How to give a cat a pill.

This is one of those topics that someone emails you with things like "get a roll of duct-tape, a pair of welding gloves and a plumber’s helper." Normally, we have "cat-pill-giving school" for our clients while we are all in the exam room.  Rather than giving them a handout, I just demonstrate with their cat.  First we have "ground school" to go over the principles involved, then I give the cat the pill (most of the time).  I do this for three reasons: first, an actual demonstration is usually better than a picture and a paragraph; second, it allows me to see whether the cat will actually take a pill (or if I’m asking the client to do the impossible); and third, the cat’s had his first dose and the client gets the night off.

The other day, though, the Missus asked for a handout, as she did not intend to be involved with the pill-giving.  She was happy to pick up the cat (in his carrier) and take him home, but the Mister would be in charge of all cat-related duties at home.  Therefore, she was not interested in a demonstration, but would appreciate some sort of instructional material for hubby.

I downloaded and printed these instructions from (easily accessed through’s "library" button).  While they are pretty nice instructions, that’s not the way I do it.  Thus I felt compelled to write my own instructions.  Many cats do not require anywhere near the degree of restraint shown in the instructions I downloaded.  I’m all for making things as easy as possible for all concerned.



1. Cats hate restraint.  If you can make this a quick process, you will be much more successful.  This low-impact method can usually be done with no grabbing of the cat or outside assistance, providing the cat is reasonably cooperative (for a cat I mean).

2. They have little spines on their tongues that they use to groom themselves.  You must get past these or the cat will spit out the pill.  Get the pill past them and it will almost certainly be swallowed.

3. The pill has to be centered, not off to one side or the other.  If it is off to one side, it will not go down.  Let him spit it out and try again later. You think you can just poke it back to the middle. You can’t.  Don’t try.  He will bite you.

4. Be sure that both the pill and your fingers are clean and dry. If the pill sticks to yor finger, it won’t be in the cat. If you are using a pill-gun instead of your fingers, again it should be clean and dry.  If the cat spits out a pill, it won’t be dry. Get a new one and start over.

STEP ZERO: Have a general idea where the cat is.  (I would have started with Step One, but then you might wander the house for hours with a pill in your hand.)

Get_the_pill_2_ STEP ONE: Get the pill.  If you are trying to fumble open the pills while holding the cat, you can forget it.  You have already lost the "quick process" advantage.

STEP TWO: Put the cat up on a table, counter-top, clothes-dryer or some other smooth, non-grippable surface that is at a convenient and comfortable height for you.  Don’t put him in your lap, his bed, his favorite chair, etc.  Give yourself an advantage.

Cup_the_head__2_ STEP THREE: Pet the cat with one hand and have the pill between thumb and forefinger of the other hand.

STEP FOUR: With the petting hand, cup the top of the head while sliding your thumb into the mouth just behind the fang, where there is a gap in the teeth.  This will open the mouth.

Pill_the_cat_2_ STEP FIVE: With the pill-grasping hand, use the middle finger to pull the lower jaw down to open the mouth a little further.  Then toss the pill into the back of the mouth past the little spines. If it doesn’t go back quite far enough, poke it with your index finger.  Most cats will now swallow the pill with no further struggle.

Pill_pusher2 If the cat has not swallowed the pill (i.e. he spit it out), try using a pill-pusher next time to get it farther back in the mouth.  Also consider squirting a little water behind the pill to make it easier to swallow.  Greasing the pill with a little margarine makes it easier to swallow, but harder to let go of.  That works better with the pill-pusher than it does with fingers.

Uncooperative cats may need more restraint. As part of STEP TWO, wrap the cat up in a towel to form a feline burrito, which is held by an assistant (possibly a lovely assistant in a gold-spangled leotard).

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