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Giving Oral Medication to a Cat

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For many cat parents, their first thought when bringing home an oral medication for their cat is: How am I going to give this to her!? We know this can be a frustrating process, depending on your cat, so we wanted to provide some tips that we hope you’ll find helpful!

Before you find a method that works best for you and your cat, it’s important to know if your cat’s medication can be given with food or if it should be given on an empty stomach. If you aren’t sure, contact your veterinary clinic right away to find out!

The Meatball Method (Given With Food)

If the tablet or capsule can be given with food, you can make a “meatball” by placing the medication in the center of a small ball of canned cat food or cheese.

Helpful Tips:

  • Always give a test piece of food to your cat to make sure it is willing to eat it, and also to see if it chews the food or gulps it whole.
  • Cats are more likely to chew their food than are dogs, so cats often will eat the “meatball” and spit out the tablet or capsule. This causes the medication to partially dissolve and become very hard to handle. If the cat bites into the medication, it will leave a bad taste in its mouth, and your cat will be harder to medicate on the second attempt. So, you will have to decide what works best with your cat! Approach with confidence, as though you are going to succeed, and proceed in a businesslike manner. Don’t give the cat time to decide it doesn’t want the medication!
  • There are also flavored “pill pockets” in which medication can be hidden as an alternative to a “meatball.”
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Example of Tilt & Drop Method

Non-Food Methods

When you cannot give the medicine in a “meatball”, there are other tricks! Medications for oral administration may be in pill, capsule, or liquid form.

Tilt Back & Drop:

  • Hold the cat’s head from the top (using your left hand if you are right-handed). The cat’s cheek-bones provide a landmark by which to hold the head firmly without causing the cat any discomfort.
  • Tilt the cat’s head back and the cat will often drop its lower jaw open.
  • Hold the pill or capsule in your right hand between your thumb and index finger. You can place one of the remaining fingers on your right hand on the lower incisors to keep the lower jaw open. Keep your finger over the small incisor teeth–NOT over the sharp fangs or canine teeth.
  • Drop the pill or capsule as far back over the tongue as possible, then immediately close the mouth and blow on the cat’s nose or stroke the cat’s neck, which will encourage him to swallow.

Pilling Devices

There are several styles of pilling devices that can be used to place a pill or capsule over the base of the tongue so that you do not have to place your fingers in the cat’s mouth.

  • Tilt the head back and the cat will often drop their lower jaw open.
  • Insert the pill at the end of the pilling device over the base of the tongue. (If the cat doesn’t open its mouth, use the middle finger of the hand holding the pilling device to open the lower jaw.)
  • Push the plunger on the pilling device with your thumb or index finger to deposit the pill far back in the cat’s mouth.

Liquid Medications

Liquid medications are given in a pouch between the teeth and cheek.

  • The medication is quickly squirted into this pouch
  • The mouth is promptly held closed and the neck stroked or the nose sharply blown on to encourage the cat to swallow.
  • Note: Liquids are more likely to accidentally enter the windpipe compared to pills or capsules. To avoid the cat inhaling the liquid into the windpipe, DO NOT tilt the cat’s head backward.

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Remember to always use caution when giving a cat oral medication to avoid being bitten. A cat’s mouth contains many bacteria and cat bites are often deep punctures. If you are bitten by your cat, clean the wound thoroughly and seek medical attention.

If you find it difficult to give your cat a pill or capsule, speak to your veterinarian about having the medication compounded into a liquid by a pharmacist, or crushed and added to water. Some medications lose their effectiveness when added to water, so always talk to your veterinarian before altering the medication.

Susan Antes, DVM, MPH, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota


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