NEVER, EVER dry pill a cat as this can be damaging to their esophagus. The pill can stay lodged there for 15 minutes or so and damage the tissues causing further health problems such as Erosive Esophagitis. It also doesn’t fully make it to the stomach and will not get absorbed properly so the cat isn’t getting the full benefit of the medication. Please also be advised when giving any kind of liquid medication, it’s just as important to syringe water afterwards as the liquid can in fact stay in their throats and/or esophagus and cause stricture or erosion. ALWAYS chase BOTH immediately with a syringe of water.
Since there are many different methods to giving medication to your cat, I’d like to offer several different versions of how to do this via personal experiences from myself and others.
Method #1 from Alex’s mom, Lisa: I was very lucky to have my mom to help me do almost everything when it came to Alex’s medical needs. So when it came to pilling her I wasn’t alone. Giving her shots and her sub q fluids was a little easier and I could do that alone if I had to. But pilling her definitely took two since she fought us every step of the way.
I kept all her medicine and tools needed for her care in a three drawer plastic cabinet right next to the kitchen table so I had everything available to me at all times. I would lay everything I needed out on the table right before I was going to give her medications to make it all go as quickly as possible. My mom would hold her in her arms in a half cradled position while she held her back feet and legs with one hand and her top legs and feet with the other. She would have her slightly tilted back just enough for the pill to go down, not too tilted so she would choke on it.
I’d have the pill already inserted into the pill gun and I’d dip it in non-fat cottage cheese. With one hand I would open her mouth up, spreading her teeth and tongue just enough to insert the pill gun and fling the pill down her throat. I’d immediately chase it down with a medicine syringe filled with water. I’d give her just enough to make sure the pill wasn’t stuck and it then I’d stroke under her chin and throat downward gently. The cottage cheese was great because it made the pill super slippery and it usually went down without a problem. Although she did occasionally thrash her head around where it would get stuck in the side of her mouth and she’d spit it out. So we’d have to try it all over again. But that was rare. Even sick, she was a strong girl. I made sure to give her lots of kisses and praise before and after my mom let her go and then I’d give her a treat if I could so it was more of a bearable experience.
Method #2 from Alex’s mom, Lisa: Dip the pill gun in the cottage cheese but sit on the floor on your knees and place your cat in between your knees with her rump up against you. Place several pillows or something solid in front of you so that they can’t make a quick getaway. Do the same technique by placing your hand and fingers on the tops of their mouths, open it enough to get the pill gun in and quickly plunge the pill in. Give them a water chaser, make sure they’ve swallowed it, rub their chin and throat gentle downward, then lots of kisses, praise them and release!
Method #3 from Alex’s mom, Lisa: Also dip the pill gun in cottage cheese and instead of sitting on the floor, have someone sit on a bed or couch with a thick towel ready. Place your kitty sitting with their backside up against that person. Wrap the towel around your cat from the front to back and have that person hold their arms around them over the towel so they can’t squirm and thrash. Same technique, place your hand and fingers on the tops of their mouths, open it enough to get the pill gun in and quickly plunge the pill in and gently blow on their nose so they swallow it. Give them a water chaser, make sure they’ve swallowed it, rub their chin and throat gentle downward, then lots of kisses, praise them and release! This way is the easiest that I’ve found. Kitty really has nowhere to go, isn’t in an uncomfortable position and you have someone holding them from the front but not in a harsh way so as not to stress kitty out. Just be careful when wrapping the towel not to put tightly around their neck so they don’t choke. MAKE SURE kitty has swallowed the pill and doesn’t spit it out once they get up.
Method #4 from Barbara Aggarwal: A few pilling tips with Bud-Bud to help demonstrate.
1. I like to pill from behind, sitting down with the cat in front of me. If kitty is very squirmy, I’ll sit on the floor and wrap my legs around his lower half to help him hold still. If he’s really fighting, you can “burrito wrap” him in a towel then sit with your legs around him.
2. GENTLY scruff him as you pill, pinching too hard is painful and needs to be avoided.
3. Speed is key, push the pill back far and quickly with your finger or pill gun.
4. Use the pill gun if you are at all worried about being bitten. If they sense your fear, it’s that much harder to pill them.
5. Don’t make the common mistake of tilting kitty’s head way back/up. Try swallowing when your head in a normal position and again with it tilted way back. It’s much easier to swallow when you are looking straight ahead, and the same goes for the cat.
6. If the pill doesn’t go right down or kitty is trying to spit it out, gently hold his mouth shut. You can blow lightly on his nose to encourage swallowing, also.
7. Praise him after you are done and give treats or food if possible. This serves not only as positive reinforcement, but also encourages swallowing to make sure the pills go down all the way to the stomach.
Method #5 from Annette Burton: I like to use Greenies Pill Pockets. I pinch off a piece, it’s like playdough, and wrap the pill in it. I have a syringe of water handy. I then sit behind my kitty, their head facing away from me, their rump nearest me, between my legs. I tilt the head back, with my left hand, and if you tilt it back enough, and put your thumb and little finger in the side of their mouth, it will come open easily. Then with my right hand, I toss the pill into the back of her mouth, at the absolute back of her tongue. Then I let the head come back to normal position, and gently hold her head between my hands while stroking her head. She swallows, then I follow it with a gentle syringing of some water, to make sure it goes down. This always works for me, and the cats don’t hate pilling, (though if they had a choice, they’d probably say no, since they never taste the pill). I buy the dog pill pockets, because the beef taste appeals to my cats, and you get almost twice the product (in weight) than the cat ones for the same price.
