back of your cat's tongue and close their jaw. Gently massaging their throat helps them to relax and swallow.

Directly afterward, give your cat a teaspoon of water with an oral syringe or medicine dropper, as advised by Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, to prevent the pill from getting stuck in their esophagus. Do not shoot water into their mouth. Alternatively, you can offer them some canned cat food or a small, soft treat.

Use a Pill Plunger

An easier way to get your cat to take a pill is to try a pill plunger device, also called a pill gun or "piller." This device nearly eliminates the need to put your fingers in your cat's mouth, decreasing the risk of a bite. Preload the pill before holding your cat in place, advises International Cat Care, then carefully release so that the pill lands at the back of your kitty's tongue. Give your cat some water or wet food to wash it down. Follow the product instructions exactly as written and call your veterinarian with any questions.

Hide the Pills in Food

One trick for how to give a cat a pill is the "meatball" technique, achieved by wrapping the pill in soft food and molding it into a ball. Appeal to their hunting instinct by rolling the food ball for them to catch and eat, and if possible, stick with cat food specially formulated for their needs.

Woman's hand feeing a calico cat a treat.

If using human food, be sure it's safe for cats. If you're ever in doubt on what is acceptable, consult your veterinarian.

Another option is a commercially available pill hider, which is a treat with a pocket in the center for concealing the pill. We recommend using one approved by your veterinarian.

Grind the Pills up

You may also grind up your cat's medication, but it's not recommended unless your vet gives you the okay as it may be harmful for the following reasons:

  • Slow-release medicines should never be crushed.
  • It could result in an overdose of medicine.
  • Any protective coatings are destroyed and therefore ineffective.

People who crush certain medications, such as for thyroid and cancer, can also be exposed to the medicine themselves — this should be avoided. Therefore, avoid grinding up, crushing or compounding your cat's medications without the explicit recommendation of your vet.

Timing of Medicine

Because each cat and each medication can be different, your vet will tell you what times to administer the medication. The same goes for whether or not to give the pill with food. Ask for the prescribing directions in writing and follow them exactly.

As the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) stresses, never double-dose your pet, even if you suspect they haven't ingested all of the medication — it's very hazardous. Wait until the next scheduled dose to try again.

Preparation and patience are key to successfully administering a pill to your furry friend.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is a writer, educator, and a long-time, devoted cat mom. She's a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA) and has written for industry-leading companies and organizations, including What to Expect When You're Expecting and NIU STEM Read. Find and follow Christine on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien