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How to give a cat a pill?

grey cat looking at a pill the owner has in his hand advice © Shutterstock

Buckle up: moggy’s sick, and you’ve been volunteered to give that cat its pills. It’s a grave responsibility that begins long before you pry the creatures mouth open with a crow-bar.
 

By G. John Cole

First you have to make sure the dose is right. Only then do you get to the fun part.

If ‘how do I get a cat to take a pill?’ sounds like the start of a joke, that’s because it is. The traditional way of telling it leads through 15 stages of despair and ends with trading your cat in for a hamster. The punchline is ‘to get a dog to take a pill, wrap it bacon.” Now, are you ready to get serious?

How to give a cat a pill: preparation

So you’ve been to the cat chemist, you’ve ordered your protective gear from Amazon, you’ve written your last will and testament. What's next? First, take a closer look at the medicine.
Under the stress of wondering how you’ll get kitty to comply with her medical routine, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re actually trying to achieve. Make sure you check the correct dose, timing and regularity of its prescription. Can it be taken with food or water?

Cat with a pill
Giving a pill to a cat ©Shutterstock

Sometimes a pill can be crushed and sprinkled on food. That way your cat has a simple choice: eat up or starve! Hopefully your vet will already have clarified if this is an option. It’s a good idea to ask your vet for pill-giving advice while she’s writing the prescription. She might have a good tip that we haven’t heard. Here’s one for free: if your cat resists eating doped-up food, just withhold all food from it for 12 hours. Next time it’ll be hungry enough to swallow its pride along with the pill and the cat chow.

Next, find a partner if you can. This whole military operation is much easier with a wingman. The second person may hold and calm the cat. They will at least be on hand to offer encouragement and administer first aid if necessary.

And then make sure you have everything you need to complete the challenge. This includes time: make sure you have plenty of it, because if you’re watching the clock then your failed attempts are just going to get you (and moggy) even hotter under the collar.

You’ll also need a non-slippery surface, a towel, and a cold beer. Keep the beer out of spilling distance and don’t drink it until you achieve success.

How to give a cat a pill with food

If you hit the jackpot and a food disguise is possible, hide the food in a (cat) bite-sized chunk of its favourite snack (fish or cheese), or its normal meal. This way, hopefully it won’t discover the pill. For this reason, it’s best to hand the secret pill to your cat separately rather than leaving it in the bowl with the rest of its meal. 

If you do leave the pill in its food bowl, there’s a good chance your cat will find it and leave it behind. So be sure to check the bowl after mealtime. Likewise, if you feed your cat a pill wrapped up in a treat, it might spit the pill out when it thinks you’re not looking. So be vigilant.

Of course, if the pill is crushable, this isn’t a problem. The problem you face here is that the pill powder may taste awful. So spice up your cat’s laced meal with something strong-flavoured like fish if it turns its nose up at your concoction.

How to give a cat a pill: the hard way

If your cat’s pill can’t be taken with food, or your cat simply won’t take it with food, it’s time to take steps. 

Place your cat on that non-slippery surface, facing away from you. This is where it can be handy to have someone holding the cat in place from the front. Hold the cats front legs above the elbow, with your hands pressed against the cat’s side.
(If this doesn’t work, wrap the cat firmly but gently in the towel from the neck down to stop it from struggling).

Staying calm at all times, hold the pill between the tips of your forefinger and thumb. Use your other hand to hold your cat’s head – again, firmly but gently – between your thumb and index finger.

Tilt the creature’s head upwards, and use the middle finger of your pill-holding hand to pull its lower jaw open. Quickly drop the pill as far back on your cat’s tongue as you can, and then close its mouth and hold it closed until the fiend swallows. It might fake it, so yet again – keep an eye out for rejected pills!

This doesn’t always work first time, but it’s pretty effective and your technique will improve with each attempt. Finally, that cat will get its medicine.

And then you can go trade your cat in for a hamster and pick up a dog and some bacon while you’re at it.