Tips to Pill your Cat

Cats tend to be a bit more stubborn than dogs, about taking pills.  Dogs take any pill easily if hidden in a pill pocket, cheese or a spoonful of the all popular peanut butter.  If given the same way as dogs, cats eat everything that surrounds a pill and the pill is left, spit out on the floor.  Some cat people say that this is because cats are smarter than dogs. And dumb dogs are too dumb to realize the pill is hidden.  But in reality, cats are suspicious of everything and everyone. In general, they are cautious and finicky. They want to know what you are doing, why you are doing it and how it affects them before they give in to any type of holding, feeding or touching.  Having to take a pill is confirming the suspicions of the cat that you are up to something.    My techniques work for me, hopefully, these tips will also help you Pill your Cat. 

Dilute Tortie Cat staring @ pill bottles

My experience

I have administered many pills to cats/kittens over my years of fostering. Plus, two of my personal cats take pills on a regular basis.  Each cat is a little different in what they allow you to do, but I try to coax them into accepting pills my way. Not because my way is the best, but because I want to be consistent.  Regardless of what people say, cats are trainable.  It just takes more time and more patience to train a cat then anyone ever gives to a dog.  Of course, there are untrainable cats, just like there are untrainable dogs.  

In my experience, a vast majority of cats take pills with only a little resistance.  Very few take it with no problem at all. And still a smaller amount refuse the pill taking endeavor altogether.   Of my five cats, one is a problem when administering a pill.  I gave up pilling my 9-year old Sam years old.  When he requires meds I ask the vet to find a way to administer it in another form. Most times this is a slow release shot given by the vet.  Although slightly higher in cost, I can’t take the frustration of pilling Sam any longer. My sanity is worth much more than the additional money of the shot.

Condition your kittens at a young age

Conditioning a kitten at an early age is the best thing you can do for any kind of future training for your cats.  Cats get more stubborn with age.  This is very much like puppies.  If you want a puppy to be good in the car, make sure it goes for many car rides while he’s still growing up.  Same goes for a cat.  If you want a cat to be able to be held on its back, hold it like a baby when it’s small and easy to force in that position.  You don’t have to hold them there for hours, but if you pick up your kitten daily (as we all should) make sure that you can hold him/her on their back.  Kittens and cats that are not used to this position tend to refuse the position.  But once they feel comfortable with you, they will allow you to hold them anyway.      

Black Tux upside down and Gray Tiger foster kittens

Steps to Pill a Cat

Prepare the supplies

The first thing to do before grabbing your victim is to prepare the pills.  Retrieve your pill(s) from the bottle, make sure they are cut into the proper dosage.  The worst thing you can do is find your cat and then realize that you aren’t really ready.  The cat will be mistrusting of your actions, and you have added to their stress by letting them go and retrieving them again.  Also, have any supplies you may need to assist with the administration. I don’t use anything except for the pill itself, but if you need a towel to prevent them from clawing you or a pill popper, make sure this is ready and easily accessible.    

Retrieve your cat and get it into position

The best thing you can do is scoop up your cat when they are resting.  I sneak up to them and pick them up before they know what I plan to do.  If you talk to them beforehand, don’t make your voice sound strange or do anything that may give away your intention.  If your cat runs, allow them to settle down and forget about it, before you attempt again.  Irritated cats, do not make for cooperative victims.  Of course, if he/she is always on guard, you have to make an attempt at some point. 

I retrieve my cat and sit on a chair and hold them on their back like a baby.  I talk to them sweetly while constantly petting and reassuring them things will be ok.  Pet your cat the way it likes to be petted.  If she likes tummy rubs, give her a few minutes of love.  If he likes his ears rubbed, make sure pre-pill time is as enjoyable as possible.  Obviously, don’t do anything to scare or stress him/her out.  If your husband is loud (like mine), make sure administering the pill is done far away from any noise he can produce.  Try to isolate your cat from anything unpleasant for these few minutes.  It works to your advantage and your cat’s.       

Pill Administration

Position your cat so that they are facing you while still on their back.  See my picture of Quinn.  

Tortie cat looking unhappy

 

The next few steps need to be a consistent motion and will take some practice.  It does not need to be rushed but should be a fluid movement. Your cat won’t last in this position very long, but use some force to keep them in position for about 10-15 seconds.

Pill Pick up

Tortie having head pushed back for pill administration

Pick up the pill with your dominant hand, I use my right. And use your non-dominant hand (my left) to push back your cat’s head so that his/her nose is straight up in the air.  Quinn again was a willing participant.  

Pry open mouth

Next, I use my left hand and my remaining fingers on my right hand to pry open my cat’s mouth.  I usually try to place my fingers between his/her teeth and push them open.  Make sure that you keep the nose pointed straight up in the air.  The mouth should open naturally if your cat doesn’t fight you too much.

