Giving Pills to Cats

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

Care & Wellness, Pet Services

Giving pills to cats can be a challenge even for the most experienced veterinarian! The easiest way to give your cat a pill is to hide the pill in food. This usually works best if the pill is hidden in a small amount of tuna, salmon, yogurt, or cream cheese. To ensure that your cat swallows the pill, it is better to place it in a small amount of food that the cat is certain to eat rather than a large portion that the cat may not complete. Soft treats are also available that can be used to hide the pill by molding the treat around it (e.g., Pill Pockets™). Some cats may spit out the pill, so it is important to observe your cat both during and shortly after eating medicated food.

If your cat persists in spitting out the pills or if dietary restrictions prevent you from hiding the pills in an appealing food or treat, you will need to administer the pill directly into the cat's mouth. Make sure that you have carefully read the prescription label and understand the dosing instructions. Although medicating your cat can be intimidating, try to remain calm and confident, as your cat is likely to pick up on your stress.


Follow these steps when administering a pill to your cat:

  • Prepare a safe place to handle your cat. Have the pill ready and in a place where it will be easily accessible.

  • Never interrupt your cat from eating, eliminating (litter box use), or grooming to pill your cat. 
  • If you are administering the medication on your own, you may find it easiest to place your cat in your lap. It may be simpler for you to wrap your cat securely in a blanket or towel with only her head exposed.
  • administering_a_pillLubricate or ‘grease’ the pill with a very small amount of margarine or butter so it does not stick in your cat's mouth or throat and will be easier to swallow. This is very helpful with the administration of capsules.
  • Hold the pill between your thumb and index finger. Use your dominant hand - for example, if you are right-handed, use your right hand.
  • Gently grasp your cat's head from above with your other hand, by placing your thumb on one side of the upper jaw and your fingers on the other. Tilt your cat's head back over its shoulder so that her nose points to the ceiling. Her jaw should drop open slightly.
  • With your pilling hand, use your little finger and ring finger to open your cat's mouth further by gently putting pressure on the lower lip and front teeth.
  • Quickly place the pill as far back over the tongue as possible. Try to place it on the back one-third of the tongue to stimulate an automatic swallowing reflex.
  • Close your cat's mouth and hold it closed while you return the head to a normal position.
  • Gently rub your cat's nose or throat, or blow lightly on her nose. This should stimulate swallowing. Usually, the cat will lick its nose with its tongue if it has swallowed the pill. In some cases, it may help the cat swallow the pill better if you follow the pill with a little tuna juice, flavored broth, or water gently squirted into the mouth with a syringe, or offer the tuna juice or flavored broth in a teaspoon or a bowl.

  • Following pilling your cat, give her some positive reinforcement (e.g., treats, brushing, petting, or playing). Be sure it is something that your cat enjoys as this can vary between cats.
  • If you continue to experience difficulty, you may want to purchase a ‘pet piller’ device or speak to your veterinarian for advice.cat_playing
"It may be possible to have the medication compounded into a flavored formulation."

If you find that giving your cat a pill is a frustrating experience, it may be possible to have the medication compounded into a flavored formulation. Veterinary pharmacies can prepare many of the more common medications into liquid or treat formulas with appealing flavors such as tuna, chicken, or salmon.

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