I’m always looking for ways to get my cats to swallow pills. Medicines prescribed by the vet, including pills and tablets, can be a nightmare to administer if you’re dealing with a cat that isn’t interested in swallowing it. Recently, my cat had a slight bacterial infection, for which the vet prescribed an oral antibiotic in pill form. Of course, my cat wanted nothing to do with swallowing the pills!
So I looked into all the tips and tricks of the trade, including advice from veterinarians and vet techs themselves, to learn how to make the pill popping a little more practical for my cat.
If you’ve ever had to give your cat oral medication prescribed by the vet, there’s a good chance you’ve also found yourself wondering, how can I get my cat to swallow a pill? While wrapping an oral pill in a delicious treat or using a pill pocket may help your cat swallow the pill, sometimes additional measures are necessary, including manually administering the pill with gentle jaw manipulation, crushing it or using a pill popper.
There are a variety of methods that people have found help felines ingest oral medication – along with a few faulty ideas floating around the internet that are not a good approach at all.
The key to getting your cat to take its medicine safely is finding the method that suits your cat best.
It may not be the most pleasant experience – there is a reason cats tend to spit out pills after all – but there are some techniques you can try to make the experience as pleasant as possible.
How to Get Your Cat to Swallow a Pill at Home
Just like some people can be finicky about swallowing medication, cats usually need a bit of enticement to swallow pills, too.
Unlike humans, cats don’t realize that the unpleasant experience of swallowing a pill is a necessary evil that can help them in the long run.
They can’t just grin and bear it, like most of us.
One of the most widely attempted techniques of getting animals to swallow pills is based on sheer trickery.
Hiding or burying the pill in one of the cat’s favorite pate treats can be a great way to get your cat to swallow the pill without even noticing.
If you’re going with this method, try using wet, strong-smelling cat food, which has a better chance of masking the unpleasant taste of medications.
However, the problem with this method is that most cats can’t be fooled this easily.
You can also do this manually, like in the video below:
While sneaking the pill into a treat may work for small, flavorless tablets, it’s pretty unlikely to work for larger pills or medicines that carry a strong, bitter taste.
For those felines that can’t be fooled by such basic methods, they may find another approach more appealing:
Pill Pocket Treats.
Pill pocket treats are cat treats specifically designed for administering oral tablets.
They feature a small pocket in a soft treat that you can slip the pill into.
Often, pill pocket treats are small in size, meaning the cat may attempt swallowing it in one go.
The other advantage of pill pocket treats is that the pill is fully surrounded by the treat.
This means that the cat will first taste the flavor of the treat itself.
And unless the cat decides to shred the treat to pieces in her mouth before swallowing, she may not even taste the hidden pill at all.
Some cats just won’t have any of this and end up finding the pill and spitting it out…
Here’s how to insert the pill:
While still managing to devour the treat, of course!
For cats like this, you may need to take a more assertive approach to get her to swallow the medicine.
One more assertive way of getting your cat to swallow a pill is to manually hold the cat’s head in order to manipulate the jaw.
Gently grasp the back of your cat’s jaw, open her mouth, and place the pill on the back of the tongue.
Then close her mouth.
Remember, do this gently!
It’s critical to use utmost care with this method so that you do not hurt or stress out your cat.
If administering the pill with this manual approach, there are few additional tips that can help make the process less chaotic.
First of all, consider having a partner hold your cat in place if you aren’t capable of holding her securely while also opening her jaw and grabbing the pill.
Furthermore, the key to this method is to do it swiftly.
The longer your cat is being held with its mouth open, the more likely she is to become skeptical and uncomfortable, meaning she may scramble to get out of your grasp.
Another key to administering pills manually is to have a syringe full of water on hand. Pills can be dry, meaning they are scratchy and difficult to swallow.
After you close your cat’s mouth (with the pill on the back of the tongue), immediately squirt a bit of water into the corner of her mouth.
Her instinctual reaction will be to swallow the water, meaning the pill has a much greater chance of successfully going down the pipes!
Why Don’t Cats Like to Swallow Pills?
If you’ve ever had a bad experience with trying to get a stubborn animal to swallow the medicine, you may have ended up on your knees, begging, “Why?
Why is it so hard to swallow a pill?”
Well, there are many reasons cats aren’t jumping at the chance to pop pills.
