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How to Give a Cat a Pill? 5 Methods That Work

by Dr Linda Simon MVB MRCVS, Apr 28, 21
Table Of Contents

A task detested by owners and cats alike, trying to get our cat to take their medicine can be stressful. Indeed, you may find you psych yourself up to ‘the big event’ for days before. Most cats will sense that anxiety. They are then experts at making themselves disappear when it comes time to having their pill.

According to a recent survey, one in four owners struggled so much to give their cat medicine that they had to abort the task. Despite this, the vast majority say they prefer administering pills over a liquid form of the medicine. 

Read on to learn some top tips that should make the event less of an ordeal. With a few simple changes to your routine, you’ll soon be an expert at how to give your cat pills.


The Best Ways to Give Your Cat Pills 

Finding a technique that works for you and your pet can be like finding the holy grail. A no-nonsense approach tends to work best and try to act confident (even if you don’t feel it!). Each cat is an individual, and some will respond better to certain techniques than others. Feel free to try a few until you hit on the one that works best for you.

  • The old fashioned’. This method works best for laid back, friendly cats. Sit them in your lap or place them on a table. Gently open their mouth. Lift up the jaw with a thumb and index finger placed above each upper canine, tilting their head back. With the other hand, place the pill at the back of the throat and then shut the mouth until they swallow. Blowing on their nose can help.
  • ‘The easy way out’. Hiding a tablet in food can take a lot of the hassle out of this task. Warm and tasty foods like chicken and wet cat food work best. Give a small portion of the meal to ensure you can see when the tablet is gone.
  • ‘The big guns’. A pill popper is a plastic instrument that enables you to place the pill at the back of your cat’s mouth. This keeps your fingers safe and is a great option for feistier felines.
  • ‘The hiding place’. A pill pocket is a tasty treat in which you hide the tablet. This works best for food-driven, greedy cats. These guys are likely to munch away without asking too many questions.
  • ‘The back-up option’. Remember, some cats are very difficult to pill and it is never worth risking a finger for. If at-home methods have failed, call your vet to let them know. They may have you take your kitty in so a nurse can pill them. They might also discuss the option of an alternate medicine type that may be a better fit for your little tiger.

Knowing the Medication 

It is not always as easy as crushing your cat’s medicine into their food and walking away smugly. Certain medicines must be given whole. This is the case for most thyroid medication, for example.


Read the prescription’s dosage instructions twice

Nothing will make your heart sink faster than realising you have given your cat an overdose. This can cause serious side effects and could make your kitty very unwell indeed. Under-dosing is also problematic. It can mean that the medicine you have given is not effective. When preparing your kitty’s pills, read the instructions twice. If you’re unsure about the instructions, don’t hesitate to call your vet to confirm the dosage.

Double check how long the course needs to be given for and how frequently each pill should be offered. While most pills are given daily, some will be given e.g. every 12 hours.

If your cat is on a repeat prescription and the written dose has changed, question this. It is sensible to confirm a dose change with your vet, in case of a label error. 


Keep time release medications whole 

Though you may usually break up your cat’s wormer, not all pills can be broken up in this manner. Time release medications do not work effectively unless given whole. This can be tricky as placing these in a cat’s food bowl often results in the cat eating around them. To avoid this, consider using a ‘Pill Popper’, ‘Pill Pocket’ or your own hand to give these whole medicines.


Check if medication should not be accompanied by food 

Depending on what you are giving, some pills need to be accompanied by food. Others should be given on an empty stomach. If your vet hasn’t specified which, give them a call to double check. It may be that it doesn’t matter either way but it’s reasonable to ask.

As one example, oxytetracycline can cause serious damage to the food pipe if given incorrectly. Owners are advised to give their cats water after administering the tablet. This prevents it lodging in the food pipe and causing a stricture.

Hopefully this article has given you some food for thought. Perhaps you are- dare we say it- excited at the prospect of giving your cat their next pill.


Dr. Linda Simon, BVMS, MRCVS
Veterinary surgeon,
Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS is a locum veterinary surgeon who has worked in London for the past 8 years. She graduated top of her class in small animal medicine from UCD, Dublin. She is currently a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

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