The trouble with treating cats is that they can be very wriggly, are surprisingly strong for their size. What’s more, cats have some very sharp weapons which, even when deployed in sheer panic, can inflict nasty injuries.
So, as always with cats, the only way to succeed is by being calm, firm and gentle. Below we’ll explain step-by-step how to give a cat a pill as explained in our in-depth Cat Manual.
How to pill a cat
- Start by placing your cat on a table, first putting something under its feet which isn’t slippery – ideally a towel or mat that it can cling on to it if it wants. You may also want to get someone to help you so that you don’t have to struggle with the cat alone, at least until you get used to the procedure.
- Use your body and arms to contain the cat within a small area – do this gently, almost without it noticing. Put your hands around its shoulders and chest; you can hold the front legs gently between the last two fingers of each hand if you’re worried about being scratched.
- If you have a cat that can squirm and wriggle its way out of your hold, or that you know is likely to scratch you, get a large towel, place the cat on it on the table and wrap the towel around it so that only its head is showing.
- Have the pill ready between the thumb and forefinger of your right hand (if you’re right-handed).
- To get the cat to open its mouth, place your left hand over its head and your thumb and forefinger on either side of the jaw. You can hold the cat quite firmly like this and control its head.
- Tilt its head up gently using the fingers of your right hand (the one holding the pill). It will be hard for the cat to keep its jaw clamped shut once its head is pointing upwards.
- Put the middle finger of your right hand gently between the cat’s canine teeth (the ones which look like fangs) and pull the jaw down, opening the mouth.
- Keeping your finger on the front of the jaw to keep the mouth open, quickly put the pill in at the back of the mouth.
- Release the cat’s head so that it can swallow and return its head to the normal position.
Obviously, the more practised you are at the procedure and the more swiftly and gently you’re able to do it, so that the cat hardly notices, the less of a trauma it will be for all concerned.
If you have real problems giving pills to your cat ask your vet if there are alternatives, or if the pill can be altered to make it easier give to the cat. More and more manufacturers are now making their pills either smaller, more streamlined or even palatable for cats, so that owners don’t have to fight with their cats in order to try and help them.
The Feline Advisory Bureau actually gives an annual award to companies that have come up with a better method of giving pills or a palatable pill that most cats (it will never be all!) will eat.
Though some tablets must be given whole because they have a coating that releases the medication slowly in the stomach, some can be crushed and given on a bit or tuna or in a favourite food, but you need to check with the vet first as some may lose their effectiveness if altered in this way. Others might taste really horrible if they’re crushed.
Alternatively you may be able to use a gelatine capsule if the tablet is bitter-tasting, but again you need to check with your vet that this doesn’t alter the efficacy of the medication.
Some tablets can cause damage if they sit in the cat’s windpipe for a period of time, so if possible it’s wise to help the medicine go down by syringing a small amount of water into the cat’s mouth after the tablet has been taken. You can ask your vet for a syringe.
Place it gently between the cat’s cheek teeth and dispense a little water slowly so that the cat can swallow it. If this isn’t possible you can give your cat a little knob of butter – if he doesn’t want to take it directly smear a little bit on his nose so that he licks it off and in swallowing moves the pill down into his stomach.
Finally there are various pill poppers available which you can use to introduce the pill into the cat’s mouth and so keep your fingers out of the way. You can ask you vet about these or find them in a pet store.
There are some which also introduce water as they give the pill. These are made of strong plastic, so you need to be careful and gentle with them as they could hurt your cat’s mouth if forced in.