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How to Give a Cat a Pill

Despite all the jokey web posts that involve getting clawed to pieces and needing drinks to cope, it is possible and -- dare I say -- easy!

JaneA Kelley  |  Oct 5th 2016


My first experience with giving a cat a pill was an absolute disaster. The pill in question was going into my cat, Thomas. The vet had warned me that this pill, a dewormer, tasted extremely bitter, and I’d have to get it into him as quickly as possible.

This is the face Thomas had after my first attempt at giving a pill.

This is the face of Thomas after my first attempt at giving a pill.

Despite all my careful reading of how-tos on the subject, and despite the fact that I had my mother there to help me hold Thomas, multiple attempts didn’t get the darn thing down. There was much howling and crying (some of it mine) and foaming at the mouth (Thomas’) because the pill was so nasty, and I never did get the pill in him. My mother and I had some nasty scratches afterward.

Ouch!

Ouch!

In retrospect, I attribute my failure to a couple  of things: First of all, I didn’t have enough experience to know where to put the pill; and secondly, I lacked confidence.

I’ve gotten much better at giving pills since then, so I offer you this quick guide to help you in your efforts.

The first trick: Pill pockets

These tasty treats have a cavity in which you can insert a pill. They taste so good that almost any cat will swallow them whole without even realizing there’s nasty medicine inside. I use pill pockets to give my Tara her daily dose of alprazolam, an anti-anxiety medication that’s helping her become accustomed to living with other cats. I simply put the pill pocket on top of her meal and she eats it right up. You can also give the pill with the pill pocket as a treat.

600-400-Tara

Tara easily takes her medication when it’s hidden in a pill pocket.

But what if your cat has gotten wise to pill pockets? In that case, you’ll have to give the pills the old-fashioned way. Here’s how.

Step 1: Get everything ready

Have the pill, a towel, your cat’s favorite treats, and a 2 milliliter syringe full of water nearby. You can get that syringe from your vet when you get his pills, if you don’t already have one at home. Clear some space on the counter where you can put your cat in order to give the medicine. Lay the towel on the counter so your cat has a place to grip on with his claws.

Step 2: Find the cat

Place the cat on the counter with his head facing your dominant hand. He should be facing right if you’re right-handed and left if you’re left-handed.

This method is the one I used to give Siouxsie her thyroid medication.

This method is the one I used to give Siouxsie her thyroid medication.

Step 3: Ready …

Hold the cat’s head with your non-dominant hand. Wrap your hand around the top of his head with your thumb and your forefinger under his cheekbones.

Step 4: Set …

Pick up the pill with your dominant hand, holding it between your thumb and forefinger. Tilt your cat’s head upward with your non-dominant hand. Tilting the head upward will cause his mouth to open a little bit.

Step 5: Go!

Push down on your cat’s jaw with the middle finger of your dominant hand and pop the pill in, as far back in his mouth as you can. Then close his mouth and gently hold it closed until you feel him swallow. If he doesn’t swallow right away, try blowing in his nose. This will cause a natural swallow reflex.

I had to give this one insulin shots when I first brought her home!

I had to give squirmy little Bella insulin shots when I first brought her home.

Step 6: Chase the pill with some water

Take the syringe full of water and put it between your cat’s teeth and cheek. Squirt some of the water in and let him swallow. Then squirt the rest of the water in. This will help the pill work its way down your cat’s esophagus and into his stomach.

Step 7: Give him a treat

Tell him what a good cat he is and give him that reward right away so he knows that getting a pill leads to good things. Rewarding your cat every time you give him a pill provides positive reinforcement so he learns that sitting still for a pill leads to good things.

Medication has done wonders for Tara! She's so much braver now.

Medication has done wonders for Tara! She’s so much braver now.

If it helps you to see the act of giving a pill, this video will show you how.

How about you? What kind of luck have you had giving pills? Do you have any tips for people who are wondering how to do it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.