If you’re lucky, your cat will never get sick and will never need a single pill in his life.
If you’re like every other cat parent in the world, at some point you’ll find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing to know how to give a cat a pill.
Does this look familiar?
It’s funny because it’s true. A common technique that you’ll see recommended for giving cats pills is just shoving it down their throat!
I’m pretty sure if I check my copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence Cats,” there is not a chapter entitled, “Bring Joy to Your Cat by Choking Her With Gabapentin.”
Granted, this is a perfectly valid method for how to give a cat a pill, and is sometimes necessary. But I’d recommend starting with a less stressful approach, then working your way up from there if you need to.
Table of Contents
1. Crushing the pill & mixing in food
(AFTER you’ve checked with your vet)
If your kitty is a chowmeow (I almost said chowhound, but isn’t that kind of an anti-cat term?), then pilling her is generally a pretty simple proposition.
The absolute easiest way to give a cat a pill is to crush it up or open it up and mix it into something delicious (ideas to follow).
And this is a HUGE BUT (not to be confused with Sir Mix-A-Lot’s preference)…
Always Check with Your Vet First
There are some medications where crushing the pill and mixing it in food is NOT SAFE!
And there are other medications that are so bitter, your cat will despise you forever if you taint their tuna with it. Your vet will know which ones those are.
So always check with your vet first.
Never cut or crush a medication that is labeled “extended release” or “enteric coated.”
And NEVER give a cat over-the-counter human pain medications!
Some Common Medications that Should Not Be Crushed
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Levetiracetam (Keppra)
- Loratadine (Claritin)
Some Medications that Taste Seriously Very Icky
- Tramadol — If you would like your cat to hate you forever, try cutting this medication and putting it in their food. No, wait, don’t.
- Gabapentin — This seems to be very cat-dependent. Some will happily take it crushed up in food, and others not so much.
- Furosemide (Lasix)
Yummy Food Options for Hiding Cat Pills
Here are some food ideas to help make this pill irresistible. Stinky is often better, because it masks the smell and taste of the medication.
Make sure there are no onions or garlic if you’re giving human food.
- canned food (warm it up first = extra yummy)
- the juice/gravy from canned or pouched food
- canned tuna or tuna water
- canned salmon or salmon water
- smoked salmon
- tuna paste
- anchovy paste
- deviled ham
- meat baby food
- low fat, plain unsweetened yogurt
- cottage cheese
- canned cheese/Easy Cheese
- cream cheese
- mushy cheeses like brie
- whipped cream
- peanut butter (there are a few kitties out there who like it!)
*Milk isn’t actually a great choice, because most cats can’t digest it well. (Yogurt & cottage cheese, since they are fermented, usually go down more easily.) I’d only use milk if you’ve given your cat small amounts of milk in the past and he tolerates it well, or if you’re desperate and kitty is refusing other options.
Also, I get it that a lot of these options aren’t very “natural.” Desperate times call for desperate measures. A few French fries every once in a while ain’t gonna kill you.
Be sure to check out the additional ninja tips, below.
If You Crush It, Keep This in Mind
You may want to invest in a pill grinder to help with the crushing, but the back of a spoon will often work, too.
You want to use only just enough food to hide the pill, because you have to make sure that kitty eats ALL of it in order to get the full dose of medication. If you find that kitty isn’t eating it all, you’ll have to try one of the other pill giving methods on this list.
Some cats can be enticed to take medication that is hidden in food and then smeared on a paw—they’ll want to groom it off—but it’s hard to make sure that kitty takes it all this way, and it can make quite a mess.
2. Hiding the whole pill in food
Sometimes pills are easier to give whole than crushed. This is especially true of pills that have a yucky taste. It’s also easier to make sure kitty takes the whole thing.
This works better for smaller pills. It also works best with foods that you can mush around the pill to keep the pill hidden inside.
Here are some foods you can use to help get kitty to go along with this plan:
- all the foods from the list above ^^^
- low salt meats, such as a small chunk of smoked ham
- flavored paste/Pill Pockets
There are various pastes/soft chews you can get from the pet store that are made just for giving pills, the most well known being Pill Pockets. Though they make cat versions and dog versions of this product, I’ve found that the Hickory Smoke Flavor (marketed for dogs) is pretty irresistible to a lot of cats. Your mileage may vary, though, so try a few flavors.
Like many of the other food options listed above, Pill Pockets aren’t exactly “natural.” Some purists are probably shaking their fists at their screens right now, but the size of a Pill Pocket compared to the rest of your cat’s diet is minuscule. Don’t sweat it. Do what you need to do to get the pill in.
And be sure to check out the other ninja tips later in the post.
3. Okay, fine, shove it down kitty’s throat.
If you can’t use the two methods above, you may have to open kitty’s mouth to get the pill in.
Just open their mouth and pop the pill onto the back of their tongue. Hold their mouth closed and gently stroke their neck or their nose until they swallow. SO EASY, right?
Yeah, no. It *can* be easy with some cats. But don’t feel bad if your cat isn’t having it. Even vets have trouble doing this with some cats.