As soon as your cat’s mouth is open as far as it will go, you should pitch in the pill.  Placement of the pill is key to your success.  Making sure that the pill gets in the back of the throat, preferably where the back of the throat meets the roof of the mouth.  With your cat’s nose up in the air, this should be an easy task.

Close mouth

As soon as the pill is in its mouth, release your hold on the cat’s open mouth and do the opposite by holding the mouth closed with one of your hands.  Use the other hand to gently massage his/her throat.  Keep this position for a good 30 seconds.  You should be able to tell when your cat swallows the pill.  They will stop struggling and relax.

If struggling continues or you think this might work for you, give your cat a little kiss on their nose after you close his/her mouth.  You can also blow on their nose if you don’t kiss your cat like I do.  This small action sometimes startles them and they forget they are struggling not to swallow and allow the pill to travel down their throat.  Continue to massage your cat’s throat even after you do the kissing/blowing trick.

Give Praise

After the pill has been swallowed, I continue holding my cat and petting him/her for a few minutes.  Positive reinforcement works on cats too.  But cats care more about what you give them or how you treat them than about how sweetly you talk to them.  A little bit of cuddling will go a long way.  Then you can release them and reward them with a treat (if allowed). My cats are on a no treat diet because of Alex’s urinary issues so no food rewards for them, ONLY LOVE.    

Problems

If you don’t pitch the pill into the appropriate spot, your cat will find a way to squeeze the pill out between its teeth and onto the floor.   Some cats immediate reaction to the pill in their throat is to gag.  Closing the mouth will hopefully help with that issue.

If you fail at your first attempt to throw the pill down its throat.  Take a break. Your cat will spit out a saliva-soaked pill and probably be smacking his/her gums walking around in disgust.  Salvage the pill if possible, set it aside to dry out. Trying to administer it again right away is not a good idea.  First off, your cat will be irritated and less cooperative, plus the pill will stick to your fingers and you will not get a good aim when pitching the pill into his/her throat.  Give a little bit of time between attempts. 30 minutes is usually enough time to allow the pill to dry out.  And most cats will forget about hating you in that time too!  

Cat trickery

Most cats don’t pretend to swallow a pill.  My Alex has done this to me on multiple occasions, but he has also been taking pills twice a day for about 5 years.  I have to admit, I think he is the smartest cat in the house. Unfortunately, this isn’t a good thing. Smart cats make for overly stressed cats that care about changes going on in the home.  He’s actually on fluoxetine to de-stress him of anything out of the ordinary. But most people shouldn’t have this problem and especially not until you pill the same cat for a long period of time.  

Help

Learning to successfully Pill your Cat takes time.  Make sure you try different things to make your cat feel more comfortable.  But if they aren’t ever going to be comfortable with the whole situation, make things consistent.

Did your first attempt fail because you didn’t get to drop the pill in the appropriate spot?   If you didn’t hit the correct spot, keep trying. Prying open the mouth and pitching the pill in takes some practice.  

Is your cat great at retrieving the pill from the back of its throat and spitting it out?  If your cat is smarter than you think and always finds a way to spit it out, try asking someone to assist.  They can stand with you posed with a syringe of water to use as a chaser after the pill is pitched in. Only do a small amount of water in the syringe, we don’t want to drown your cat.  But make sure that you clamp down on your cat’s mouth as soon as the water is in.

Did your cat accept the pill and then once released spit the pill out somewhere else?  This cat is very smart because it knows what you want to see from it. My experience tells me, this cat is just lucky in getting the pill to a place in its mouth that it can work it’s way out.  This shouldn’t be a normal occurrence if you are getting the correct head and pill placement.  But there are some smart cats out there.  Hopefully, this will be an exception rather than the norm.  But hats off to your cat if they can trick you into releasing them by relaxing.

Black & White Cat lying in sunshine

Final Advice

Once you gain experience and feel comfortable in your attempt to Pill your Cat, don’t expect it to work every time.  I still miss my mark when pitching in the pill because I’m tired or distracted. Just take a break and try again later.  Or your cat may get startled or move at the last minute and you miss your mark.  But as you practice, things will get easier and your cat will get accustomed to what you are doing.  Sometimes this can hurt you because they avoid you if you Pill your Cat at the same time every day.  Try to keep things random.  But if you are busy like all of us, you will deal with the consequences of an irritated cat.  Hopefully things will get easier for you and you and your cat only need to deal with a limited amount of pilling.  Good Luck! 

Let me know if any of my advice works or doesn’t.  I love hearing from you. 

Dilute Tortie cat looking at Pill bottle

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