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Cat Health

Quick Tips & Tricks on How to Give Your Cat a Pill

how to get a cat to take a pill

Have you ever had the dreaded task of giving your cat a pill? You know any transgression upon your cat’s independence could potentially start an all-out war. This animal may only weigh ten pounds, but aren’t you a little afraid of it?

We researched a few tips and tricks on how to get a cat to take a pill. As cat owners ourselves, we have tried them. No method will transform pilling a cat into a cakewalk.

However, a few tweaks can drastically increase the likelihood your cat will receive her much-needed medication.

Why would you have to give a pill to a cat?

Cats, like dogs and humans, can suffer from a wide range of medical problems. They receive tablets for bacterial infections, viruses, and endocrine disorders.

  • Oral infections and dental disease – some cats take pulse-therapy (periodic treatments of preset duration and frequency) antibiotics for their mouths. Viruses like Feline Leukemia can cause vulnerability to oral sores and infections.
  • Urinary tract infections – cats commonly suffer from urinary tract infections.
  • Pain – cats may need treatment for post-surgical pain or pain related to trauma or disease processes.
  • Hyperthyroidism – a hyperactive thyroid gland leading to increased heart weight and weight loss is very common in older cats.
  • Diabetes – some progressive therapies call for oral medications for feline diabetics.
  • Cancer – this can take the form of supportive supplements and certain chemotherapy treatments.
  • Arthritis – cats can suffer from arthritis like other animals. Some beneficial supplements take the form of pills.
  • Upper respiratory infections – cats may receive antibiotics to support secondary bacterial infections that invade viral illnesses.
  • Asthma – some cats require periodic steroids for respiratory distress and allergies.
  • A sensitive stomach and/or colitis
  • Motion sickness – your veterinarian may suggest Benadryl or Dramamine for traveling. It may come as a liquid, or you may need to give a portion of a tablet.

Most of the time you will only need to administer oral medication to your cat for a set time with a greatly anticipated end date. However, even a week can feel like an eternity when dealing with an uncooperative feline.

Massive challenges come into play when you have to give your cat pills over an extended period like three weeks. In some cases, your cat will have medication with lifelong requirements. As cats are extremely intelligent, this could create a contentious relationship with your pet.

Why is giving a cat a pill so challenging?

According to research by Daily Mail Science & Technology, cats are more sensitive to bitterness than even dogs.

Cats, like all animals, learn by an association which is vital for survival. If something unpleasant happens to them, they link it with danger. They will try to avoid any situation that leads to a repeated occurrence.

On top of your cat associating you with bad things in her life, she has no burning desire to please you in the first place. While cats can be highly social, nature did not design them to be cooperative or pack-oriented.

Cats will quickly learn to link certain situations or activities in receiving medication. This could be the time of day, your rummaging in the medicine cabinet or the sound of the pill bottle. They will take action to avoid danger.

  • Run and hide – cats are not apex predators. A cat’s first instinct is to run from harm, and felines are adept at hiding out of reach.
  • Bite – cats do not have powerful jaws, but their teeth are very sharp and painful. Furthermore, cat bites can cause nasty infections if they break the skin’s surface. According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to 40% of cats carry the bacterial organism responsible for cat-scratch fever.
  • Bat or claw – if a cat bats you with sheathed paws, it is a warning. She may do this several times before actually scratching you. Scratches are like bites in that they can cause a lot of pain and may lead to infections.
  • Body contortion – cats by design are wired to get away from uncomfortable situations. Twisting and turning their bodies together with their loose skin makes it difficult for you to hold them and pill them at the same time.

Cats can be exceedingly violent in their attempts to get away from you. Take care to use some of the restraining tips because cats can bite and claw simultaneously.

They can latch onto inopportune areas of your body once their flight instincts turn into combative rage.

I once had an angry cat anchor his teeth and all four paws into my lower back. It took me several minutes in excruciating pain before I could dislodge him.

