How to Give a Cat a Pill

There is a time in every person-pet relationship when the human has to give his or her pet some medication. This may be a preventative medication, like heartworm preventative, that you have to give as soon as you get a dog. Or it could be something to make an animal more comfortable in her elder years and prolong her life, such as hyperthyroid medication for a cat.

Thankfully, in most circumstances, pets will consume their medication if it’s put in their food. However, there are plenty of times when medicating a cat or dog is not so easy. So what are you to do when your beloved pet refuses to cooperate but requires medication to live a healthy life? There are a number of options.

Hide-and-seek

As mentioned above, the easiest and first choice is to hide the medication in some food. You can hide it in canned food that’s part of the animal’s regular meals, you can use a commercial product such as Pill Pockets to contain the pills, or you can create a special meatball to hide the pill and give it as a special treat. If you decide to try meatball treats, be choosy about what you put in the meatball. For instance, if your pet has food allergies, the meatball should not contain ingredients that the animal is allergic to. The meatball should be made up of food from the animal’s existing diet (which, let’s face it, is not always enticing).

Also, avoid incorporating foods that are toxic to animals, such as chocolate, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, onions or garlic, to name a few. Many other foods can be toxic to pets, so do a Web search or ask your veterinarian if you’re unsure about using a particular food as a treat.

In addition, some foods are not good for certain disease conditions. For example, salty foods should not be used to give an animal his heart medications. Fatty foods should not be given to an animal with pancreatitis. And really hard foods should not be given to an animal with dental disease. Again, please check with your veterinarian before using a food as a treat vehicle.

Common foods that work well for hiding medications include peanut butter, cheese, chicken or meat-flavored baby food. As many of you know, though, some crafty pets manage somehow to eat the treat and spit out the medications. If the medication can be crushed up, try doing that and then hiding it in mushy food (e.g., baby food). Because some pills can’t be crushed, however, consult your veterinarian before doing so.

More than one pet

If you have multiple pets, try giving the pills as a special treat to the animal who needs medication. In other words, don’t give the medication around mealtime, but at a different time, so the animal feels singled out for special treats and therefore is more likely to eat the pill hidden in the treat. This strategy works well when giving short-term meds because, over time, the animal often gets wise to what is going on.

Conversely, you can give treats to all the animals and just have the one treat “doctored” with the medication for the appropriate animal. If there is competition for treats, the medicated animal will feel like he needs to hurry up and eat his treat before someone else gets it. You’ll need to proceed with caution, though, to make sure this strategy does not result in fights and also to ensure that the other animals do not accidentally get the medicated treat. It works best if the animal needing the medication tends to be the treat-stealing one and not the one who lets his treats get stolen.

Using caution

Another option is to try and force the pill down an animal’s throat. This can be done with your fingers if the animal is amenable to that, but many are not. For cats, a pill gun is a handy device you can use to prevent yourself from getting bitten. This device shoots the pill into the back of the animal’s mouth and forces him to swallow it. Cats do not like this and I don’t recommend it for long-term medicating, but it works well in the short run.

If you’re afraid of being bitten when trying this method, get some training from your veterinarian or veterinary technician on proper pill-gun technique. There are also many tutorials online that give great demonstrations on how to pill a cat or dog. I have seen this method work very well, but I have also seen it result in the animal running away and hiding for several days. It is best not to use this forceful method on shy and nervous animals.

Topical, liquid or other

If the above ideas don’t work, it might be worth trying to get the medication made into a different formula. Many pills may also come in, or can be made into, a liquid form, which can be squirted into an animal’s mouth. Be prepared, though: Your pet might spit it out and make a huge mess.

Some medications can be made into a transdermal form, which means that it absorbs through the skin. This form can work very well for some medications, but it needs to be specially made so may cost a little more. It is important to remember to apply these meds wearing gloves because they can absorb through human skin as well. Similarly, some medications may already come in a form that is applied on the skin. These can be very handy for pill-avoiding animals, but they must be applied appropriately, so follow instructions carefully.

If the above suggestions do not work, please consult with your veterinarian on other options for your pet. Perhaps there is a different medication you can try, a surgery or injections that can be done to avoid medicating, or other solutions. Medicating a beloved pet can be a trying experience for both you and your pet. However, it can be a matter of life and death, and the short-term pain is most often worth the long-term gains.