Easy Ways To Give Your Cat a Pill
Written by Katie Dalhausen, PhD, Dawn Kingsbury, DVM, PhD, DACVIM
Published on February 10, 2022
For some cat parents, the idea of giving their cat a pill seems like heading into battle. But it doesn’t have to be that way! At some point in a cat’s life they’ll likely need medication or supplements, so we’ve curated the top vet-recommended ways to make for a stress-free and scratch-free experience for both you and your cat.
The Easiest Way To Give A Cat A Pill
The easiest way to give a cat a pill is undoubtedly to hide it in food. Before trying this method, ask your veterinarian (DVM) if your cat’s tablet can be given with a meal (some medications require an empty stomach). And while you’re at it, ask them if it is ok to open a capsule or crush a pill up before mixing it with food. Doing so could cause you to unknowingly deactivate their medication or cause it to be distasteful.
For example, KittyBiome’s Gut Restore Supplements come in special capsules that protect them from stomach acid so the bacteria in them can reach the intestines. Because of this, the capsules should be given whole and not opened, otherwise the beneficial bacteria may die in the stomach. However, supplements like KittyBiome’s S. boulardii + FOS Powder are recommended and encouraged to be mixed in with your cat’s food.
How to Hide Your Cat's Pill in Food
To give your cat medication with food, it helps to take away any free access to food for 8-12 hours before you feed them so they are hungry when it comes time to gulp down their dinner. Choose a food that will be tasty and easy to hide medicine in, such as wet cat food, a pill pocket, cream cheese, yogurt, or a piece of fish.
Hide the pill or mix the crushed pill (if you have confirmed with a pet health professional that this is ok to do) into a small amount of food to start. A small portion ensures you can try again if need be and that they are able to finish all the food you give them.
Observe your cat while they are eating to make sure they’ve eaten their pill. If they spit it out, try again with another small portion of food.
If your cat is too clever for this method, their supplement is simply too big to hide in their food, or they are just used to free feeding, it's time to try a hands on approach.
The Hands On Approach
Imagine having your cat restrained, their jaw open, their claws quickly emerging - only to realize you haven’t opened up the bottle of their medication. Learn from the mistakes of countless pet parents before you and make sure you’re prepared.
You’ll want to have the correct dose of the medication ready to go and all the supplies you need (e.g. pill popper, cat treats) within arms reach. Whether you’re going at it alone or you have someone to help you, walk through the plan of exactly what you’re going to do.
Find a time when your cat is relaxed and don’t interrupt them if they are eating, grooming, or using the toilet. Then, approach your cat in a calm and confident manner - the same way you would if you were going to give them a cuddle.
Make it Go Down Easier
Lubricate larger capsules and chalky pills with a small amount of butter or a pet safe gel so they move down the esophagus easier.
How to Position Your Cat
Set your cat on your lap or a non-slippery hard surface, such as the floor or a table. Calm them by petting them and distracting them with treats before you jump in with your well-intentioned ambush.
Position your cat so that they face away from you. This is because cats typically will try to squirm backwards to break free and your body can protect them from falling.
You’ll give the medication with your dominant hand and hold their jaw open with your non-dominant hand, so adjust yourself accordingly.
Ready, Set, Go!
You’ll want to do these steps as quickly as possible:
Open your cat's mouth. Place your non-dominant hand on top of their head and tilt their nose towards the ceiling. Their lower jaw should drop slightly; Firmly push your thumb and middle finger into the corners of your cat’s mouth, just under their cheekbones, to open their jaw. If this isn’t enough to open their mouth, you can use your pinky finger of your dominant hand (the index finger and thumb should be already holding the pill) to gently pull their lower jaw down.
Insert capsule. When your cat’s mouth is open, place the capsule as far into the back of your cat’s mouth as you can. If you look closely, there is a divot in the back of the tongue that some vets call “the pill slot” - this is what you are aiming for. Make sure your cat’s head is tilted slightly upwards - gravity will help you get the pill into the back of the throat. Once in, release your cat’s head to a neutral position and gently hold their mouth closed.
Induce swallowing. Rub your cat’s throat for a few seconds to stimulate swallowing. Offer treats, wet food, or yogurt to ‘chase’ the pill to ensure it doesn’t get stuck in the esophagus or spit out. Having a syringe or dropper full of a small amount of water, tuna juice, or chicken broth to squirt in immediately following the pill can also help with swallowing, particularly for meds with a bitter taste.
If your cat doesn’t swallow the pill on the first try, let them spit it all the way out and try again.
Is My Cat Going to Choke?
It’s very unlikely that a cat will choke on a pill, as swallowing will direct the pill down the esophagus rather than the trachea. That said, it is possible for a pill to get stuck in the esophagus, regardless of the size of the pill. To prevent this ‘dry pilling’ occurrence, you should follow your cat's pill with wet food or flavored liquid to wash the pill down.
What if My Cat has Liquid Medication?
Many pet parents prefer to give their cats liquid medication and you can follow all the same handling instructions as for a pill. Insert the dropper or oral syringe into their mouth, just behind their front teeth.
Ensure that you squirt the meds on the back center of the tongue rather than the back of the throat as this can cause choking. Liquid medications are dosed such that it’s ok if some of the medication gets spit out. Some cat’s medications can cause them to froth at the mouth; this is okay too.
Still Having Trouble? Try These Tips:
- Recruit a second person to help you, for your safety and that of your cat. One person can hold the cat and the other one can give the capsule.
- A pill popper device, also called a pill pusher, piller, or a pill gun are sometimes recommended by veterinarians. A pill popper looks like a syringe with a large opening for the pill to go into and a plunger to ‘pop’ the pill into the back of the mouth. It helps pet parents get the capsule into the back of a cat’s mouth without having to putt their fingers in the cat’s mouth, which is especially helpful for cats that bite or have small mouths.
- Turn your cat into an adorable burrito or ‘purrito’ by gently wrapping them in a towel so that their front paws are contained. Place your kitty on top of the towel and fold up the sides around their neck tight enough that it’s hard for them to get their front legs out, but not so tight they will be strangled.
- Change the form of your cat’s medication or supplement. Some medications come in a liquid form rather than a pill, which may be easier to give your cat. Your vet may also be able to compound some medications, which means they are able to make your cat’s medicine into a different form (e.g. lotion, transdermal injection) despite it only being approved in a pill form. While this is often more expensive, it’s much easier to give to cats who are more challenging. Ask your veterinarian about what other options are available to you.
Remember that giving your cat a pill can be quite a struggle, especially at first. We promise you will become more proficient by practicing the methods that work best for you. You are not alone and we believe in you!
Giving KittyBiome Supplements
KittyBiome™ Gut Restore Supplement is a fecal transplant (FMT) in a capsule that is designed to deliver healthy, cat-specific gut microbes straight to the intestines. These capsules should NOT be opened because the beneficial bacteria within can get killed in the stomach acid and would also taste terrible. Because of their size, these capsules need to be given with any of the methods listed in the hands on approach method.
Gut Maintenance Plus™ comes in a capsule and contains a science-backed formula of specific prebiotics and probiotics designed to target the cause of occasional diarrhea flare ups. It is especially helpful for pets with high levels of E. coli or C. difficile bacteria. These capsules CAN be opened and mixed with food or given with the hands on approach.
KittyBiome™ S. boulardii + FOS Powder contains a science-backed formula of specific prebiotics and probiotics designed to improve your cat’s digestive health, reduce diarrhea, and supports the growth of beneficial bacteria. This dry, loose powder is best mixed in with food at mealtime - no purrito required!
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