The first thing is first: you have to talk to your vet.
Vets are a fount of knowledge and, whether they've been working with your cat for years or just once, they'll have excellent tips and tricks for how to give your cat medication safely. And they have the added benefit of actually seeing how your cat reacts to pills and can make a more personalized recommendation.
During your initial appointment, talk to your vet about how to safely administer medication.
There are two ways that you can feed a pill to a cat. It's a good idea to develop a game plan ahead of time so you can gather the appropriate items you'll need to facilitate the pill giving.
The different ways you give a cat a pill
- You can mix it with food
- You can give a pill by hand
Let's break these steps down below.
There are some medications specifically that need to be mixed with food and some that shouldn't be. Always make sure to read the instructions beforehand.
Pills are easier to mix into wet food!
How to mix pills with food
- After you fill your cat's bowl with wet food, use a spoon to carefully tuck the pill into a chunk of wet food.
- Keep an eye on your pet while they eat and make sure they eat everything.
- If your cat has trouble eating a full bowl of food, feel free to break up the meal into smaller portions so you can ensure they take their pill.
- Some cats will detect the pill and either eat around it or spit it out. If that's the case, you might have to give the medicine to them by hand which is much more difficult but it's not impossible.
Note: If your cat eats the pill make sure you give them some sort of treat as a reward. Cats are very responsive to reward systems and, even if they're not aware that they're eating a pill with their food, they'll associate finishing their wet food with a treat.
If mixing a pill with wet food isn't an option, you can always try giving it by hand to your cat. But be warned** — this option is significantly more dangerous (this is how I obtained two scars on my left forearm).
Never interrupt your cat from eating, using the litter box, or grooming to give them a pill.
Here's how you can do this safely.
How to give your cat a pill by hand
- Get everything ready: You're going to be pressed for time so make sure you have the pill, a blanket or a towel, and a treat nearby.
- If your cat has anxiety, gently swaddle them in a towel or a blanket. This will protect you if they get slashy and keep them safe in the process, too. Make sure it's loose around their neck, but make sure it's tight enough that they can't wiggle free.
- Face your cat away from you. I found great success in giving my cat, Val, a pill by kneeling on the ground and tucking her hind-end between my legs.
- Gently place your hand beneath their chin and carefully use your thumb and forefinger to open their mouth. At this point, they're going to start struggling and it's important not to grip them harder in response. You don't want to hurt them.
- Gently tilt their head back and tuck the pill into their mouth. Close their mouth and stroke them under the chin. This will help encourage them to swallow the medicine.
- Reward them with a treat so they associate this with a positive experience.
This method worked for me!
Note: If you're still having trouble giving your cat a pill, coat the pill in tuna juice to entice them into taking it.
Some vets encourage the use of a piller to make feeding pills to cats easier. I'll break that down in the next step.
A piller is a medication dispenser that allows you to place the pill inside the cat's mouth without the use of your fingers. A piller also allows you to place the pill deeper in your cat's mouth than your fingers might allow.
How to use a piller
- Start by pulling out the piller until the plunger clicks into place, depending on how your piller works. The piller should hold the pill in place at the end of the syringe.
- Don't let your cat see the piller as you approach them.
- Follow the above steps for moving your cat into position, either by holding them or by swaddling them.
- Gently place your hand beneath their chin and carefully use your thumb and forefinger to open their mouth. At this point, they're going start struggling and it's important not to grip them harder in response. You don't want to hurt them.
- Once you have the pill in their mouth, eject the pill by pressing the plunger down o the syringe.
- Remember to give them a treat!
Note: There are a few pillers that can be found on Amazon but you should check with your vet before buying one. In many cases, they'll be able to provide you one directly!
If you still find yourself struggling to give pills to a cat, there's a final option that you can try: Pill Pockets.
Remember the trick of giving a cat a treat after every pill administration? This step combines the two! Pill Pockets are a flavored treat with a little indent in the center where a pill goes. The idea is to trick your cats into believing that they're only receiving a treat and the flavors help to mask the sensation of the pill.
How to use Pill Pockets
- Pick your Pill Pocket flavor and order them from Amazon! You can find them for $6.49 a package.
- Place your pill into the Pill Pocket.
- Feed the Pill Pocket to your cat.
When it comes to giving your cat a pill, it's important to keep in mind that all cats are different but there are a few points that will help.
- Speak to them softly and comfortingly the way you normally do when playing with them.
- Don't ever force them to take a pill. You want to surprise them without scaring them too much.
- Treats, treats, treats — don't run out of treats while giving pills to your cats!
Enjoy your healthy feline!