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How to Give a Cat a Pill (Without Losing a Finger!)

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: February 18, 2022 - Author: Rebekah Carter
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: February 18, 2022  
Author:  Rebekah Carter
grey cat looking disapprovingly at a sleeve of pills

Figuring out how to give a cat a pill can be complex. Though your kitty might be cute and fluffy most of the time, they often turn into lions when you try to place something in their mouths, which means a lot of scratching, biting, and struggling. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to sidestep the horrors of giving your cat medication most of the time. Unless your cat has a long-term ailment, they should only need to take pills occasionally. Unfortunately, the sad truth is most of us will have to learn the basics of pill giving at some point.

Today, we’re going to be looking at what you can do to improve your chances of safely, and effectively giving your cat their pills. Crucially, before we jump in, it’s best to speak to your veterinarian and get specific instructions. Some pills will need to be administered in a specific way and will not be suitable for breaking, crushing, or mixing with some wet food.

How do you give an uncooperative cat a pill?

Even the friendliest, most laid-back cat will often become pretty uncooperative when given a pill. If you can avoid the sharp teeth and claws of your feline friend, you’ll still have to deal with the fact that most cats are experts at spitting out pills. 

Start by reading through the instructions provided by your vet. They should give you a useful insight into the kind of steps you’ll need to take to safely give your cat a pill. Next, try to find the right time to give your cat a pill. If your furry pal is running all around the house in a “mad half hour” moment, it might be worth waiting for them to calm down before administering anything.

It’s also a good idea to maintain an air of calmness when approaching your cat. Don’t just jump in and grab your cat immediately. Your vet should be able to give you some guidelines and even show you how to administer a pill if you’re having trouble, so make sure you speak to them when you’re given the medication. When at home, start by:

  • Petting your cat gently: This will allow you to gauge the mood of your furry pal and determine whether they’re open to taking a pill or not. You can also use the petting session as a way of relaxing your cat before you give them the pill.
  • Place your cat on a flat surface: Ideally, you’ll want to have your fat on a flat, stable surface, such as a tabletop or a floor. If your cat is going to struggle a lot, you can also ask a friend to hold them, or wrap them in a blanket or towel to help protect against claws.
  • Avoid taking them by surprise: Giving your cat a pill is much easier when you approach your cat from behind or from the side. However, be careful not to startle or surprise your cat, as this can lead to more panic. Allow your cat to sit upright in front of you, facing away.
  • Restrain gently: Hold your cat gently at the top of their front legs, with your hands pressed gently by their sides. If you’re struggling to keep your cat still on your own, you can use a soft towel to restrain your cat instead.
  • Open your cat’s mouth: Hold the pill in one hand between your thumb and forefinger and place your other hand on top of your cat’s head. Gently tilt the head upwards and use your thumb and index fingers either side of the cat’s jaw to open their mouth.
  • Place the pill: Use your index finger to place the pill in the middle of the cat’s tongue as far back as you can. Close your cat’s mouth and gently rub their throat for a few seconds to encourage them to swallow.

Sometimes you might think you’ve successfully gotten your cat to take a pill, then discover otherwise when your cat spits the pill out a few seconds later. Provided your cat isn’t too distressed, you can try again, taking the same steps outlined above. If your cat is stressed, give them a few minutes to calm down before you approach them again. 

It’s definitely a good idea to give your cat some space if they’re feeling nervous and upset after taking a tablet. However, providing them with their favorite food and cat toys can also be a good way to let them know medication isn’t a bad thing. As soon as your cat is calm enough to receive affection, you can try petting them again too.

tabby cat getting some love from smiling lady

How do you trick a cat into taking a pill?

Tricking your cat might not seem like a kind thing to do, but sometimes it’s the only way to get them to actually take their medicine. When looking after your cat means giving them a pill, you can’t afford for your furry friend to keep spitting out pills. 

There are a few ways to trick your kitty. For instance, you can hide the pill in your cat’s food dish among her usual food. Wet or semi-moist food is usually best for this. Alternatively, you can hide the pill in a small ball of your cat’s favorite treat, like a little chicken. Ideally, you don’t want to give your cat too much human food often, as this can cause gastrointestinal distress and other issues. 

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If your vet approves the idea of crushing the pill into powder form to give it to your cat, or you can open the capsule and sprinkle the medicine into something, you could try placing this medicine in the gravy of your cat’s food. Another option is to simply mix the medicine with a wet treat for your cat, so the strong flavor will hopefully tone down the taste of the pill.

Don’t make the mistake of grinding up a pill and putting it into a small amount of water. Crush medication often has a bitter taste, which means your cat is more likely to avoid their water. Additionally, if your cat doesn’t drink everything in their bowl, they may not get the full dosage.

When giving your cat pills with food remember:

  • Use a small amount of food to ensure your cat eats the pill before getting full
  • Make sure the tablet is completely hidden to trick wary cats
  • Try to ensure your cat is hungry by giving the pill and food at their regular mealtime
  • Check with your vet about crushing or splitting the tablet before doing so
  • Don’t give your cat any human food to disguise the pill unless it’s approved by your vet.

Can you crush pills for cats?

As noted above, crushing a pill is one of the ways you can trick your cats into taking medication. However, it’s best to speak to your vet about how to give a cat a pill safely before you start crushing anything. Ultimately, while crushing and grinding pills can make them easier to administer, not all medicines are designed to be crushed. 

Some tablets, when broken or split, will release substances which might be harsh on your cat’s stomach or intestinal system. Your vet will be able to tell you whether you can safely crush a pill when prescribing the medication. 

