Contrary to popular belief, giving a pill to a cat does NOT need to be difficult. There are many ways of giving pills to cats and most of them are totally stress-free for both you and kitty. There are very few cats in the world who are truly impossible to pill. For all the other cats it’s simply a matter of needing to find the method that works for them.
I used to think I my cat Thomas was impossible to pill. I had tried “everything” to get him to take his pills and nothing worked. Of course, at that time my idea of “everything” was really just Pill Pockets or forcing the pill into his mouth. That’s exactly 2 things, and I didn’t really do either of them well. It was only after failing for months to get a pill into him that I started looking for easier ways. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes so you and your cat don’t go through what Thomas and I went through.
Before we get into the details on how to give a pill, there are a few key points we need to cover.
Taste the pills! Nearly every pill, vitamin, or supplement you need to give your cat is going to taste terrible. Cats are particularly averse to things that taste bitter. Help yourself and your cat by putting their pills into empty gelatin capsules. Not sure if your pill should go into a capsule? Taste it yourself. Does it taste good/delicious to you? Would you want that flavor in your mouth? If not, then chances are your feline friend feels the same way. Do yourself and your cat a favor and protect them from that taste by putting their pill into a gelcap before giving it to them.
Use Gelcaps – gelatin capsules come in many sizes. Cats generally take sizes 3-5. You’re almost guaranteed NOT to find these sizes in local stores so you’ll have to order them online.
• Size 5 is the smallest and easiest to give but may not fit all pills
• Size 4 is accepted by most cats and easily fits most pills
• Size 3 is generally tolerated well by larger cats and those who are very good at taking pills. Comes in plain/unflavored, but also available in chicken or beef flavors
• If you don’t know which size to pick I recommend starting with sizes 5 or 4. Size 4 is the cheaper of the two options and it can be cut smaller if needed, but cutting it requires some sharp scissors and some practice
If you you’re looking for tips on how to easily assemble your capsules check out the Using Gelcaps for Pilling page for ideas.
Combine Pills – pill fragments can usually be combined into a single gelcap, but you MUST be sure to pay attention to your medicating instructions!
**Do not combine pill fragments if the medications should not be given at the same time
**Some pills have special storage rules like “protect from light” or “store in blister pack” and you’ll need to be careful about using them in pre-made gelcaps. They may lose efficacy if you make too many gelcaps up at once using those pills if not stored properly.
NEVER “dry pill” your cat! – “dry pilling” means you put the pill down their throat and do not immediately follow it with any food or liquids. If you do this the pill can get stuck in their esophagus and not make it all the way to their stomach. At best giving a pill “dry” like this is uncomfortable. At worst this method can cause Erosive Esophagitis or even death.
“Dry pilling” is not the same thing as using dry food or dry treats as a delivery method.
Prepare for “Failure” – Regardless of which method(s) you use for giving pills to your cat it can take time, patience, and practice for both you and kitty to learn how to take pills properly. The best things you can do is to be patient in this process. Remember that this is a new skill that you’re learning, but it’s also a new skill your cat is learning too. You may get lucky and find a method that works very easily for both of you on the first try, or you may have to try 100 different things before finding the one that works. You may find a method that works only once, or you may find a method that works consistently for months before kitty suddenly changes their mind and doesn’t like it anymore. If your cat decides they don’t like one method, listen to them, and be willing to try something else. The goal is to get the pill into your cat as easily as possible, that’s it.
Practice First – If you need to, you can practice pilling your cat using gelatin capsules without any medication in them. The capsules are safe for kitty to take and can give you both time to get comfortable with the different methods and routine before actually giving any medication. If you practice without medication you will still need to put something inside the capsule so that it has a little weight to it, the same as it would if there were pills inside. You can use some crumbled up kibble or treats to fill the capsules for your practice sessions.
Additional Resources – I Will Help Your Cat’s Stress To Success video series can walk you through troubleshooting steps on getting your cat to accept pills. This is a video series that you would need to pay to access and many of the tips they provide are offered freely on this page, so this series is something I recommend using as a last resort. One very nice thing about this video series is that it helps you to identify how and why your cat is reacting negatively to the process and based on that, provides a method for working through those issues. The methods they use for working through issues, their “Rescue Plan,” can be the difference between success and failure for some cats to receive pills. So if nothing else has worked then I absolutely recommend this video series as something to try.
Types of Treats to Use
There are a whole lot of different things you can put a pill inside to make it tempting. Here is a list of popular pill wraps and treats you can try. Fundamentally Feline has a companion guide for treats and rewards to go along with the videos shared below. And if that is not enough, you can also try:
- Cool Whip or whipped cream (not recommended lactose intolerant kitties, use with caution with diabetics)
- Vanilla ice cream (not recommended lactose intolerant kitties, use with caution with diabetics)
- Squeezy cheeze, canned cheese, soft cheese spreads with meat, or cream cheese (not recommended for lactose intolerant kitties, make sure they do not contain onion or garlic)
- Purina ProPlan FortiFlora (also known as “magic flavor dust”)
- Greenies Pill Pockets
- Some kitties love these plain
- Try rolling them in Purina ProPlan FortiFlora for extra tastiness
- Find them at Amazon or Chewy
- Keep the sealed bag in the refrigerator to maintain freshness if your kitty is extra picky about that
- Roll them around in FortiFlora for an extra flavor boost if your kitty needs that
- Scripts Pill Pals
- Mini marshmallows (use with caution in diabetic kitties)
- Use them a bit like a pill pocket
- Hairball paste
- If your cat loves it, then use it to coat your pills!
