How do you give a cat a pill? In the course of treating diseases in my own cats I learned the hard way that there are easy ways to give a cat a pill. The goal for this page is to teach you how to get a pill into your cat with as little effort as possible.
When it came time for me to give a pill to my cat Thomas, the first thing I did was fail. The second thing I did was fail. And then I failed about 500 more times. 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.
- Nearly every pill, vitamin, or supplement you need to give your cat is going to taste terrible. Help your cat and yourself by putting their pills into empty gelatin capsules.
- Not sure if your pill should go into a capsule? Lick it and see! If you would not want that flavor in your mouth all the time, then chances are your feline friend feels the same.
- Gelatin capsules come in many sizes. Generally cats can take sizes 3-5. You are almost guaranteed to not find these sizes in local stores, so you must order online.
- Size 5 is the smallest, and the easiest to give. Size 4 is accepted by most cats, and size 3 is generally tolerated well by larger cats or those who are very good at taking pills.
- Size 3 comes in plain/unflavored varieties and chicken or beef flavors
- If you don’t know which size to pick I would recommend size 4. You can always cut this one to be a little bit smaller if needed.
- 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.
- It can take time and practice to find the method that works for your cat.
- Try to be patient in this process, and flexible in your approach.
- Sometimes a method only works once.
- Sometimes it works for months and then fails.
- Sometimes you get lucky and the method you found works forever.
- Practice pilling your cat using empty gelatin capsules
- The capsules are safe for kitty to take and you can both get comfortable with the routine.
- NEVER “dry pill” your cat!
- “dry pilling” is different from using dry food/treats as a delivery method
- “dry pilling” means you pop the pill down their throat and do not immediately follow it with any food or liquids
- “dry pilling” is, at best, uncomfortable for your kitty and at worst can cause Erosive Esophagitis or even death.
If you you’re looking for tips on how to easily assemble your gelcaps check out the Using Gelcpas for Pilling page for ideas.
My Favorite Videos
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 one is the video that changed my entire philosophy on giving pills to cats. The tricks in this video only worked with Thomas for a day or two, but they worked, and they inspired me to look for other ideas:
Wet Food Methods
Don’t have a syringe? Treat too thick or chunky to fit through a syringe? Try covering the pill with a tiny bit of the food instead.
Pill Wraps, Pill Pockets, and Other Soft Treats
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 above. 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.
Now I feed with two different syringes.Abbey’s Mom
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
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.”
Try making a Temptations Sandwich!
You cannot use gelcaps with this method, but if you are lucky your kitty will eat the treats so fast they never bite into them to taste the medicine.
- Hollow out a Temptations treat
- Fill it will pill fragments
- Top the opening with the filling you removed.
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 features Muffy as the angry cat taking the pill, although 4 of my 5 cats make an appearance. Oh, and me! I’m in there too.
I do the Temptation Sandwich differently – split the mega size horizontally, scoop out filling and insert a wrapped pill, then stick the two halves back together. Sometimes I freeze them to make sure they really stick.Marisa with Buster and The Girls
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.
“Scenting” the Pills with Kibble or Treats
The trick in this next video was the very first thing that worked for getting Muffy to take pills in gelcaps, and was the most consistent method that worked for Thomas.
If dry kibble does not work alone, you can try combining ideas or using treats instead.
With Thomas 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 and give it to Thomas. Once he has eaten that I give him the other half. Once he has eaten both pieces I alternate pills and treat halves until he is done.Jamie and Thomas
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 video 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:
Here’s another quick example using a pill popper: