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How To Get Your Cat To Take The Pills
And Medications It Needs

How To Pill A Cat

Ron Hines DVM PhD

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It can be next to impossible to get your cat to take oral medications. All cat owners eventually learn that cats are particularly sensitive to bitter tastes. Unfortunately, most of the medications that veterinarians prescribe are very bitter. One might think cats would be easy to medicate because they have less than a third the number of taste buds as dogs and less than a tenth the number on your tongue but that is not the case.
Your cat does not perceive flavors like you do. Cats have a much poorer ability taste sweet and may not recognize this taste at all. Cats also have very complex amino acid taste receptors, which are probably what make them react so violently to medications. Cats also have a functioning taste/smell structure on the roof of their mouth, the Jacobson’s organ.

Another problems is the rough, prickly feline tongue holds these flavors in their mouth longer, causing them to foam and wretch in an attempt to rid themselves of the horible taste. Their relatively short face and ability to pulse their tongues to move tablets away from the back of the throat and sharp claws makes administration even more difficult.

What Are Your Options?


Because of cost and availability options, most medications used by veterinarians were not specifically designed for pets. This means that a full tablet is often to large a quantity of medication for a cat or small dog. Pharmaceutical manufacturers deal with bad tasting medications by coating their tablets with lactose. The lactose coating is hard and shiny and makes the tablet easy to swallow. But when you break the tablet into cat-size portions, the bitter taste is again exposed. As a cost-saving measure, generic tablets are often sold uncoated. This is OK for people but a major obsticle for cat owners trying to medicate their pets.

This is the technique that works best for me:

1) Clip your cat’s sharp claws with a human toenail clipper. If you are not experienced at that, have it done by a groomer or at the veterinarian’s office.

2) Get everything ready. Seal off places you cat may escape to. Turn on the lights. Open the pill container. Get some bath towels. Find a pencil with a good portion of the eraser left on it. Pour a small cup of water and place everything on a low table along with some facial tissues. Put some antibacterial soap next to the sink to clean your hands afterwards.

3) Coat the pill well with butter. Dry pills can get stuck in your cat’s throat. Try to break the pills into pieces with no sharp corners. The pieces do not have to be exactly the same size as long as the total day’s dose is what was recommended by your veterinarian. Place your cat between your knees in a towel or cloth so it can not wiggle or scratch you. Get the assistance of another person if you can. Wrap the cat so that only its head is exposed. Let the cat calm down. Stroke it and talk to it softly. Then, tilt the cat’s head back until it is looking at the ceiling. It should open its mouth slightly at this point. Pry open its mouth with your thumb and forfinger placed under its upper lips just behind its upper fangs. Drop the pill as far back into the mouth as possible The hump to the rear of your cat’s tongue marks the point from which there are no more taste buds. Drop the pill into its mouth as far back as possible so that it lands behind that hump or push it there with the pencil eraser and immediately hold the pet’s mouth closed so that it can not spit the tablet out. Place a drop of water on its nose with your free hand and continue to hold the mouth closed until it licks it nose. Once it has licked its nose, it has swallowed the pill. Then wipe any foam and saliva off of the cats face and mouth.

4) Fill the 3 ml syringe with flavored broth and in half ml incriments, place the liquid in your cat’s mouth being sure it is swallowed. Do not tilt the cat’s head back when giving the liquid. This is to prevent the medication from lodging in the pet’s throat.

5) Stroke and praise your cat, offer it a treat.

Other Options:

Purchase a pill designed especially for small pets These pills contain the right amount of medication in a full tablet that has been coated to prevent objectionable taste.

Purchase empty geletin capsules Place the proper portion of the tablet in it with tweezers so as not to contaminate the outside of the capsule.

Purchase a pill gun Have someone show you how to use it correctly. You have to place it far back in your cat’s mouth and hold his mouth closed after the pill is inserted.

Hide The Medicine In Food
Cats are quite good at not taking medicine when it is hidden in food. There are several things that will help you do this successfully:

1) Your cat needs to be quite hungry when you attempt this.

2) You need to crush the tablet into a fine powder.

3) You need to use a very pungent food to mask the bad taste. Anchovies, sardines, liverwurst, gourmet canned cat food, tuna paste and underwoods deviled ham are good choices unless you know another flavor your cat really loves. Give it a small dab of the unmedicated food first.

4) Begin with a very very small amount of the bad tasting medicine even if it is much lower than the dose that was suggested and gradually increase the amount as your cat becomes accustomed to the taste. This will mean giving the smaller dose more frequently during the day.

Turn The Tablet Into A Liquid And Give Orally With A Syringe
Liquefy one of the pungent-tasting food I mentioned in a blender. Crush the medicine into a powder or let it dissolve in a tablespoon full of water. Mix the two together. You can prepare an entire day’s supply and keep it in the refrigerator. Test that the mix passes easily and smoothly through a 3ml disposable syringe that has the needle removed. If it does not, the food needs to be blended longer or the pill needs to be crushed finer. If it still will not flow easily, ream out the tip of the syringe with a 1/8 inch drill bit.

Trick Your Cat
Some cats can not stand being dirty and will lick off any liquid or paste on their paws. As a last resort, try that with the liquid you prepared. Keep your cat restricted to a small area until it licks its paws clean or it will mess up the house.

Syrups And Liquids Designed For Children
The industry standard in masking objectionable tasting liquid medications is to add a strong fruit and sugary flavoring. These are called pediatric syrups. Cherry is simulated by adding benzaldehyde ,black cherry by adding acetophenone, grape with anthranilate and banana with isoamyl acetate. Cats hate all these tastes. If you squirt these liquids forward in the mouth, the cat will foam and gag. If you squirt them far enough back , the cat may inhail them into its lungs. I do not recommend them for cats.

Foaming Cats
The usual cause of foaming is placing the medication too far forward in your cat's mouth or having small grains of the powdered medicine on your fingers or on the applicator. Foaming looks terrible but it is not dangerous or painful. Just wipe the excess foam off.

Have A Compounding Pharmacy Prepare The Medicine
Your veterinarian can probably give you the phone number of a pharmacy that they have used to prepare medications for cats in liquid or gel form. You can also find them online. Not every pharmacy that provides this service knows how to prepare a product that cats will accept. So find satisfied customers before ordering these expensive products.

Give The Medication By Injection
Many medications come in injectable form as well as oral form. Many cats object much less to an injection than to an oral medication. Ask your veterinarian if the medication can be supplied in injectable form. Some owners have no qualms about injecting their cats while others would not think of it. It depends on your makeup. Have your veterinarian show you the proper area to give the injection and the proper method.

The Transdermal Alternative

Certain medications can be made into a jell or ointment, that will pass through intact skin. These can be rubbed into the inner surface of your cat’s ear. Others can be made into continuous-release patches. However, not all these custom-made transdermal products are effective. Some of them do not work as well as when the drug is given orally or by injection and some do not work at all. Fat cats seem to take up transdermal medications a bit differently than thin cats and there is a lot of cat-to-cat variation we can not explain. So it is wise to have a test run after a week or two to see if the medication is actually getting into your cat’s blood stream at the desired level. Transdermal medication is also an option if the medication is causing digestive upsets in your cat.