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5 Ways to Pill a Cat

March 9, 2012

Earlier this week, Matt and I had a minor scare with CG, which sent us to the vet. Thankfully, everything turned out OK, but it reminded me of the last time something went wrong and how it ended in my pilling the poor cat for two weeks.

While it was a traumatic experience for both of us, it was an essential thing that had to be done. Unfortunately, too many owners protest and fail to pill their cat, since it can be a difficult feat, but it can often have serious consequences.

Photo courtesy Rakka

So what’s the trick? Here are some of my best practices (and lessons!) combined with other popular methods:

First, there are two things that will give you the advantage every time: confidence and the element of surprise.

Even if you don’t have any confidence, take heart! Pilling is a skill you can learn. If you’ve never done it before, brush up on various methods (like those below) and consider which will work best for you and your cat. Go through the process in your head, then when the time comes, execute your plan as if you do this every day.

In addition, try to surprise your cat if possible. The idea’s not to terrify him, rather you don’t want him to realize you’re about to pill him. Then he’ll surely run away and you’ll be out of luck.

You may also want to confine your cat. There’s nothing worse than running around the house after a cat mid-pilling. Ideally, it should be done in a room where your cat can’t hide out of your reach.

Burrito Method: Before you run off and grab your cat, first set out everything you’ll need. You’ll want a syringe (minus the needle) filled with a few milliliters of water, along with the pill and a blanket or towel.

Calmly pick up your cat and wrap him up like a burrito. If your cat won’t allow you to do this, approach your cat from the back. This will ensure he won’t back up to escape — or scratch you.

Photo courtesy marvistavet.com

Open your cat’s jaws by pressing the thumb and forefinger on his jaw’s hingers, hold the head back (otherwise this won’t work) with one hand and toss the pill in. Right afterward, grab the syringe and inject a bit of water. The water’s extra important, because it will help the pill move down your cat’s throat. Dry pilling can be dangerous and painful, which is why we humans are always told to take a pill with a glass of water. It will also prompt your cat to swallow, instead of spit out the pill.

Then close your cat’s mouth and rub his neck to encourage him to swallow. Some also claim that lightly blowing on your cat’s nose will also force him to swallow. If your cat licks his nose afterward, he’s most likely swallowed the pill.

Lastly, check your cat’s mouth to make sure that he swallowed the pill. As we all know, our cats are rather brilliant, and may run off and later spit it out!

Crush & Mix Method: Depending on the type of medication, you may be able to crush the pill into a fine powder and mix it into your pet’s food. However, consult your vet before you consider doing this. Crushing some medications can be dangerous or impact their effect.

Hide the Pill in a Treat: Again, first consult your vet to see if this is an option, as some foods may be incompatible with some medications. However, the idea is to wrap or stick the pill in a special food (some folks recommend cream cheese (may not be a good idea if your cat is lactose intolerant), baby food and liverwurst), and allow your cat to eat it as a treat. Note: Some smarty pants cats will lick off the treat, and the pill may remain as a moist/dissolving pill in your hand.

Similarly, you may want to look into pill pockets — treats that have a pill-sized hole in them.

Coat the Pill in Margarine: Some say this will help it slip down your cat’s throat, but I would also think that it would more difficult for you to hold!

Pill Dispensers: If pilling becomes a regular event, you may want to look into purchasing a pill dispenser. Some folks claim it makes pilling quick and easy.

I hope these methods help! Remember, as difficult as this can be, spotty drug delivery (or an entire lack of giving your pet the right drugs) can impact your pet’s recovery and overall health. So suck it up for the both of you — you’ll be happy you did!

And don’t forget to give your little fuzzy pal a few smooches and treats afterward. It may help smooth our any animosity.

Do you have a tried-and-true method for pilling your cat? Please share in the comments!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2012 5:47 am

    Thanks for the tip about water, I’ll certainly use that with larger or not shiny pills anyway! I’ve never had any trouble pilling cats, I do several other people’s cats for them, and I’ve found that the best way is to get the pill far enough down to hit the place that causes a swallow reflex as well as rubbing the chin. Then reward with a treat! I’ve only ever had to wrap one cat, when I was working in a shelter, this massive Persian called Ollie [his brother was Stan, obviously, and was no trouble] who I swear grew extra legs to attack with. The surprise factor is very important which is why I’m chary about water, which gives a warning, marge on a pill could work though. I’ve found that those people who have trouble pilling cats and end up causing them most distress are those who approach tentatively in fear of hurting puss and in consequence cause puss more pain and distress for not being ruthless. It’s a bit like people who try to take splinters out of fingers gently with a needle. It doesn’t work!

    • March 12, 2012 8:50 am

      Thanks for your tips, too! Personally, I actually never thought about using water, but the more I read and learned about the subject, the more it made sense! However, I agree – water complicates things a bit, but I think it may be worth it.
      Thanks for reading!

  2. Erin permalink
    October 22, 2012 11:35 pm

    Margarine is iffy… I had to give my cat metronidazole, which has a very bitter taste, and the margarine actually started it dissolving before it got into kitty’s mouth! And of course as soon as that bitter flavor hit his tongue, poor baby began frothing and drooling. In retrospect, it would have been MUCH less traumatic to just get that pill as far back in his throat as possible and wash it down with some nice cool water!

  3. Mari permalink
    January 29, 2013 12:19 am

    Hi-
    I’m a vet tech and one thing we always reccommend-and I do on my own cats- is to put the cat up on a strange surface. Perhaps a table or counter, etc. It gives them something else to think about and it works much better than trying to hold a squirming cat in your lap while pilling.

    • January 29, 2013 8:08 am

      What a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

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