We have all been there. You have just taken Fluffy to the vet and been sent home with “The Pill” – that dreaded small sphere of doom. How on earth are you going to get that into your normally mild-mannered angel who, when treatment needs to be given, turns in to a tiger!?
Our favourite method of pilling a cat is always the one that your cat prefers, whatever that may be, so it’s worth trying several different methods until you find the least stressful one for you and your cat. In general, the less fuss you make over the whole process, the more successful you are likely to be. It is a cat’s natural instinct to reject things that taste or look different (which is why cats are far less likely to be poisoned than dogs), so it’s all about disguising the medication as something they are already familiar with. Here are a few of our favourite tricks:
1) Hide the pill in a treat
There are some excellent pliable jerky type treats out there – Natures Menu cat treats, Easypill meat-flavored putty, Greenies Pill Pockets and Webbox jerky sticks among others. Take one of the treats (or about 1 cm off of a longer stick) and break it in half, then place the tablet in one half, moulding the treat tightly around the tablet so none of it can be seen. If needed, be extra sneaky and use tweezers to insert the pill instead of your fingers, this avoids transferring the taste of the tablet onto the treat. Now give the cat the half of the treat that doesn’t have the tablet, once that is consumed offer them the half with the pill.
To make them even less suspicious, follow this with another half of a plain one as an extra treat. If they won’t take treats, try crushing the medication into a bit of cat milk or one of these meat-flavoured yogurt sachets for cats (Lick-e-Lix or similar) – most cats LOVE these so will put up with the medication to get the treat.
2) Hide the pill in food
Sounds simple enough, but a lot of cats will eat around a pill if they can. Try putting it in a small amount of wet food (approx 1 tablespoonful) on a plate and offering them this meal before their first meal of the day. Hopefully they will be hungry enough to ignore the fact there is a tablet and just eat it. If your medication can be crushed (some lose efficacy if crushed so check with your vet first), then crushing it and mixing it with the food may help disguise it further. If the tablet is particularly distasteful, try hiding it in a treat first, then putting that treat in with a little bit of wet food, covered in lots of the gravy or jelly.
3) Hide the pill in ‘human’ food
I’m sure you know what your cat likes best whether it’s a prawn, bit of cheese, liver pâté or maybe some butter? Hide the tablet inside one of these and your cat will not only love you for giving them their favourite foods but some even beg for their daily pill. Try not to use processed meats or anything with too much salt if possible, and if using cream cheese try a lactose free one. Everything in moderation!
4) Coat it in catnip
Most (but not all) cats enjoy catnip and will often lick or eat it. If your cat responds to catnip, try coating the tablet in a small amount of wet food or other treat (as described above) then roll it in catnip. Your cat will get their medication and love the catnip treat too.
5) Freeze it
It is believed that freezing removes the taste. Make little squares of butter or pate or Lick-e-Lix with the crushed medication in and freeze them. When it’s time for the tablet just take the butter pill out and pop it in the food. Again check with your vet that your cat’s medication is not affected by temperature or being crushed.
6) Put it on their paws or lips
As fastidious cleaners cats will lick off whatever you put on their paws or lips. Warning! This could get messy so I suggest doing it in a kitchen or bathroom where it’s easy to clean. Crush the pill and mix it into something tasty that’s like a paste so a pâté food or a pea size amount of hairball paste. Then simply smear it on their paw or lips, they will (probably) lick it off.
7) Syringe it in
Mix the finely crushed tablet into a very small amount (about 1ml) something liquid and yummy, like Lick-e-Lix or tuna water. Draw it up into a syringe and then using the floor position mentioned in point number 9 (below), pop the syringe in the corner of the mouth and between the teeth (note you don’t have to actually open their mouth, just lift their lip a tiny bit) and express the mixture between their teeth and into their mouth. Most cats will open their mouths and try to lick when you gently push the syringe in the corner of their mouths which will help. Be gentle and take extra care for cats that have bad teeth or have just had a dental procedure.
8) Hide it in a gel capsule
This is especially useful if you are giving more than one tablet. Empty gel caps can be opened and then the medication hidden inside. The capsule is tasteless and can then be given in any of the previously mentioned methods (except syringing). Empty gel capsules can be purchased online or through your veterinary practice, you just have to know to ask for them.
9) Pop it directly in their mouth
This is actually our least favourite method, although some cats tolerate it very well so it’s worth mentioning – pop the pill (or ideally, the pill wrapped in a tiny amount of treat to make it more pleasant) directly in their mouth. Now this is admittedly easier said than done and your cat will often hide it in their mouth until you let them go. For the best chance of this working, kneel on the floor then allow your cat to back into you and stand or sit between your knees. Now position your non-dominant hand with your thumb and middle finger on either side of his mouth and gently pull backwards. As your cat’s head tilts the jaw should naturally drop open. You can then use your dominant hand to pull the lower jaw down with your middle finger and pop the pill into the mouth using your thumb and index finger.
You should always offer at least a small amount of food or syringe a bit of water in right after giving a pill in this manner to avoid the tablet getting stuck in the throat. This method should not be used on cats that may be painful in the mouth or neck. I know it all sounds rather complicated so you could ask your vet nurse to demonstrate, or there are some helpful videos out there (see resources below).
Some people find the ‘pill giver’ plunger sticks to be helpful. We don’t generally recommend them because they can cause harm if used incorrectly, but you could give them a try, very carefully, if necessary.
A note about The Kitty Burrito
Some cats are calmer and more cooperative if they are wrapped in a towel (particularly a towel sprayed with Feliway or Pet Remedy) and don’t seem to mind. Others think this is the worst thing EVER and will avoid you for days. You can see how to do this safely and effectively in this video by iCatCare. If your cat doesn’t mind, the benefit is that the cat’s nails are under wraps and can’t cause harm. Because this method requires quite a bit of handling, we generally only use it as a last resort and it tends to work better for short medication courses rather than long-term treatments. But if you need it, feel free to give it a try – gently.
Whatever method you choose, always follow up with a good stroke, chin rub, brush (if they like that), their favourite treat or a bit of catnip to keep the process a positive one. Giving the medication right before meal time can also help because they are more likely to eat their treat-covered pill and will also quickly forgive you once presented with their dinner. If, despite exhausting all of the tips above, you are still unable to get your cat to take their tablets, PLEASE speak with your vet about alternatives because many medications come in more than one form, including liquids, pastes, injections and even gels that can be rubbed into the skin of the ear. There is almost always a solution so don’t suffer in silence. Good luck!
- iCatCareicatcare.org/advice/how-give-your-cat-tablet — detailed guide to giving medication including a video.
- Fundamentally Felinefundamentallyfeline.com/medicating-techniques and fundamentallyfeline.com/medicating-tips-and-tricks/ — how to videos by Certified Cat Behavior Consultant, Ingrid Johnson.