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How to Get Your Cat to Take Pills

We turned to an expert for advice on how to get your cat to take pills.

Dr. Arnold Plotnick  |  Jul 14th 2017


Cats are notoriously difficult to medicate. Unlike their less discerning canine counterparts, cats are sophisticated and discreet about what they eat. You typically can’t hide a pill in a meatball or a piece of cheese and expect a cat to wolf it down on command. That just ain’t happenin’. Here’s a few pointers on how to get your cat to take pills.

A gray cat ready to take a pill from a human.

A gray cat ready to take a pill from a human. Photography by radleyhebdon/istock.

Hide the pill in tuna

Although most cats won’t eat a pill hidden in food, there are a few fish fanatics who will indeed scarf down a pill that is camouflaged in the center of a chunk of tuna. This often works for a while, until the cat expertly learns to eat the tuna and leave a spotless pill behind.

Use pill pockets for cats

Pre-packaged soft cat treats with a hole cut in the center are available, designed specifically for administering pills or capsules. Drop the medication into the hole, then pinch the treat closed. Some cats love the treats and will scarf them down — until that day when they bite right into the center and taste the medication. Trust me, they will forever look at these treats with disgust, and they will never eat another one again. You’re back to square one.

Hide the pill in crushed food

Crushing the pill into a fine powder and mixing it into their wet food sometimes works; however, if the cat decides to only eat 60 percent of her food that day, then she’s only gotten 60 percent of her medication dose. I often tell my clients to mix the powdered medication into a teaspoon of something very palatable (baby food usually works like a charm) and, once they see that the entire dose has been administered, the rest of her breakfast (or dinner) can be given.

This may or may not work. Cats are finicky about their food, and what is caviar to a cat on Monday may become Brussels sprouts on Tuesday. Many pills are bitter, and trying to mask a bitter powder with tuna or sardines often misses the mark. Rather than make the medicine taste better, it only makes the food taste worse.

Clients often ask if they can crush the pill into a powder, and then mix it with a little milk or water and syringe it into the cat’s mouth. In theory, this sounds promising but, again, many medications are bitter, and milk or tuna juice is not enough to mask it.

More tips on how to get your cats to take pills:

There’s no way around it: At some point in your cat’s life, she is likely going to need to be administered some pills. Here’s the method I prefer (The description below assumes that you’re right-handed. If you’re left-handed, substitute the word “left” for “right”):

  1. Put your cat on a stable, flat surface, like a table or desk. Ideally, you’ll have someone else to help hold your cat steady. If not, wrapping a towel around your cat’s body often helps to steady her.
  2. Hold the pill between your right thumb and index finger.
  3. With your left hand, grasp your cat’s head as if you were holding a ball — your left index, middle and ring fingers are on your cat’s left cheek, and your left thumb is on your cat’s right cheek.
  4. While gripping your cat’s head, aim her nose upward. Not just up, but waaay up, so that the nose is pointing right at the ceiling. This will cause her mouth to naturally drop open a little bit.
  5. Use your right middle finger to push her lower jaw open a little wider, then drop the pill (which is between your thumb and index finger) down the back of her throat. This is the most critical step. If the pill lands on your cat’s tongue rather than the back of the throat, she may kick it out with her tongue, and you’ll have to repeat the entire process.
  6. Keep grasping her head, but let go of her lower jaw as soon as you drop the pill. Gently stroke her neck, and/or blow on her nose. When she licks her lips a little, it usually indicates that she has swallowed the pill. It’s a good idea to syringe a small amount of water into your cat’s mouth right afterward to ensure that the pill has gone down. Some pills, if they adhere to the esophagus, can cause irritation and swallowing problems later on. Water helps alleviate that.

Videos on pilling your cat:

There is no shortage of videos online that show you what I’ve just described. These two illustrate how to get your cats to take pills:

How To Give Your Cat A Pill – VetVid Episode 020

How to Give a Cat a Pill or Tablet

Of course, they manage to find the most cooperative and well-behaved cats for these videos, so don’t feel like a failure if things don’t go as smoothly. As with everything in life, the more you practice, the more proficient you’ll become.

Read more about cat health on Catster.com:

Thumbnail: Photography by Shutterstock. 

Dr. Arnold Plotnick is the founder of Manhattan Cat Specialists, a feline-exclusive veterinary practice on Manhattan’s upper west side. He is also an author of The Original Cat Fancy Cat Bible. Dr. Plotnick is a frequent contributor to feline publications and websites, including his own blog, Cat Man Do. He lives in New York City with his cats, Mittens and Glitter.