Sign Up for Cat Talk
Get the latest health and behavior news and
advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Feature January 2014 Issue

How to Give Your Cat Pills

Let's face it: You'd rather be your cat's playmate than her nurse. But there are times when you take on a significant role in her recovery. Here's some help.

You bring your ailing cat to the veterinarian and initially feel relieved to hear that she’ll make a complete recovery. But relief quickly turns to frustration when you realize her health depends on giving her pills in the prescribed dose at certain times for a specified duration. You remember previous scenarios when your cat fled from the room or hid under the middle of the bed at pill time, or deftly spit out the pill when you weren’t looking.

Experts uniformly stress that owner compliance is essential in a cat’s recovery from an injury or illness. Even though it may be tempting to stop administering the medication due to frustration, it can sometimes make the condition worse and lead to other issues.

To set you up for success, we offer guidance from behaviorist Sophia Yin, DVM, the author of Low Stress: Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats.

Administering Meds to Cats Can Be Difficult

“The idea of trying to force a pill into your cat’s mouth is not always comfortable for either you or your cat,” says Dr. Yin. “Some cats are difficult to ‘pill’ because they don’t like being restrained or having their mouth opened, or the pill does not taste good to them. Also, cats have shorter faces than dogs, so you can’t control them by holding their muzzles.”

Consult your veterinarian to see if you can split the pill for easier swallowing, use a pill gun or pulverize it without affecting its potency or absorption. Don’t assume that all medications can be crushed and/or mixed into food. This method works for some medications — but not all. The option of compounding medications into flavored liquids or pastes is an option, as well.

Be sure to share your concerns (and past struggles) with pilling your cat. Hopefully your veterinarian can help come up with a solution that suits both of you. For instance, ask your veterinarian if the three-times-a-day dose can be converted to one or two times a day without compromising the effectiveness of the medicine.

Another option is to try a product called Pill PocketsŪ (Feline GreeniesŪ), a semi-moist treat that contains a built-in pocket to hide pills or capsules. Some owners find that a tidbit of cheese or meat can also be effective.

Before reaching for the pills, put yourself in the right frame of mind. Consider using counter conditioning to make your cat comfortable by first opening her mouth and giving her a small treat. She will learn to equate having her mouth opened with a positive experience — getting a favorite treat.

Prevent Your Cat From Escaping At Pill Time

Next, select a location that prevents feline escapes, such as a bathroom where you can close the door. Body positioning is also important. Position your cat so that her rear end is against a wall to prevent her from backing up and escaping.

You can also gently but firmly wrap your cat in a large towel to give yourself more control and protection should she try to use her claws to escape your well-intended ministrations.

giving cat medication


An all-too-common concern among caring owners is that the need to administer medication can impact the close bond they share with their pet.

giving cat medication

Place your fourth and fifth fingers behind your cat's head to keep her from moving her head backward. You can sit behind your cat or position her against a wall so that she cannot easily back up out of your grasp.

giving cat medication

Place the pill in the pill gun. Tilt your cat's head back and open her mouth. Just a gentle reminder: You need to stay relaxed yet firm and focused during this necessary administration. It's in your cat's best interest!

giving cat medication

Place a tiny amount of canned cat food, tuna or other food that your cat likes on the tip of the pill gun to hide the pill. Insert the pill gun into your cat's mouth and deposit the pill at the back of the tongue.

giving cat medication

Remove the pill gun and quickly close your cat's mouth while continuing to tilt her head up. Massage her throat gently to induce swallowing. Scratch behind her ears if she likes that to make it a positive experience.

giving cat medication

Follow up with a syringe filled with water or tuna juice to ensure the pill has been properly swallowed. Take care to leave your cat's head level when doing this.

giving cat medication

A particularly reluctant patient will be easier to handle if you wrap him in a towel. This can act as a safeguard for you against his claws and attempts to escape.

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

New to Tufts Catnip? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In