Alternatives to shoving pills down my cat's throat?
May 17, 2008 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Help me trick my cat into eating his pills.

My cat Montgomery (Monty) has been diagnosed with some liver problems. I've been given 5 different medications to give him twice a day. He is somewhat of a picky eater. I haven't started giving him the medication yet. My thought was to crush them up into soft food (which he loves and is allowed for once) and hope he eats it, but my worry is, what if he doesn't? I don't want to waste those pills!

Basically, I'd prefer not to force him to swallow them. Suggestions?
posted by heavenstobetsy to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can buy these little soft treats with empty centers called pill pockets. Basicall you stick the pill in the middle and moosh the treat up around it. If the cat turns his nose up or eats the treat around the pill, the pill is still relatively unscathed and you can try again with another technique.

You could also make your own pill pockets from cheese, tuna, chicken...

Good luck!
posted by handful of rain at 2:14 PM on May 17, 2008

Crush and sprinkle should work if it doesn't have an objectionable taste.

So I'd say for a first course of action, check with your vet on that - when our very old cat started medication, the vet specifically told us that it was OK to open the pill and sprinkle it on food, because it was tasteless.
posted by coffeefilter at 2:18 PM on May 17, 2008

you are probably going to have to force him to swallow them. most cat's will eventually figure out there's something in the food and eventually refuse to eat it. I suggest buying some gelatin capsules from a place like (I really really recommend them, by the way). You can put the pills in them (possibly even multiple pills) and they won't taste as bad. They also won't melt in the cat's mouth. Also, since your cat is already a picky eater you don't want to make him not eat.
posted by majikstreet at 2:19 PM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

How to give a cat a pill.
posted by Melismata at 2:24 PM on May 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sometimes flinging it down their gullet is the only way. I covered my cat's pills in butter (to grease it up and mask the bitter pill taste), then applied pressure with thumb and forefinger to the corners of his jaw. Once the mouth is open, toss the pill into the back of the cat's throat. They have no choice but to swallow.

And get miffed at you for a bit. Stupid cats.
posted by Aquaman at 2:29 PM on May 17, 2008

This can vary from cat to cat and the type/size/shape of pill.
First, check with the vet that it's OK to crush/open the pill - some might need to be intact for whatever medical/dosage reason.
The simplest fix is to wrap the pill in a little piece of lunchmeat, if your cat likes that sort of thing - I've had cats that took their pills willingly as long as they came inside a little piece of bologna, ham, sliced turkey, whatever. But you've got to watch, as they often eat the treat and spit out the pill - although I've also had two cats that enjoyed the treat so much, and made a direct enough association with the associated pill, that they would willingly take the pill by itself as long as they got a treat too.

Worst case scenario, you put your hand around the back of kitty's head, so that your thumb is on one corner of its mouth and your index or middle finger is at the other corner. Pressing at the corners of its mouth will make kitty open wide (and probably squirm). Pop the pill as far back in its mouth as you can (PenDevil's slingshot), and let go your hand. Kitty will either swallow it by reflex, or spit it out, in which case you try again. Again from experience, some cats find this so undignified and insulting that once they figure out that you're just trying to get them to eat the pill, they'll do it themselves and save you both the embarrassment.

Then again, cats are weird. I had one that all you had to do was roll the pill across the floor and kitty would pounce and eat it, no bribing or training required.
posted by penciltopper at 2:35 PM on May 17, 2008

My vet gave me a handy pill-shooter. It's a syringe-like doohickey that makes it easy to pop the pill in the back of the kitty's throat. Kitty swallows out of reflex and you're done. It was more efficient and less traumatic than all the other ways I tried.
posted by PatoPata at 2:37 PM on May 17, 2008

When my cat started having heart problems I had to give him meds twice a day. This cat was a world-class wriggler and there was no way I could shove pills down his throat (to give you perspective, he was an old three-legged cat but still required two to three vet techs to clip his nails). I asked the vet if I could crush them and she said I could, so I got into this routine of crushing the pills, dissolving them as best I could in a little low-sodium broth, and then mixing the broth with a little canned food. The broth gave the food a different flavor and the fact that they were semi-dissolved meant that he couldn't eat around them. I also had to be careful not to give him too much food because if he didn't finish the food, he didn't get his entire dose of medicine. It sounds like a pain, but it became an automatic routine after a few days.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 2:44 PM on May 17, 2008

PatoPata: My vet gave me a handy pill-shooter. It's a syringe-like doohickey that makes it easy to pop the pill in the back of the kitty's throat. Kitty swallows out of reflex and you're done. It was more efficient and less traumatic than all the other ways I tried.

It's called a pet piller and it worked for my cat, too. Dirt cheap, too.
posted by peep at 2:56 PM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I covered my cat's pills in butter (to grease it up and mask the bitter pill taste), then applied pressure with thumb and forefinger to the corners of his jaw. Once the mouth is open, toss the pill into the back of the cat's throat. They have no choice but to swallow.

This is what my vet recommended back when my cats were little.

To this day, they have a serious gag reflex when it comes to butter. It smells good, they know they want it, they know they should like it. But if I offer a little taste to either of them, they gag.