Note: I do not let my cats chew up the pill pockets, if they taste the med, it’s all over!!!!! I have never used them in that way, though some do. You only need a bit of the pocket to cover the pill well, this way being very economical, which is very important in our house of 4 kitties.
Method #6 from Carol Rohr: If I have multiple pills that I can give at once, I combine as many of the pills as I can (ones that can be given together) in one capsule, so you don’t have to give so many pills one after the other. I take the capsule or whatever pill I’m giving, and put it in a little wad of canned cat food that’s been in the fridge so it’s not so mushy, Wellness turkey works well. Just any food that won’t fall apart, and it has to be cold to form around the pill well enough. Form the food around the capsule to make a little tiny meatball, and stick the meatball to the end of your finger (I use my index finger). I kneel on the floor behind the kitty and position them between my legs as I’m kneeling over them. I cross my ankles behind me so they can’t back out. I barely just support them with my hand that doesn’t have the pill on it, by having my hand against the chest, not really “holding” them at all, but just gently keeping them in place.
I take my hand with the little meatball/pill on my finger and use my thumb and my middle finger to massage the sides of the mouth to make them open up on their own and when they do, I REALLY FAST, stick my finger with the meatball/pill in the mouth, down the side and push the pill as far back on the side of the mouth as I can. Then very quickly pull out my finger and gently hold their mouth closed with that same hand while I use my other hand that was against their chest, to massage their neck to make sure they swallow. And all this time after I’ve just shoved the pill in their mouth, while I’m holding their mouth closed for that few seconds, I’m kissing them on the head over and over and they’re so confused at all the kisses that they swallow and can’t figure out what the heck just went on!
When I’m sure they swallowed, I release them from my smothering their head with kisses and they kind of look a little confused, but not upset at all. The only problem is that sometimes I don’t get my finger out fast enough and they can chew on it! I’ve gotten tooth holes in my finger from where they thought “I” was the meatball. Oh well… a small price to pay to get them to take pills without too much hub-bubb. It may take a little time to perfect your technique using the meatball/pill way. It can be a little messy the first few times, but when you do get it down, it’s really so much easier and nicer for them.
Method #7 from Kelli DuPree: Positioning – I find it easiest if I sit on the floor on my knees with the cat tucked between them, facing outward. From there, I brace the cat’s chest with one arm and use the other to open the mouth for pilling. I place my hand over the cat’s muzzle and then use my finger on one side and thumb on the other to slowly pry their mouth open. I always pull the head back as I do this so that it opens a direct vertical path down their throat. Once their mouth is open, I can typically let go of their chest since their instinct is to back away, in which case they can’t. Holding the mouth open with their head back, I then proceed with pilling. Pilling – For my difficult cat, the easiest and fastest way to pill is using a pill gun. I’ve tried a couple of styles, and much prefer the “bullseye” style (see picture above). The bullseye pill guns not only hold the pills better, but they also allow me to pill 2-3 pills at one time. I’ve bought these at Petsmart and online, although I’m sure many pet stores carry them. They are very simple to use. You just fill it with the pills (2-3 max) and after the cat’s mouth is open, quickly insert it down the back of their throat, push the plunger and remove it.
Method #8 from Alyson: I use meat baby food. Just meat, nothing else. You get a syringe, suck up a little of the baby food, and squirt a little in their mouth, then quickly pop in the pill, and then give them the rest of the baby food in the syringe to help it down. The first squirt coats the tongue, the second squirt helps it down the throat without dissolving. It is the same principle as giving children a pill in applesauce. It took a little while for the “pill dread” to wear off, but he is MUCH easier to pill now.
From Nancy: Empty gel caps are very useful for giving medications to our cats. Putting a bad tasting pill into a gel cap hides the nasty taste. Putting more than one medication into a gel cap means fewer pills to have to give your kitty in one day, but always check with your vet before combining, cutting or crushing pills to administer in gel caps. After pilling, always carefully give your cat water via syringe, or give food immediately to ensure that the capsule does not stick in the esophagus, potentially causing painful and dangerous esophagitis. Gel caps are available in various sizes. Below are the most useful for cats, shown with some common medications for comparison. #3 is a good size for most purposes, you can generally fit more than one medication in there (if okayed by vet), and most cats don’t have any trouble swallowing a #3. Rolling the capsule in a tiny bit of unsalted butter or low-fat cottage cheese, or if using a pill gun, dipping the tip into low-fat cottage cheese, just before administering will help the capsule to slide easily down the throat.
When using empty gelcaps for combining medications. These are, from left to right, #3, #4, #5. The five is very small, but it fits a 1/4 Pepcid easily, and even 1/2 a Cyproheptadine fits in there tightly (by itself, no room for anything else with that one).