- Mash a small piece of bread around the pill to form a tight cover, works like a pill pocket
- Bread can also be an emergency substitute for empty gelcaps to hide the taste of a pill
- Try Felovite II for hiding the pills – a lot of cats love the taste, and you’ll also be giving them a small boost of vitamins at the same time
- Whisker Lickin’s treats
- Super fresh raw beef mince works if your cat loves raw meat. Wrap a tiny amount of the meat around the pill, then put a few more small pieces of mince next to it. If kitty eats fast enough they’ll never notice the pill.
- Hide the pill in some liverwurst
- Butter Ball method
- Put the pill in a very small amount of butter, roll it into a ball, and freeze for a few minutes
- Let kitty eat the Butter Ball, or use one of the manual insertion methods to give it to them.
Wet / Soft Food or Treat Methods
My two favorite videos for pilling cats also cover giving other kinds of medications and some tips on the best ways to make the process easy for you and your cats. This first video changed my entire philosophy on giving pills to cats. The tricks in this video only worked with my cats for a day or two, but they worked, and they inspired me to look for other ideas:
Dry Food Methods
If the soft or wet methods don’t work for you then try the dry food and treat methods. These work especially well for cats who are dry food “addicts” or those who only love crunchy treats.
“Scenting” the Pills with Kibble or Treats
Scenting the pills is quite possibly the most consistently successful method I know of for giving pills. This is the method I now use with my cats most of the time because of how fast and easy it is to use. In the video below this person is using kibble for her cat. If dry kibble does not work for your cat you can use treats instead.
With my cats I use Temptations Treats and roll them in my hand as shown in the above video. When the pills are ready to give I break a treat in half with my fingers before giving treats and pills to my cat. I break the treats so they’re approximately the same size and shape as the gelcaps. I typically give 3-4 pieces of treat in a small pile with the gelcap. Once kitty has eaten all the treats and the pill I’ll give them a few more pieces of treat to “wash it down.” Sometimes my cat will eat all the treats but not the gelcap. When that happens I just put out a few more treat pieces with the pill to try again. If they’ve picked the gelcap up in their mouth and spit it out the capsule will become sticky. When that happens I’ll crush the treat in my hand to make more of a powder, and roll the gelcap in that powder before giving it back to the cat.
This next video shows a rescued street cat, Kevin, taking her very first pill. I was using the scenting method and Temptations treats. At the time of this video Kevin had only been in captivity for 4 days and although friendly she had never (to my knowledge) been given pills before. Normally I would not give a pill so close to a litter box, but Kevin was living in “Kitty Jail” (a large cage with all the amenities) at the time and she felt most comfortable in or near the litter box. Since this video she’s adjusted to living indoors and has the freedom to explore the entire house.
If you don’t have gelcaps, or if your cat doesn’t do well with taking gelcaps you might want to try the Temptations Sandwich method instead. If you are lucky your kitty will eat the treats so fast they never bite into the treat and accidentally taste the medicine.
There are two basic ways to make the Temptations Sandwich
- Cut the end off a Temptations treat
- Hollow it out using a sharp knife or something to scrape the filling out
- Put your pill fragment into the hollow center
- Top the opening with the filling you removed
You could also try splitting the treat horizontally (may work best with the Jumbo Stuff size), scoop out filling and insert a pill that has been wrapped in a Pill Pocket, then stick the two halves back together.
Try that sandwich a different way using Pill Pockets as glue. This method is especially helpful if your pill fragment is just a bit too large to fit in the treat pocket, but not too big to make into a sandwich. This video below shows how I’ve made these Sandwiches for my cats and features Muffy as the angry cat taking the pill, with special guest appearances by 4 of my 5 other cats.
If the Temptations Sandwich doesn’t work on it’s own, try covering the finished sandwich with a bite of kitty’s favorite wet food or wet treat.
Manual Insertion Methods
If your cat is the type that just doesn’t like doing things the easy way then you’ll have to go for the tried-and-true manual insertion or “force pilling” methods. I personally avoid these methods as long as possible but they’re a skill that I think every cat parent should practice, because you never know when your kitty’s appetite will fail and then they won’t want to eat their pills voluntarily.
Thomas ate his pills voluntarily up until about the last week of his life. During that last week I had to switch to manual pilling because he stopped eating on his own. His pills went down easiest when the capsules were coated in butter and very slippery. I also noticed that he swallowed the pills faster if I dropped them in on the left side of his mouth rather than on the right side.
Teach your cat to accept pills from a pill shooter. This first method still requires that your cat has a good appetite for taking treats or food.
Or just use your bare hands:
These next two videos show how to pill a cat using your hands, but also demonstrate how to wrap the cat in a towel if you need to protect yourself from angry claws:
Here’s a good explanation about how to use a pill popper and one way to hold the cat’s head during the process:
Tips from Other Owners
Now I feed with two different syringes. I cut one syringe off so it was bigger at the tip and the capsule fit into the tip of the syringe with her food. I feed with regular syringe for a while, then syringe with the bigger tip with the capsule. That way I don’t risk getting my hand bitten and clawed. My hand never has to go in her mouth.
To trick cats into taking pills, I use Easy Cheese (Kraft). I make a line of cheese, then a dot, then another line. The dot contains the pill. Cats eat the cheese quickly, and because there is a second line, they continue to eat very quickly and swallow the pill without noticing they consumed it. It doesn’t work if the pill is just placed in a glob of cheese; the cat will spit the pill out. It’s the line-dot-line technique that consistently works for my clients and me.
—Dr. Michelle Danna-Christian