Point is, anything you use on a somewhat regular basis is going to build a Pavlovian response. The pet piller above is a good idea for that reason. (It haz no flavor.)
posted by mudpuppie at 4:30 PM on May 17, 2008

The key to pilling a cat is tilting their head back so that it's a straight shot down their throat. Their lower jaw is weaker in this position and they can't bite you. Once their mouth opens (and it always opens... usually to meow) just drop the pill right down.

No problem.
posted by sbutler at 4:59 PM on May 17, 2008

seconding the pill pockets. I medicate my Poppy every day and they work like a charm.
posted by killy willy at 5:00 PM on May 17, 2008

If your cat will taken them, pill pockets are the way to go.

I used to be really good making the kitty-burrito with a towel and getting the pill down their throats with a well placed finger on the side of the jaw. It works but if you have to do it that way the cat doesn't exactly enjoy your company at pill time.

Once I found out about pill pockets, pill time has become a thing of joy for the cat. He actually runs and stands at attention at 8pm pill time. If I forget, I am reminded since he is sitting on the exact spot on the rug where he gets the pill at exactly 8pm, it's pretty crazy.

There's pretty much only one brand name I ever evangelize, and its pill pockets (though I'm sure anything think like them works as well) since they have made pill time a non-scary event.

He's not food motivate otherwise, it actually tough getting him to eat enough, but there must be something in the pill pockets that drives him crazy.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:20 PM on May 17, 2008

If this is long-term medication, get your vet to call the prescription into a compounding pharmacy, which can compound the medicine into a flavoured liquid. Alternately, there are many, many medications which can be administered trans-dermally. If your vet does not routinely deal with compounding pharmacies, contact the pharmacy first, find out the availability, and then they or you can contact your vet's office. There are very few medications which can be administered successfully to a cat by crushing them onto food (not to mention that if the cat doesn't eat all of it, it doesn't get a full dose), but many can be crushed, mixed with water or tuna juice into a slurry and then administered via oral syringe. But if it's long-term, it can be a big enhancement to your cat's quality of life (and a reduction in your hassle) to look into compounding or trans-dermal.

Yes, there are easy ways to pill a cat, but for long-term medications, this can be more stressful and unpleasant than is necessary if there are alternate ways to give the meds. Stress can have a major effect on a cat's health, happiness and longevity.
posted by biscotti at 6:00 PM on May 17, 2008

Ugh. We are also in the force-a-pill-twice-a-day mode, and it is brutal. Pill pockets? No go, as the pill is too big and our cat is not easily fooled (the pill itself is bright blue, so it's kind of noticeable when it's sticking halfway out of the treat). Pill popper? It takes two people, a burrito-fold into a thick towel, and 30 minutes of shooting it in and her spitting it out. Today what worked was cutting down on her food (which is actually something her vet told us to do anyway, as she's about 18 pounds) and then (after she had worked up a good appetite) giving her some juicy chicken meat with a surprise pill center. I think she may be onto it, though, because it worked like a charm this morning but was a little harder sell at dinner. Maybe tomorrow I'll try that butter thing....

One kind of last resort thing I was thinking was just having the vet give her the antibiotic as an injection -- or giving us the stuff to inject her ourselves (my husband is a doc, so that would be his job). But I'm hoping we won't have to go there.

Really, the pill popper thing (at least in theory) is probably the best route -- at the vet's office she opened her maw and the vet was able to pop the pill right in, no spit, no freak, no fuss. I don't have as practiced a technique for subduing her and getting the jaw hinge action. But this site has some good suggestions.

Good luck!
posted by mothershock at 6:26 PM on May 17, 2008

When I was younger, we had a cat that really, really loved cheese. My parents would sort of squish two bits of cheese together round any pills he had to be given, and he wouldn't even notice it wasn't all cheese since he ate it so quickly.

My girlfriend says her mum grabs the cat between her legs, puts the pill in the cat's mouth and strokes it throat, which apparently forces it to swallow.
posted by pocketfluff at 7:21 PM on May 17, 2008

The difficulty associated with pilling does vary from cat to cat. We had a cat that was extremely difficult to pill, but would generally lick up most liquid medicines with a little coaxing. When a particular medicine was only available in pill form we gave it our best shot, but could not get him to swallow. We had pilled other cats many times, so our technique was not so bad. We finally called the vet and he agreed to give us some lessons. After 20 to 30 minutes of failing to get the pill down his gullet with a pill gun, the vet allowed as "this is the most difficult cat to pill I've seen in 20 years." He picked a different medicine.
posted by Lame_username at 8:04 PM on May 17, 2008

I buy a $1.50 small tube of liverwurst and embed the pills in that - works like a charm. I've never had a cat that wouldn't go nuts for it. It's cheap and pain free although a little messy. Try and pick one that doesn't have too much filler, but small quantities won't do much harm. There's something about the smell makes most cats lose all self-control and become pill-begging freaks.

Bonus: also works for dogs.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:19 PM on May 17, 2008

When I had to pill my cat, I didn't use anything like pill pockets, or sprinkling the medicine on her food - it just went down her gullet. However, immediately afterwards, she would get her favorite, tastiest treat on Planet Earth - one of those crunchy cat treats that would also work to clean her teeth. Soon, she'd look forward to the pilling because she knew she'd get the treat.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:36 PM on May 18, 2008

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