How do you give a cat a pill?

In many ways, pilling a cat is more straightforward than the same procedure with a dog. Cats, in general, have smaller muzzles and fewer teeth.

The exceptions, of course, are pugs and apple-headed Chihuahuas. Regardless of breed, domesticated cats have much weaker jaws than canines. This makes it easier to open their mouths.

Basic Steps for Pilling a Cat:

  1. Place your cat on an accessible level – atop an examination table, counter, dryer, etc. The surface should be sturdy.
  2. Tuck the cat under your nondominant arm, gently but snugly against your side.
  3. Hold the head snugly – grasp the back of your cat’s head behind the ears and spanning the forehead. It should be similar to how you would hold a softball. Your palm should rest over the ears with thumb and fingers on either side of the face on the cheeks.
  4. Tip the head back – this will cause the lower jaw to drop slightly. It also forms a natural angle for you to drop the pill inside the mouth.
  5. Use a finger to ease the mouth open and pop the tablet inside.
  6. Follow with a few drops of water from a needleless syringe you have already loaded.
  7. Immediately close the mouth and hold it until your cat visibly swallows. You can blow on his nose to encourage him.
  8. Repeating step 3 and 4 to open his mouth, check to ensure your cat swallowed the pill.
  9. You may have to repeat the process a couple of times if your cat is wily.

How can you avoid having to give your cat a pill?

There are a few ways you may be able to avoid pilling your cat altogether.

Alternative Routes of Administration

If you need to give your cat medications by mouth, your veterinarian may be able to offer a liquid form in place of a pill. Some people find a completely different administration route is easier.

  • Injection – insulin is often administered as a subcutaneous (under the skin) injection for cats. Some antibiotics and joint or vitamin supplements can also be given as injections.
  • Transdermal patches – Fentanyl is a well-known drug that medical professionals often administer in this manner. There are similar options for other medications if you want to avoid pills. Patches can be hazardous for fastidious groomers like cats.
  • Topical creams – they are similar to patches, but you apply the medication directly to the skin. Usually, you would apply it to the hairless area between your cat’s eyes and ears. Flea preventatives and thyroid medications come commonly as creams, drops, or ointments.
  • Chews – pharmacies can often formulate meaty treats with medication distributed throughout them. Your cat may not be able to tell there is medicine in them. Talk to your veterinarian about such formulations.

Administer the pill in food

If you put medication in food, remember your cat’s highly developed sense of smell. She will avoid anything with a strong odor of pharmaceuticals. Moreover, if she eats it and it does not taste right, she might avoid that food forever.

Cats often do better with sweeter medications because they cannot taste them. According to Scientific American, cats are the only mammals who lack the genes allowing them to taste sweet flavors. Unfortunately, not many pills are simply sweet without any bitterness.

Check with your veterinarian before crushing any tablets or opening any capsules. According to International Cat Care, you can alter certain medications by breaking them.

You have probably seen the labels on some medications that advise you to swallow the pills whole without chewing or breaking them.

Even if you crush a pill to mix in your pet’s food, if it has strong taste it will likely permeate through every bite. The off-setting taste you tried to mask can become stronger than ever.

  • Pill pocket – this is similar to the chews except you put the medication directly in a specially made treat. Generally, the treat is made of delicious chewy meat and has a hollow center.
  • Directly in food – you can grind the pill into a powder with minimal crumbs or empty the contents of a capsule and put the contents into canned food. You can also mix with a small amount of water or gravy to apply to dry food.
  • Human food – if your cat has a favorite treat, like butter or cream, you may be able to sneak medication into it. You want to avoid ruining this form of reward if possible. Also, be sure that the food is not ultimately harmful to your feline friend.

We have seen cats that will eat almost anything. With these cats, we could coat a pill with a bit of tuna or toss it on top of their food, and they would devour it.

 to give a pill to a cat

How do you get your cat to swallow a pill?

