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  • Writer's pictureSieske Valk

How to give a cat oral medication

If you’ve come this far, you are probably struggling to get the tiniest tablet into your cat’s gullet. Cats are fluffy creatures who love to be touched and stroked, but once you need to give them oral medication, they often turn into an eight-legged terror with daggers for claws. To “give a cat medicine in the form of a pill can be challenging” is the understatement of the year, but with a few tips and tricks, it is something that can become easy. In this blog post, we will go through some effective methods for giving your cat medicine.

Tabby cat yawning wide showing all teeth
Say aaaaaah! Photo credit: Erik Jan Leusink on Unsplash

Consult with your vet

Before administering any medication to your cat, it's essential to consult with your veterinarian. Your vet can give you specific instructions on how to administer the medication and provide you with the correct dosage.

Having said that, not all vets are covered in the magic-cat-fairy dust that some nurses are showered with, so sometimes it’s more useful to ask your veterinary nurse for guidance.

Get the right tools and be prepared

To make the process easier, you'll need some tools. These could be:

· Pill pockets: These are treats that have a pocket in the middle where you can place the pill.

· Pill crusher: This is a tool that grinds the pill into a fine powder, making it easier to administer.

· Syringe: A syringe is a great tool for administering liquid medication or rinsing away a pill with a few drops of water

· Pipette: Some medications, such as anti-parasitic now come in pipettes that can be given on the skin at the scruff

· Treats or scrumptious food within reach

· A towel and a bull-dog clip for the squiggly cat

Not all pills are created equal, and cats have exquisite taste buds, so sometimes hiding a pill (crushed or not) in food or a pill pocket won’t do the trick. I’ll discuss this further below.

Find the right time

It's best to give your cat medication when they are relaxed, so try to find a time when your cat is calm and quiet. It will only make the process more stressful for everyone involved if you must chase your cat through the house to a point where they don’t trust you anymore, or even worse, you have to pluck them from underneath the bed or sofa.

How to use a pill pocket

Pill pockets are a great way to give your dog medication without them realising it because dogs tend to eat everything and like everything you give them. Cats are a bit more finicky, but if you have a pill that has a tasty coating made of beef flavouring, it might work. Simply place the pill inside the pocket and give it to your cat as a treat. Pill pockets come in different flavours as well, so find one that your cat likes. Do be careful and read the ingredients list if you have a cat that has sensitivities or allergies.

Crush the pill

If your cat refuses to take the pill in a pill pocket, but you are sure it’s a pill that tastes nice or neutral, you can crush the pill and mix it with their food. However, be sure to ask your vet if the medication can be crushed as some pills lose their effectiveness when crushed. These are usually pills with a special coating that allows them to travel through the stomach and only dissolve in the intestines.

Get another pair of hands to help

Cats have four paws; humans have two hands. You do the math! For everyone’s sake, it’s especially helpful in the beginning to have another set of calm hands to hold the cat, stroke them, talk to them, or even keep the front paws in check when you are giving the cat medication directly in their mouth or on their skin. This is easier than the cat escaping, or scratching you, and the medication session becoming a chase.

If this is not possible, you can sit on your knees on the floor and position the cat between your legs. Your feet can then stop them from escaping backwards.

Use a syringe

If the medication is in liquid form, you can use a syringe to administer it. Gently open your cat's mouth or lift the upper lip with your non-dominant hand and insert the syringe between the canine tooth and the first molar. Only when you are sure the syringe is in slightly, you can start squirting the medication towards the back of the mouth.

Giving a pill into the mouth

When you have to give your cat a tablet in its mouth, things get slightly trickier. Have your assistant hold the cat gently, yet firmly, with two hands. The cat needs to sit down on the floor, chair or table with their head upright. It’s always useful for them to have some grip, so if the table has a smooth surface, put a towel down on it. If they have a grip, the cat will feel more at ease.

With your non-dominant hand, hold your cat’s head on the temples with your thumb and index finger. Hold the tablet in your dominant hand between your thumb and middle finger and use your index finger to pry open the front teeth. Then pop the pill into the back of the throat and press the mouth shut gently. You can even use a syringe to put a few drops of water in their mouth to make them swallow the tablet Only after you’ve seen the cat actively swallow, can your assistant let the cat go. Be sure to make a lot of loving fuss and tell the cat they’ve done well!

Sometimes the cat manages to spit out the tablet or worse, they keep it in the mouth and the nice coating comes off and the bitterness develops in their mouth, leaving your cat to foam like a bubble bath. Give them a little bit of nice tasting wet food to get them to swallow more often and wipe away the saliva if the latter happens. If they have spat out the tablet, you can try again, but make sure to use dry hands so the tablet doesn’t stick to your fingers. You can also coat the tablet with a pate-like food to ease the pill down the throat.

One thing that is very important to note with pill giving is to remain calm. Don’t hold the cat down like they are a prisoner and don’t clamp their jaws shut in a forceful way when the pill is in. Be gentle and keep breathing, so the cat remains calm too. You want to make sure the process is just something you have to do periodically and it’s over in a few seconds and they can “shake it off” or get a treat afterwards. Reward them with lots of petting or treats afterwards so they get a positive association with receiving treatment.

Wrap your cat in a towel

To prevent your cat from scratching, biting, or squiggling away, you can wrap them in a towel, leaving only their head exposed. This will look a bit like a burrito, and you can use a sturdy bull-dog clip to secure the wrap. This will help to keep them still and make the process easier for both of you.

Be patient and breathe

Administering medication to a cat can be challenging, and it's important to be patient. If your cat refuses to take the medication, take a break, and try again later. Remember, forcing medication down your cat's throat can be dangerous, and it's always best to consult with your veterinarian if you're having difficulty. If you repeatedly have difficulties getting the medication in, you’re creating a lot of unnecessary stress for yourself and the cat which will create a loss of trust in the cat towards yourself. In that case, it’s best to get a professional, such as a registered veterinary nurse or one of our hospice carers to help guide you at home, until you and your cat are in a routine that works for both of you.


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