5 Scratch-Free Ways to Give Your Cat a Pill

It doesn't have to be a struggle.

woman giving cat a pill; feline fine logo in the corner of the image
Photo: ablokhin / Getty

My cat Albus was diagnosed with asthma when he was 4 years old. As part of his treatment, our veterinarian prescribed an Aerokat inhaler for emergencies … and one prednisone pill every 24 hours. Now age 7, Albus is a pro at his pills—but that wasn't always the case.

If you're wondering how to give an uncooperative cat a pill, you're not alone! Albus has had three-plus years to get used to the routine, but when I first started giving him his pills, I was met with a lot of resistance (and spat-out tablets). But with positivity, patience, and maaaybe a little trickery, you can prompt your cat to take a pill without starting World War III in your home.

5 Ways to Get Your Cat to Take a Pill

1. Wash It Down

The most obvious method: Simply giving your cat the pill directly. First, place the tablet in his mouth towards the back of the tongue and gently hold the mouth closed. Then, syringe some water down his throat or offer him a small bit of food as a chaser. "It is important to follow up with water or food if you are dry pilling a cat because if the pill gets stuck in the esophagus, it can cause irritation," says Sarah Wooten, DVM.

This technique works best if the cat does not taste the pill, so try to get it towards the back of the tongue. Some pills are bitter or chalky and may cause cats to salivate excessively and refuse to swallow.

2. Hide It in a Treat

Sometimes you might need to be a little sneaky. Wooten says hiding the pill in a treat, in kitty's favorite food, or in a pill pocket can prompt him to scarf it down without even realizing he's taking any medicine. This method probably won't work with larger pills, but small tablets can be hidden and swallowed easily.

3. Coat It In Gravy

Cover the pill in some gravy from wet cat food and give it to your kitty. The added moisture (and yummy taste!) should make it easier for him to accept. Be aware that some pills start to dissolve quickly when exposed to moisture, so coat the pill quickly and give it right away. And while you should never give your cat butter as a snack, Wooten says using it to coat a pill is OK if you don't have canned food at home.

4. Dissolve It

Some cats take liquid medicine better than hard pills, so try dissolving the tablet in water or tuna juice. Once it's liquified, use a syringe to inject the medication into your cat's mouth. You can also ask your vet if your cat's medicine is available in liquid form so you can forego the extra dissolving step.

5. Use a Pet Piller

Pet pillers make giving your cat a pill fast and safe; all you do is place the pill into the chamber and press the plunger to insert it into the back of his mouth. It's a simple procedure, but Wooten says if you don't know how to use a pet piller, ask your veterinarian to give you a demo.

Can I Crush Up My Cat's Pills?

Read the medication's label carefully before taking the pill to your mortar and pestle. Some pills, Wooten says, can't be given with food and others can't be crushed. If the pill is food-friendly (and crushable), you can break it down and mix it into canned wet food. As always, ask your vet to be sure.

What If My Cat Keeps Spitting Out the Pill?

No matter the method, results may vary. Some felines are very against the idea of taking a pill, and they might hold it against their cheek or on top of their tongue, waiting to yack it up when you're not looking. So if your kitty is a pro at spitting out his medicine, here are some tips for how to get a cat to swallow a pill.

1. Use Positive Reinforcement

You should always follow pills with water and food, but Wooten says praise and treats are just as important to make the experience positive for your kitty. When he successfully takes a pill, give your cat a treat, a chin scritch, and some enthusiastic "good boys!" Soon he won't see taking a pill as something to dread. And make sure you are approaching your kitty with confidence to make the process as smooth as possible; try not to be tense and nervous as it could upset your kitty, too.

2. Hold His Mouth Closed

After popping the pill into the back of your cat's mouth, Wooten says there are some actions you can take to help him swallow. "Gently hold their mouth closed and stroke downward on their throat—this can encourage them to swallow," she says. "You can also try gently blowing on their nose, [as] this will cause some cats to swallow."

3. Talk to Your Vet

If your cat still refuses his pills, turn to your veterinarian for advice.

"Ask your vet for recommendations if you can't get your cat to take a pill," Wooten says. "They can often have the medication formulated into a tasty liquid, chew, or a transdermal lotion that you can rub into their skin. Sometimes an injectable medication can be used instead."

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