How to Give a Cat a Pill

A gray cat eating a pill.
A gray cat eating a pill. Photography by Elenica / Shutterstock.

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 give a cat a pill.

1. Hide the pill in tuna

A closeup of a cat getting a pill.
Can’t get your cat to take a pill easily? You’re not alone. Photography by Valery Kudryavtsev / Thinkstock.

Although most cats won’t eat a pill hidden in food, one of the most effective ways to give a cat a pill is to camouflage it 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Step-by-step instructions for how to give a cat a pill

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 how to give a cat a pill:

There is no shortage of videos online that show you how to give a cat a pill. These two illustrate how to get your cats to take pills:

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.

Thumbnail: Photography by Elenica / Shutterstock. 

Tell us: What are your tips on how to give a cat a pill?

Read more about cat health on

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.

44 thoughts on “How to Give a Cat a Pill”

  1. My husband and I have tried every one of these methods with no success on our Munchkin kitten or cat. We took our cat to the vet, and the personnel there quickly fed the medicine to the animal. Value the effort to get there

  2. Over the years, I've discovered that the only foolproof method for administering medication to my cat is to first smash the pills and then cover them up with her food. Even still, she seemed to make a conscious decision not to consume the sections of the treat that contained the pill, as you mentioned; cats are quite cunning in this regard, aren't they?

    She would even pretend to have swallowed the pill when I tried to give it to her directly, only for me to find it on the carpet later that day after I had tried to give it to her.

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    Here is another thing to try if you’re are trying to give your cats crushed pills in their food. What I do is put the crushed pill in their bowl. Then I make a vinaigrette of

    1/8 tsp olive oil
    1/8 lemon juice
    Pinch of salt

    And shake it around so the medicine dissolves in it. Then I stir the cat food in.
    My 19 year old cat seems to enjoy taking Keppra that way in her Science Diet Adult 11+ Sears Tuna & Carrot Medley. It works because fat, sour tasting food, and salt all mask bitter flavors.

    Before that I was trying to give her a solution that tasted like children’s cough syrup. Even children don’t like that, let alone cats!

  8. My cat has HyperT and I’ve been pilling him twice a day for more than 2 years now. We’ve tried everything, and have settled on a pill popper or pill gun as the safest and most humane cat medication delivery system.
    In this dawning age of antibiotic resistant bacteria, you want your fingers to be as far from the cats mouth as possible. I love my cats and I’m not trying to fear monger, but it’s possible to lose a hand from an infected cat bite.
    There are many videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to use a pill gun. Even if your cat isn’t sick, train him to accept one NOW, before you need to use it.

    1. My vet gave the cat a pill at the end of a long syringe. She depressed the plunger, down went the pill, then she squirted in some water to help it go down. One Two Three. Simple!
      This morning, my turn to try it. Pill keeps being spit out, accompanied by noises I’ve never heard from her–or any other creature except a Hollywood horror film. Once, she shoots the little pill out so hard, it crosses the room diagonally about 5 feet and pings against the wall, falling to the floor. I retrieve pill and cat, wrap her in a towel, kitty-burrito style, while she is now yowling, pumping all 8 legs as hard as possible (she somehow sprouted 4 more!) Pill keeps popping out. She is also growling and hissing for all she’s worth. She was so traumatized, I gave up. It just wasn’t worth it to scare her like that. I got a hammer (no, NOT for the cat!), put the pill in a plastic baggy and carefully wiggled it down into the corner, then tapped it gently with the hammer until it was powder. I meticulously clipped off the tip of the bag with scissors and set the powdered pill bag corner aside. Opened wet food and scooped out a little gel from the can, shook the pill powder onto it, then mixed it up carefully with a bamboo skewer bottom. Set the business spoon aside and got a clean spoon, depositing a little wet food a plate. Topped it with the pill-mixed food and gently swirled the food, making sure it stayed on top, to conceal any white color of pill residue. Thank Heavens, she ate it. It took her about 6 hours to calm down after the original catnado. Next time, I’m having the vet give her the steroid shot instead of pills. It costs more money, but now I have to do this delicate gourmet food prep twice a day for 3 weeks. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. I have to call the vet Monday morning and make sure it is okay to crush up these pills. So, check first with your vet.

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  10. At last some one who tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Made me laugh so much I ended up with jaw ache and it kept me smiling all day when I thought about it. No question about it CATS RULE OKAY

  11. One of the most important things in giving a cat oral medication, even most liquid medication, is to follow the medication with at least a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (5ml) of liquid or baby food (no onions or garlic) by carefully syringing, not toward the throat, but to the roof of the mouth to prevent aspiration. Cats have a relatively long esophagus, and meds will be most properly absorbed if they reach the stomach, and will be less apt to cause erosive esophagitis when this is done.