You may not experience much trouble getting your cat to take a pill. What if he will not swallow it? If your cat will not eat a pill in treats and is extremely reluctant to swallow pills that you administer, arm yourself with a few tricks.

  • Work quickly – do not give your cat any time to think about the process. The more you do the procedure, the more efficient you will become. Hopefully, you learn faster than your cat.
  • Use two people – an extra person may help when you do not feel you have quite enough hands. Plus a second person can distract your cat just enough for you to gain the upper hand.
  • Make sure to follow all pill administration with a little shot of water. The faster you can get your cat to swallow the pill, the less of a build-up of a bitter aftertaste or other offensive flavors. Furthermore, some pills can lodge in the esophagus, causing extreme pain and even damage.
  • Consider using a pill popper – a pill popper is similar to a tiny pellet gun and assists you to get a tablet as far to the back of the mouth as possible. It also uses a bit of force and thus encourages a swallowing reflex.

How do you pill a difficult cat?

You may think all cats are difficult, but there are a few that would give an alligator pause. Some have a feral background, others are feral, and some just are fractious. A few tips will make pilling your cat a reasonable venture.

  • In these cases a pill gun is a necessity – you do not want your fingers anywhere in the vicinity of your cat’s teeth.
  • It may be best to work on the floor. Sit down once you are ready to proceed.
  • Work in a secluded, small space. Choose a room with no hiding spots. You can even use the bathroom or a closet as long as there is sufficient room to maneuver yourself.
  • When making preparations, keep your movements secretive to your cat. Get the pill out, don gloves if applicable, get your syringe of water ready, and load the pill popper. Most importantly, get a towel.
  • Wrap your cat in the towel like a burrito – do this step quickly. Place the cat in the middle of the towel, then wrap the sides snugly across her back one after the other. You should incorporate a scarf-like effect with your first wrap, making a pass around her neck. Only her head should poke out.
  • Soothe your cat once this step is complete. Wrapping her snugly may have a calming effect in and of itself.
  • Grasp her head firmly as described above and while tilting it up also slightly rotate her face away from you. Use the pill popper to ease her mouth open instead of your finger.
  • Once her mouth opens, insert the pill gun in the space just behind her canine tooth and maneuver it to the back.
  • Immediately close her mouth, holding it firmly and ease the water through the side. Keep adding a drop at a time until she swallows. Do not blow on her nose.
  • Assuming you do not have to repeat the process, reward your cat immediately with a favorite treat. A bribe could possibly make the process easier over time.

Wrapping a cat in a towel also makes it much easier to give him a pill if you struggle to do it by yourself. It may be more effective if you can visualize it. You can see this demonstrator has the cat on the table rather than the floor, but the concept is the same.

Notice how she can leverage the rear of the cat against her body, keeping the animal secure and stable.

You may be able to use some pre-made cat restraint bags that are on the market.

Can a cat choke on a pill?

The most common way cats choke on a pill is when it becomes lodged in the esophagus. This is different from humans who may experience respiratory obstruction from an object that becomes lodged in the laryngeal or pharyngeal areas.

According to the AVMA Journal, esophageal entrapment or choke occurred in almost 20 percent of cats administered a pill and 53 percent of those who received a capsule. All resolved with the administration of a small amount of food.

You can eliminate choke and resulting esophageal inflammation by giving water or even food after administering a pill. When a pill dissolves within the esophagus, it can permanently damage the delicate tissue it lies next to. Esophageal strictures are difficult to repair and can be life-threatening.

Anyone who has a cat knows it is nearly impossible to make them do anything against their wills. Forcing them to swallow horrible bitter monstrosities is likely one of the most offensive indignities you could make them endure.

Medicating cats is a necessary evil which you will have to undertake occasionally. With a few well-planned tricks, you can give your cat a pill with less trauma for her and fewer dangerous for yourself.

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