Find out your options
If you know from previous experience that it’s easier to administer a liquid medication to your cat, ask your veterinarian if the medication comes in liquid form. Knowing your cat’s preference can greatly reduce stress. Flavoring such as chicken, tuna, or beef can be added to liquid medication. Many veterinarians have the flavorings in their office but if not, your local pharmacy may. Ask your veterinarian whether the flavoring can be added to a particular liquid prescription. A tasty liquid medication may be much easier for an unhappy kitty to swallow and you might be able to avoid the whole pilling process altogether.
Some medications can be reformulated into transdermal form by a compounding pharmacy. Transdermal medications absorb through the skin at a slow rate. This type of medication is usually rubbed on the inside of the ear tip for absorption through the skin. Ask your veterinarian if your cat’s prescription can be reformulated.
Don’t crush a pill in food. Your cat’s acute sense of smell will easily detect even the most deeply hidden pill in the tastiest of food. Some pills can’t be given with food so if you do have a highly food-motivated kitty who eats anything and everything in his bowl, find out from your veterinarian whether that particular prescription can be given with food.
Don’t crush coated pills into food because it exposes the bitter tasting medicine. Coated pills are meant to stay intact until they get farther along in the digestive tract. Additionally, the bitter taste will likely cause the cat to reject the food. In some cases the cat may only eat a portion of the meal and then he won’t get the full prescription amount of the medication.
If your cat likes treats there’s a product available called Pill Pockets that makes medicating much easier. The soft treat has a pocket where you can slip the pill in and then squish the ends together. Pill Pockets are very palatable. If you decide to try the Pill Pockets, first offer one that doesn’t contain a pill and then offer the pill-filled one. The product is available at pet supply stores and online.
Another option for cat parents who don’t want to put their fingers into their cats’ mouths in order to give a pill is to use a pill gun. This is a plastic plunger-like device that holds the pill with little gripping fingers until you push the plunger to release it.
There are a couple ways to do this. The first way is to place the cat on a table or counter. Put the palm of your hand over the top of the kitty’s head. Slightly tilt his head up. Now open his mouth by applying gentle pressure with your thumb on one side and middle finger on the other against the area behind the canine teeth. Your free hand should be holding the pill. Have it between your thumb and index finger. Use your middle finger of that same hand to press the cat’s lower jaw open and then gently drop the pill on the back of the tongue. Don’t shoot it too far back into the throat. Let go of the cat’s mouth so he can swallow but keep hold of him so he doesn’t escape until you’re sure he has swallowed the pill. Don’t clamp his mouth shut or he won’t be able to swallow. Gentle downward strokes of along his throat will also help the pill go down.
After your cat has taken the pill, offer him some water to ensure that the pill isn’t lodged in the esophagus. If he doesn’t want to drink water try offering some low-sodium chicken broth or even a few licks of moist cat food or yogurt (if the pill can be taken with food).
Here’s another pilling position: kneel on the floor and then sit back on your heels with your legs open in a “V” position. Place the cat between your legs so that he’s facing away from you. This will prevent him from being able to squirm away. You can then use the same pilling technique described above. The “V” pilling position is good for cats who are very squirmy during pilling. Just be sure and wear your jeans when doing this to avoid getting scratched on the legs.
Practice Makes Perfect
Do yourself (and your cat) a favor by training him to become comfortable with having his mouth touched and manipulated. If you start training your kitten to accept your fingers near his mouth, opening his mouth, touching his teeth, etc., it will make it so much easier when pilling time comes around. No matter how healthy your kitten is now, at some point in his life he will need some sort of medication. Train him now to accept the procedure.
If you’re dealing with an adult cat who isn’t comfortable with having his mouth touched, you can start doing some clicker training to help him gradually accept physical contact.
Help From Your Veterinarian
If you aren’t comfortable pilling your cat, ask your veterinarian to give you a lesson in the procedure. He/she will be able to guide you through the process. The more confident, quick and casual you are when medicating your cat, the less anxious he’ll be about the process.
NOTE: Information in this article isn’t meant to replace veterinary care and isn’t intended as a medical diagnosis. Consult your veterinarian regarding any questions you have about your cat’s medical care.