First of all, many oral medications have a terribly bitter taste.
Prednisone, one of the most popularly prescribed medications, has an extremely strong bitterness to it that can even trigger coughing or gagging.
Another reason that cats aren’t so keen on the idea of swallowing a pill whole is that they are used to shredding their food into pieces before swallowing.
Many cats tear and chew their food, stemming from their carnivorous roots of hunting for prey in the wild.
Pills, however, are sometimes hard and difficult to bite into small pieces. This can be unappealing for cats who are unlikely to swallow large pieces of food.
There’s also a physiological reason that keeps cats from swallowing pills as easily as humans, and it lies with their musculoskeletal system.
Humans have a vertical esophagus, whereas cats have a horizontal esophagus.
This may make swallowing a pill a much more challenging task for a cat, since gravity isn’t on their side as it is with us, humans.
So you see?
In many ways, cats aren’t to blame for not having an interest in swallowing pills.
Although I have to admit that it can be a big challenge to remember this when the frustration of trying to entice my cat to swallow a pill sets in!
Can I Crush Pills for My Cat to Swallow?
Unfortunately, one method that many pet owners turn to is the idea that crushing up medicine and mixing it in with food can help the cat ingest it.
This is a big myth and a bad idea overall.
There are many reasons why you shouldn’t crush oral medication in tablet form when administering it to your cat.
- First of all, the compounds of some pills can become altered when crushed and mixed in with food.
Chemicals respond and interact differently to particular ingredients, which can ultimately reduce the effectivity of an active drug.
It’s difficult to know which ingredients in certain foods can interfere with prescription drugs and to what extent, so it’s better not to crush up the tablet at all.
- Secondly, when you crush a pill into a fine powder, it tends to spread out the bitter taste of the pill throughout the dish.
This means instead of hiding the taste of the pill, you are effectively spreading it out further so that all of the food tastes bitter, making it unlikely for the cat to indulge.
Pills crushed up and mixed in with cat food can also pose another problem.
If your cat doesn’t finish the entire dish of food, you won’t be able to know how much of the medicine she ingested.
This is particularly problematic for medications that require a precise dosage in order to be safe and effective.
And finally, there is one more reason crushing pills is a waste of time.
Once the pill begins to dissolve in the cat food, you can’t take it back.
This means that if your cat doesn’t end up falling for the trick of eating the food (mixed with medicine), then the pill essentially goes uneaten and is, therefore, wasted.
So no matter how tempting it may be to grind up your cat’s oral medication and mix it up with some delicious tuna or pate, don’t do it!
It poses a lot more problems than you’re trying to solve.
How To Use A Pill Popper
Finally, if you’re really at a loss for getting your finicky feline to swallow her medication, turn to a helpful device that has been designed for this precise purpose.
Pill poppers also referred to as a pill gun or a pet piller, are devices that can assist you in administering oral medication in tablet form.
There is an extensive variety of pill poppers on the market today.
Most pill poppers are pretty affordable, too.
Purchase a pill popper from a trusted pet supply company like Chewy.com, and follow the precise instructions provided.
In general, most pill poppers resemble a syringe with a rubber tip.
See the video below on how to use a pill popper:
Place the pill in the rubber tip, gently insert the tip into the corner of your cat’s mouth and depress the plunger so that the pill is deposited onto the back of your cat’s tongue.
Gently hold your cat’s mouth shut to encourage immediate swallowing.
Also, providing a squirt of water or flavorful liquid right after depositing the pill can help your cat swallow the pill more comfortably.
One big tip for using a pill popper successfully is to be quick.
The longer your cat is being detained, the less likely she is going to be willing to cooperate with you.
Can a cat choke on a pill? Depending on the cat’s esophageal passageway, it is possible for a pill to become lodged in such a way that causes choking. However, most tablets are designed in a size that is not likely to cause choking. Administering liquid or water with a pill can help a cat swallow a pill without choking.
How do I know if my cat swallowed a pill? One sign to look for is whether your cat is licking its nose immediately after putting the pill in her mouth. Typically, when a cat licks its nose, this is a sign that she is in the middle of swallowing something.
What is a cat piller? A cat piller also referred to as a pet piller, pill gun or pill popper is a veterinarian device used to administer tablets to animals orally. A pill gun resembles a syringe, but it features a rubber end that is large enough for a pill.