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How to Pill a Cat – A Survival Handbook

How to Pill a Cat – A Survival Handbook
by KatKin Team

Read time: 4 min

Giving a cat a pill can be a daunting task, and there is no single method that works for every person and every cat. If you have a technique that works for you, then it’s always best to stick with that. Some cats even eat pills directly out of their owners' hands! Unfortunately, that is the exception rather than the rule. If you struggle with pilling your cat, then take comfort in knowing you are not alone.

In an effort to decrease the frequency of this dreaded job, drug companies have formulated certain long-acting antibiotic injections; and even dewormers that can be applied as spot-on treatments. However, sometimes it cannot be avoided and a pill (or even a course) has to be given to your cat. Today we take a look at a few approaches that should help you to pop the next pill with as little stress as possible.

A Few Pointers Before You Begin

Firstly, if you are able to, hiding the pill in some food or a treat is always preferable to having to restrain your cat in any way. Using food that has a strong odour can help to disguise it. However, with their profound sense of smell, most cats are masters of detection so this may not work! Also, some cats have dietary restrictions which prohibit the use of food as an aid in pilling.

Secondly, it is important to watch your cat for behavioural cues. Generally, cats will tolerate being handled involuntarily for a certain amount of time, and this varies between individuals. Watch for that twitching tail! It signifies that your time is running out. While enormous amounts of time and pressure can turn coal into diamonds, a far lesser amount of each can turn your lovable fluffy friend into a tiny tiger! While you must never rush, the aim is to be smooth and efficient. If it takes too long and your cat starts growling or salivating (this can be a sign of stress) it’s usually best to take a short break; decrease pressure for a few moments and let everyone regroup. Remember that your cat does not know the reason for your actions, so it’s quite understandable that they become offended when you force them to swallow a pill.

Try to avoid letting things escalate into a situation where your cat is really upset, not only for their well-being, but also because they will only become more averse to pills. Also, they may vomit up the pill if they are very stressed, which is a real shame! While dogs can be comforted and distracted by ear rubs and patting, I find that in these situations cats can become very claustrophobic, so try to rather focus on getting the job done. The aim is to use the lowest level of restraint possible which still allows you to be efficient and not have to dodge swiping paws! Conflict like this may not only result in scratches for you, but also more stress for your cat.

The Step By Step

1. Be calm. Have a cup of tea if necessary!

Begin by having everything ready. The pill must be free of any packaging, and if you use a pill popper have it next to you with the pill secure in the grip point. Pill poppers are handy little devices which allow insertion of the

pill into the mouth without having to use your fingers. They are easy to use and can make a real difference, and because they are thin towards the tip, they are less intrusive for your cat.

Cat pilling device

2. Because cats can use their paws to swipe, it is often helpful to have them in a sitting or crouching position, effectively putting their weight on their paws so that they are less freely mobile. Placing them in a box or the bottom of a carrier can also help with this, and makes some cats feel more secure. If your cat is highly intolerant of being handled it can help to wrap them in a blanket or towel; but try to avoid any measure of restraint that is not necessary.

3. Using your more coordinated hand, take a gentle but firm hold with your third and index finger on one cheekbone, and your thumb on the other, with your palm lying over the top of your cat’s head. Slowly twist your wrist backwards so that you lift your cat’s head up and back, in a vertical plane, effectively exposing the neck. When the chin is approximately pointing upwards, your cat’s mouth should open slightly.

Two images vertically stacked and separated by a line showing vets holding the cat's head
Cat having its head titled back by a vet

4. Using the other hand, either with a pill popper or without, you can now insert the pill to the back third of the cat’s tongue (further forward than this makes it easy to spit out). At this point you can allow the head to drop down, but it is helpful to gently hold the mouth shut for a few seconds. You can also softly blow air onto your cat’s nose, or gently rub the neck, as both of these actions encourage swallowing.

Two images vertically stacked and separated by a line showing vets opening the cat's mouth after tilting its head
A vet nurse injecting medicine in a cat's mouth

5. Afterwards be sure to praise your cat and offer a treat; and give yourself a pat on the back or a recovery cuppa as well!

Remember, some cats are easier to work with than others, so try to not be hard on yourself if you find pilling your cat a difficult task. A gentle, consistent approach and a calm attitude go a long way towards a successful outcome (one less pill than you started with, and just as many fingers!).

Headshot of Dr Caity holding a white, black and ginger cat

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