Here’s a nice video on how to give a cat a pill:
Lube it up
If you have to give a pill using this method or the next one, it helps to use a bit of food to make the pill go down easier. A smidge of butter or cream cheese on the pill helps keep it from sticking in the throat.
You’ll also want to give kitty something yummy to drink afterward, to help wash it down. Think tuna water, gravy from a food pouch, etc.
4. Pop those pills, kitty!
A nifty little device that can also help out in this situation is a pill gun or a pill popper.
Basically, you’re doing exactly the same as in the video above, holding their mouth open, and aiming for the back of the tongue. You’re just using this little device to help you reach back there without introducing your fingers to your cat’s teeth.
Be sure to coat the pill with something slippery like a smidge of butter to help it go down, and give kitty something yummy to drink, like tuna water, as a chaser.
This approach is great if your cat will let you do it, but there are a lot of cases where this just becomes way too stressful for both kitty and you.
Is there any hope?
Ninja Tips on How to Give a Cat a Pill
Before I get to the last two options on this list, here are some techniques that can make the above methods for giving a cat a pill easier.
Sometimes putting a pill in the fridge or freezer for a while makes it smell less and taste less awful. Do this before hiding it using one of the techniques above.
Another option, if this is a crushable pill, is to crush it up and freeze the crushed pill inside a little chunk of butter or Churu. YUMMY.
The Element of Surprise
Some cats can be tricked into taking a pill in food once, but not twice. One way to keep your kitty interested is to keep the element of surprise working in your favor.
When you give kitty a pill in food, you should always give at least two other little bits of food that DON’T contain a pill. Make them all the same size and shape, and kitty will be more likely to eat them all. At random times during the day, you can give kitty a treat or two using the same food without a pill inside. This keeps kitty from outright rejecting the food in the future.
Mix it up
If kitty can predict when pill time is coming, he may be less inclined to accept your stinky liverwurst pills. Try giving the pill at slightly different times throughout the day, or when he is super happy doing something else, like bird watching.
Sprinkles make everything better, right? So in addition to hiding your pill in food, you can add another layer of sprinkles on top.
This works best when you’re using Pill Pockets, or cheese, or butter, or something a little sticky that can grab and hold the sprinkles.
Some good options for sprinkles are:
- Purina Fortiflora (a probiotic supplement)
- Bonito flakes
- Freeze dried meat treats, crumbled up
- Catnip, if your kitty digs ‘nip
Peer Pressure? Or Private Time?
Some cats are more motivated to eat treats if other pets in the household are getting some, too. So you may want to try giving your kitty’s pill while giving treats to the other critters in your house.
In some cases this can backfire, though, because both you and kitty might be even more stressed, and another pet might get medicated accidentally. In those cases, it’s better to give kitty their own special spa time and give them their pills away from other pets.
Kitty Always Gets a Reward
Some kitties can be bought, and for those kitties, it can be helpful to reward them for taking a pill with the thing they love most in the world, and ONLY give that thing after pill time.
Kitty loves Churu? Great. Take your medicine first. Kitty wants to be brushed? No problem! Take your medicine first.
It’s kind of like making a kid eat broccoli before dessert.
Take This Pill, Not That Pill
This is a super ninja tip, and works well for smallish pills that have a bad taste or odor. Grab some larger, empty gelatin capsules, and put the offending pill inside. Then cover the outside of the gelatin capsule with whatever extra-tasty yumminess your kitty will eat. This gives an extra layer of smell and taste protection between kitty and the icky thing.
Wrapping kitty in a towel may make it easier for both of you. This works best with a moderately grumpy cat or less. Don’t force it on an angry cat or you’ll both be upset.
How’s your energy at pill time? Are you a nervous wreck? Because kitty can sense that from a mile off and will be hiding under the bed faster than you can say, “Fluffy, it’s treat time!”
Deep breaths. Calm, confident. You can do this.
5. Compounded Medication
If all the above don’t pan out, then you may want to talk to your vet about getting kitty’s medication compounded.
This is usually done by a pet pharmacy, and they can mix up the medication into a variety of forms, such as:
- flavored liquid (tuna and chicken are popular)
- flavored treats
- flavored pastes
- gel that absorbs through the skin (only works for a few medications 🙁 )
I’ve never had great luck with most liquids, but one compounding trick I’ll use is to compound the pill into a flavored tablet, and then—rather than giving the flavored tablet as is—hide it using one of the many other techniques listed above.
One compounding pharmacy that I like is Wedgewood Pharmacy, but there are many others, and chances are your veterinarian already has a relationship with one.
The downside is that compounded medications are much pricier than regular medications. But if you don’t have to pill your cat? So worth it.
6. Other Forms of Medication and Other Medications
Still no joy after all of the above?
In that case, I’d talk with your vet to see what your other options might be. It’s possible there may be an injectable form of medication available, or it’s possible that another medication could be used instead.
Don’t count on this, since the reason your vet prescribed a particular medication in the first place was because it was the best option. But it’s worth asking if kitty is BEING a pill instead of taking a pill.
Giving Pills to Cats Sucks, But…
Having a sick cat is worse. And in most cases, giving pills is a temporary thing. So before you throw in the towel, remind yourself that the short term stress for both you and kitty will pay off in the long run.