As a last resort for getting their cat to take a pill, some owners will physically pry open their pet’s mouth with their fingers. The head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, thinks that’s a bad idea.
“If you resort to the jaws-of-life approach,” she says, “you’re fraying the bond.”
Moreoever, “pilling a cat forcefully is dangerous,” Dr. Borns-Weil points out. “Cats may be injured in the process if the owner is accidentally too rough. And there is a risk that the owner will get bitten. You can get away with it once or twice, but then, often, no. Cats are still close to their wild ancestors, and it’s hard to get them to do anything they don’t want to do. And a cat bite can be a serious medical issue. With their very sharp teeth, it’s like getting an injection of bacteria in a penetrating wound. If anybody gets a cat bite I recommend they talk to their physician immediately.”
So if your cat needs medicine in pill form and won’t take it willingly, what can you do? After all, even Dr. Borns-Weil concedes that getting a cat to take her pill is “a hugely vexing problem.” Fortunately, there are solutions.
Tricks of the cat-pilling trade
One or more of these tactics will help “convince” your feline to swallow her medicine.
Wet food works wonders. “One of the easiest ways to get a pill into an unwilling cat is to mix it in with wet food,” Dr. Borns-Weil says. “Wet food, being relatively smelly, covers the odor of a pill better than dry kibble,” she points out. “It’s also easier to mix a pill into wet food than dry kibble,” she says.
When treats entice. Not all cats care about food treats, but if yours is one who does, you can put a pill in an edible pill pocket designed just for cats, such as Feline Greenies Pill Pockets. Treats like these, easy to find at the store, have a little built-in pouch that holds a capsule or tablet. Even a soft food of your choosing that you can wrap around a pill (like a small piece of cheese) can work for a treat-loving cat.
Compounding pharmacy. If your cat won’t take a pill voluntarily, even if it’s put into wet food or a pill pocket, you can go to a compounding pharmacy. This type of pharmacy can put the active ingredient(s) of the pill into a liquid that has a fish flavor, which cats generally like. Some also use chicken or beef flavor, or malt. “Cats seem to like malt,” Dr. Borns-Weil says. All you have to do is add the liquid to your pet’s food. Many find it quite tolerable.
In some cases, a compounding pharmacy will compound the medicine into soft treats so that the cat takes the drug as a treat rather than inserted into the pocket of one.
Transdermal options. If a cat is not going to take medication by mouth, no matter how deliciously disguised, you might be able to get it in transdermal form, which is to say you can get it in a form that reaches the inside of your pet’s body simply by rubbing it on her ear. Methimazole for hyperthyroidism is one drug that can be administered transdermally. Not all medicines will cross the skin barrier, but it’s worth asking your veterinarian.
Injections. Some cats mind injections less than they mind pills. “They find getting near their mouths so invasive,” Dr. Borns-Weil says, “especially if it’s two or more times a day.” And one injection might take the place of many days’ worth of pills. This is the case for certain antibiotics, such as Convenia. “The vet gives a single injection that is two weeks’ worth of pills,” Dr. Borns-Weil says. “It’s worth asking about.”
A veterinarian might not offer an injection, transdermal option, or compounded version of a medicine on her own because she wants to politely prescribe the form of a drug that will cost the least money. But if you tell the vet that your cat has a hard time accepting medication, Dr. Borns-Weil comments, she will let you know if there are alternatives to pills.
My best buddy Jazz, a sweet orange kitty, had developed Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy at around 9 years old. I was so fortunate that he got used to being pilled with 3 different meds, twice a day. He quickly got to the point where he would sit by his feeding station in the morning & evening and wait for me to administer his meds. He allowed me to hold his head & open his mouth with my left hand and drop the pills down his throat with my right. He didn’t struggle even the slightest. We did this twice a day, every day, for nearly 3 years. I estimate we did this over 2,100 times, and it was the source of the most intense bonding I have ever experienced in my life. Unfortunately, one evening, a blood clot blocked the flow of blood to his lower abdomen and hind legs, and he was in extreme pain and had to be euthanized. I still miss him deeply, and will always remember what an exceptionally sweet, wonderful boy he was, frequently rolling onto his back with his legs spread, hoping for another belly rub. His passing has left a hole in my heart that will never be filled.
“In their eyes we see a loving soul, and in our heart we know we’ll never have a finer friend.” RIP Jazz, my little buddy.
You were so lucky to have had a very special cat share your life and help you to learn more about how things like giving cats their meds can be done. We had a male ?Norwegian cat who needed to be pilled twice a day. He would only be calm for it if the pilling was done with him sitting on the main bathroom’s vanity — go figure!! Sharing in your grief at the loss of a VERY special fur-friend. Please don’t let this loss keep you from meeting another cat to share your life. You’ll know when and who when it’s time….
Good information on giving medicines.I have been working with a cat that will not be held or pet. He had been allowed to bit and scratch as part of play. I was thinking that I could use a harness to hold him until he accept it. If I can get it on him.
I have one that absolutely will not take oral medications. Since he is in renal failure we have a problem! I mix his meds into Squeeze-Ups, which he loves. He get a liquid, and 2 powders which I mix with the Squeeze ups, so far so good!!! It has worked for a little over a year.
My 12 year old Tabby named Stevie Cat has just started having seizures. I had to take him to an emergency vet one Sunday night. They referred me to a neurologist. I met with the neurologist and she said she was certain he was in fact having seizures and gave him Phenobarbital. He gets it twice a day. I’ve been trying to put it into his food but he doesn’t eat it all. I hate stressing him out giving him a pill because I have to hold him down to do it. He will be on this medication the rest of his life. The vet said I could crush it and give it in his food. I don’t want to hold him down but I’m going to have too. It also makes him dazed and confused. I know once his body adjusts to the medication that will also get better. But he hasn’t had a seizure since being on it, which I am very thankful for. I just hate stressing him out and seeing him so out of it. But it will get better.
I was able to give daily pills by covering them with a little Churu. Tuna flavor was the favorite. It needed to be given on a rough surface, like concrete or a doormat when inside. Worked very well for months, till the old boy learned to slow down and lick the paste off the pill.