Remember, some crushed tablets can be mixed with a little water, liquid or oil so you can administer them via a syringe in the mouth (without a needle) – if this is easier than giving a pill. Reducing a tablet to a fine powder, however, is usually easier if you have a pill crusher. Attempting to crush a pill on your own could mean you don’t get the full dosage into your cat.

cat sitting on human lap smelling a pill

How do you pill a difficult cat by yourself?

You’ll find it’s much easier to give your cat a pill or “pill a cat” if you have help. Learning how to give a cat a pill can feel like you need at least several pairs of arms. After all, you need to keep the cat restrained, open its mouth, and administer the pill all at the same time. 

Ideally, you’ll want to have someone with you to help administer the pill. However, if this isn’t possible, you can improve your chances of a successful experience by wrapping your cat in a soft towel or blanket. You can see how to successfully wrap your cat up here

You’ll need to wrap your cat up tightly enough that they can’t get free from the towel or blanket, but not too tight, as this can cause discomfort. Obviously, you will need to keep your cat’s head free of the blanket so you can administer the pill. Using a towel or blanket should help to reduce your risk of being scratched, but you’ll still need to watch out for teeth. 

When giving your cat a pill on your own, remember:

  • Take the process slowly and don’t scare your cat by trying to rush in.
  • Give your cat a break if they get overly stressed during the pilling process
  • Provide plenty of pets and comfort before and after pill administration
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after giving medication
  • Contact your GP if you are bitten by your cat to the point where you begin to bleed. Cat teeth can harbor bacteria which cause infections.

It’s generally a good idea to keep some cat treats handy so you can calm your cat after they take their pill. A few treats will go a long way towards making you friends again. You could also take steps to train your cat into feeling comfortable with having their mouth opened as a kitten. When you get a new cat, train them with treats by opening their mouth gently for a second, then giving them a treat when afterwards.

Tools to Help with Giving your Cat a Pill

If you ask your vet how to give a cat a pill, they’ll usually be able to provide some helpful guidance on how to hold your cat steady, or whether you can crush your pills. In some cases, vets will also recommend using certain tools to make your life a little easier. 

For instance, some vets have “pill givers” or a "pet piller" device for your cat which looks a little like a syringe with a plastic plunger and no needle part. The tablet fits in the soft nozzle at the end of the product, and it’s released by pushing down on the plunger at the other end. A pill-giver can make it much easier to administer a tablet right to the back of your cat’s tongue, without requiring you to place your fingers in your feline friend’s mouth. With a little practice, this can be a very effective tool. 

Just make sure you take some time to prepare the tablet in the pill giver before you restrain your cat, and practice using the plunger in advance. Other tools you might use include:

  • A pill splitter: Pill splitters can divide larger tablets into smaller amounts. Generally, we wouldn’t recommend using a pill splitter if you can avoid it, as this will mean you need to administer multiple parts of a tablet instead of just one. However, if you need to give your cat a very specific amount of a pill, these tools can be very helpful. You should also check to make sure a tablet is suitable for dividing before you crush or slice anything.
  • Pill crushers: A pill crusher is similar to a pill splitter. It transforms your pill into something more manageable to give to your cat. If your vet approves the idea of crushing a pill for administration, it’s best to use a crusher rather than trying to grind the pill yourself. A crusher will help to ensure you can transform your pill into a fine powder which can easily be mixed into things like gravies and cat foods.
  • Gelatin capsules: An empty gelatin capsule can make it easier to give a pill that tastes bad to your cat. You might even be able to put more than one type of smaller pills into a capsule so you can administer everything at once. As usual, always check with your vet before giving your cat two kinds of tablets at once.
grey cat about to take a pill

How to Give a Cat a Pill: Quick Questions

Giving a cat a pill isn’t a simple process, but it’s something most cat parents will have to do at some point. The more you practice, the more you’ll learn about your feline friend, and how you can trick them into taking their medication. 

If you still have questions about giving your cat pills the following answers might help:

What do you do when your cat won’t take medicine?

You can try mixing a tablet with your cat’s food or crushing it to hide it within their meal. However, if this isn’t possible, or it doesn’t work, you’ll need to speak to your vet and see if you have any other options for getting the right medication into your cat.

Do pill pockets work for cats?

It is possible to buy pill pockets for cats just like you would for a dog. Alternatively, you can simply hide a pill in your cat’s food,or something malleable, like some shredded chicken, a meatball or even some tuna juice.

How do you give an aggressive cat a pill?

If your cat is particularly aggressive or has a habit of biting and scratching, it’s best to get help when administering medication. You should also consider wrapping your cat up in a blanket to help stop them from scratching.

Can I dissolve my cats’ pill in water?

We wouldn’t recommend dissolving a cat pill in water, as this will usually taste terrible to the cat and make them not want to drink their water. There’s also a chance your cat won’t get the full dosage if their pill has been dissolved into their water bowl.

Giving Your Cats Pills (The Right Way)

Giving cats pills is difficult and hard to grasp at first because you can’t explain exactly what’s going on to your furry friend. Most of the time, you don’t try to shove your fingers into your cat’s mouth, so it’s bound to catch them off guard when you suddenly hold them down and start prying open their jaws. Expect your cat to freak out a little bit, particularly if you haven’t had to give them a pill in the past. 

The good news is that with a little practice, giving your cat a pill does get easier. You just need to be patient and persistent. Remember, if you have serious problems with giving your cat a pill, the best thing you can do is speak to your vet and ask for their advice.

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About the author

Rebekah Carter is a dedicated animal lover. Her Savannah cat, Roscoe, has a lot of attitude, while her Maine Coon, Dukino, is full of love. When not writing, she’s looking after her cats and researching ways to help them live their best possible life. Her passion for animals and natural skill for writing led her to pursue pet blogging.