  12. My vets can’t even get a pill down my cat’s throat. I have used every technique mentioned…what I do now is crush it up and mix in with a bit of food and wait..sometimes for hours, for her to get all of the medicine. You think she took the pill, and after placing all the Band-Aids on your arms, find she spit it out on the bed. grrrrrrrrr

  13. One of our 3 BSHs has HCM and has to have 3 pills twice a day he’s been on medication for 3 years now. Lucky he is really easy to pill using the technique you describe in this article. Sometimes we put the treats in weebox cat treats which all our cats like or crush it in weebox cat yogurt which they go nuts for. The worst we had to do is put eye CREAM that’s cream not drops! In another one of our BSHs eyes! That didn’t go too well!

  14. Something else that my mother taught me when we had cats years ago–Put the pill in a small piece of butter. Cats LOVE butter (or margarine). Plus, the butter helps the pill slip down the throat.

  15. We use a long thin pill popper, somewhat like a Syringe with a rubber tip, make unknown.
    works very well on the cats may need to wrap the front legs if your cat is Fully Armed and Tempered.

  16. Hi! I’ve tried every method in the book. Some work and some don’t depending upon a lot of factors. However, one word of advice–if you have to pill the cat by popping the pill into the back of the mouth, don’t put the cat on a table, etc. I wrap the cat into a towel and position the cat between my knees with my feet backed into a corner of the room on the floor. This way, if the cat tries to escape by backing up, his rear will back into the corner of the wall–he cannot back up. Your knees can also help to hold the cat steady, thus freeing up your hands a little and you can concentrate on opening the mouth and keeping the pill positioned. This has worked on the tough cats that will claw you to death to get away.

  17. I was cat sitting a VERY senior cat (21 years old) with medical issues. She had to take two pills in the morning and two pills in the evening and I am notoriously bad at giving pills to a cat. To save us both the stress of my ineptitude, I “googled” how to give a pill to a cat and ran across a bacon flavored paste that you wrap the pill in. I ordered it and, because the pills were so small (thank goodness) it worked like a dream. In addition to the paste, I wrapped a piece of chicken dipped in broth around each one and she was in “kitty heaven”. So stress free for both of us and, she would let me know when it was time for her medication.

  18. You can’t do this with all meds, but ask your vet if the medication can be compounded into a tasty liquid or solid treat. Although with my late Tripod, she soon learned I was going to give her her methimazole, and so I eventually encountered little resistance to pilling her. She would make a feeble effort to flee, but soon gave up and let me shove the pill down her throat.

  19. I have 14 cats, 10 of whom are over 10 years old, so I administer a lot of pills to various temperaments. I’m surprised more people don’t mention the pill popper; It’s a godsend! The 2nd way I use is crushing the pill in a little water and using a syringe (if I can’t use the pill popper).

    1. My cat loves lickables.. Vet just gave her prednisolone, Which is supposed to taste awful.. Hopefully lickables will help

  20. Depends on the cat. I have an oldster that takes his daily small pill crushed up in a small amount of Fancy Feast Creamy Delights (the ones with the cream sauce – they don’t like the others) and after he consumes the pill part, he gets more food treat. Has to be his mid-morning meal as he won’t take it at breakfast – too much competition to eat leisurely and I don’t want the others to eat it. The middle aged cat doesn’t eat anything but Temptations so he has to have it dropped down his throat. Used to use a pill popper on him but I have found talking to him and a more gentle but still firm approach usually works. He doesn’t like surprises and will nip if grabbed without warning. Important to catch him just as he starts eating so that he goes back to it after the pilling instead of focusing on the pill. There is one that I will never be able to pill so I hope she never gets sick.

  21. I wish everyone was as lucky as I am. My crazy cat loves pills.. Does have a down side. He wants our pills too. We have to be so careful filling our containers.. I do use the pill pockets so the rough edge won’t scratch his throat, but he would take them without.

  22. Dolores A. Russo

    OK, I have tried EVERYTHING to get meds into my kitty. At the vet, the technician showed me how to wrap the kitty in a towel (it takes bit of explaining, but it does confine those little daggers called nails) She showed me how to put the pill onto a syringe that has a grabber on the bottom (like one of those hooks you see in a video place where you maneuver the hook to catch a stuffed animal or whatever – ) You have to be fast. It worked a few times. But then she got wise. But I got wiser.
    Remembering as a child my mother would crush the pill between two spoons until it looked like dust. Then add a few drops of water. A FEW. Sitr and let it dissolve. Have on hand a syringe without the needle of course, but cut so that just the plastic opening is enough to put it on the liquid pill in the spoon and suck it up into the syringe.
    Next job – approach a sleeping cat. Yes, sleeping. If she’s awake she knows right away I am about to give her something she doesn’t want or like. You have to be fast. Holding top of head with hands wrapped around the top/back, opening the mouth and then quickly squirting the med into her mouth. Tell her she is the greatest kitty in the world. Positive reinforcemnt.
    It works. Practice. You will get more on you than on her/him at first. Good luck. My vet now thinks I’m a pro at this. LOL. 3 degrees and I’m a pro at giving a pill to a cat.

  23. This is how we do it in my household.

    1.Place cat on a working surface.
    2. Tilt cat’s head back so that their jaw opens just slightly and drop pill towards the back of their throat and then stroke their throat until you see a swallowing motion.
    3. Retrieve pill from floor.
    4. Retrieve cat from floor.
    5. Tilt cat’s head back so that their jaw opens just slightly and drop pill towards the back of their throat and then stroke their throat until you see a swallowing motion.
    6. Retrieve pill from floor.
    7. Retrieve cat from floor.
    8. Explain to cat in a stressful tone that you are going to be late for work if they dont co-operate and take this darn pill.
    9. Tilt cat’s head back so that their jaw opens just slightly and drop pill towards the back of their throat and then stroke their throat until you see a swallowing motion.
    10. Retrieve pill from floor.
    11. Retrieve cat from behind couch.
    12. Beg cat and offer to bribe them with their own weight in treats if they would just co-operate and take this darn pill so you can get to work.
    13. Tilt cat’s head back so that their jaw opens just slightly and drop pill towards the back of their throat and then stroke their throat until you see a swallowing motion.
    14. Retrieve pill from floor.
    15. Retrieve cat from hiding place in the bedroom.
    16. Call other family members for back-up because this is a team effort now.
    17. Tag team cat with as many family members as possible dividing the jobs evenly among them to ensure the pilling is done this time.
    18. Retrieve pill from floor.
    19. Retrieve cat from……….

  24. My wife and I have tried all the above techniques to get a pill into our kitten/Cat to no avail. We ended up taking our Cat to the Vet whose staff fed the pill to our cat in seconds. Worth the drive to do so.

  25. I don’t dare use some tuna or other type of fish, my Nikki is actually allergic to fish!! Go figure, a cat that loves fish but makes her entire mouth & tongue swell. The only help for her is an injection every 6 months of a heavy duty steroid & oral steroids when it gets too bad. Cats love fish but for my Nikki, its the bane of her existence. Plus, its in just about every food for cats!

  26. I have to give three pills a day to three cats. I have tried all these methods with varying success. The one thing that really works for me is this. There is a new treat product on the market called ‘Lickables’ It is expensive 1.99 a packet for what is basically one tablespoon of goo. I mash up the pills mix in the lickable and give it to them. They lick it right up. I don’t know how long this method will work but right now it is far easier than anything else i have tried.

  27. i use a syringe. crush the pill, mix with about 1ml water, then tilt his head back and fire it into his throat. 100% success rate!

  28. Pill popper. It’s the Only thing that has worked reliably for me over the years. I can get a pill into any cat once. After that it’s War. Pill popper is a howitzer.

  29. I give my 10 year old male a capsule of medication every day. I place “nutritional yeast” which is like a powder, not brewers yeast, which is really good for cats and humans, lots of B vitamins. I place the small capsule in palm of hand and about a teaspoon nutritional yeast on top of it. It sort of kind of covers it, but he first smells the yeast, sometimes it blows around, and then he starts to lick it out of my hand. I finagle the capsule around and he winds up eating it with the yeast. There are days he refuses it, but ahhh, I am very patient and offer it again. He usually receives it before evening meal. I call it a treat, sometimes if he refuses it, we try again later. There are very few times I have to open a can of wet food and stick it in there in my hand. Our cats eat only raw Rad Cat and Stella and Chewy freeze dried. No tuna, no fish, very conditioned to raw, so yeast and the occasionally no grain chicken wellness for medication. BTW, our female cat love the yeast also and receives it almost every day as a treat or sometimes on top of food when acting finicky.

  30. The only reliable way I found to give my cat pills over the years has been to crush it up and hide it her food. Even then, as you said, she seemed to choose not to eat the parts where the pill was – cat’s are incredibly craft like that aren’t they!

    When I tried to feed the pill directly she would even pretend she had eaten it, only for me to find it on the carpet later on that day.

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