Pilling Your Cat

Here are some tips to hopefully ease your frustration!

I work at Stacy’s Compounding Pharmacy in Decatur, Georgia, and I hear owners stressing over trying to get pills or capsules into their cats. I’ve never had to do this myself, I would probably opt for the suspension or transdermal (rub in the ear pinna), but I thought I would see how it’s done.

Let’s quickly talk about capsule sizes. It seems that the majority of cats can swallow a 5 (smallest), 4 (small), or 3 (little bigger) size capsule. We make size 4 for most animals which locked is about 1/2 inch in length and 0.2 inches in diameter.

Some medications can’t be suspended or made transdermal so pilling is the only option. Letting a professional handle this task would be the most efficient but I’ll give tips here to do it yourself.

The best way would be if the pill is hidden in a small amount of tuna, salmon, yogurt, or cream cheese. Make sure the cat is hungry and give it just enough to hide the pill, then the rest of the food when the small portion is gone. You’ll have to watch the critter to see if they spit it out.

They make pill pockets for cats (I didn’t know this) so that is worth a try. They come in flavors like chicken, salmon, tuna/cheese, and catnip. I think I might buy a pack and test them on Cort (my cat) without anything on the inside to see how it goes. He doesn’t really like anything bigger than a Temptations treat so I’m skeptical.

I read about a DIY solution that sounded interesting. You can take some of their favorite temptation treats and crush them. Dampen the capsule slightly and roll in the powder. Give your cat a couple of treats, followed by the fake treat, then follow up with more treats.

You can also dampen and roll the capsule in FortiFlora Feline (it is a specially formulated probiotic solution developed by Purina to help cats suffering from digestive trouble). You can even roll your pill pockets in this for extra flavor if needed.

 Felovite II is also an option to roll your pill or capsule into. It is a paste that is described as a palatable vitamin and mineral supplement for cats and kittens, fortified with taurine in tuna-flavored base cats can’t resist. You can also try hiding it in liverwurst, Cheez Whiz, or even some butter.

You can also crush your pill or open your capsule and put the contents in the little bit of food method above or the pill pocket. This is going to make it taste worse so I have very little faith in this method. You need to check with your Pharmacist to make sure this will be OK. Some medications cannot be crushed.

Now let’s talk about the actual pilling method. Do not be afraid or show that you are nervous. Cats are smart and can pick up on that and be afraid. You might want to wrap your cat in a towel to keep it from scratching you when trying to get away.

Never interrupt your cat from eating, eliminating (litter box use), or grooming to pill your cat. Hold the pill between your thumb and index finger. Use your dominant hand – for example, if you are right-handed, use your right hand.

Gently grasp your cat’s head from above with your other hand, by placing your thumb on one side of the upper jaw and your fingers on the other. Tilt your cat’s head back over its shoulder so that her nose points to the ceiling.

With your pilling hand, use your little finger and ring finger to open your cat’s mouth further by gently putting pressure on the lower lip and front teeth. Quickly place the pill as far back over the tongue as possible. Try to place it on the back one-third of the tongue to stimulate an automatic swallowing reflex.

A pill popper may be your best method and a good way not to get bitten. Load the pill giver with the pill. Open the cat’s mouth. The end of the pill giver is inserted very gently into the back of the cat’s mouth. Press the plunger to knock the tablet out of the grabber. It will fall down your cat’s throat.

Close your cat’s mouth and hold it closed while you return the head to a normal position. Gently rub your cat’s nose or throat, or blow lightly on her nose. This should stimulate swallowing. Usually, the cat will lick its nose with its tongue if it has swallowed the pill.

Giving the cat some tuna juice immediately after pilling is a great idea. Following pilling your cat, give them some positive reinforcement (e.g., treats, brushing, petting, or playing). Be sure it is something that your cat enjoys as this can vary between cats.

I’ve been practicing on Cort by doing the above method but using a Temptation treat and then follow-up with more treats. He doesn’t like his mouth to be forced open but he accepts it since he’s getting treats!

Slideshow of Cat Humor

A little more helpful humor: How To Pill a Cat

Pick up the cat and cradle it in the crook of your left arm as if holding a baby. Position right forefinger and thumb on each side of cat’s mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in the right hand. As the cat opens its mouth, pop pill into mouth. Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.

Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa. Cradle the cat gently in the left arm and repeat the process.

Retrieve cat from bedroom, pick up and throw soggy pill away.

Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in the left arm, holding rear paws tightly with the left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.

Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe. Call spouse in from the garden.

Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cats. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into cat’s mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat’s throat vigorously.

Retrieve cat from curtain rail, get another pill out of foil wrap. Make a note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep up shattered figurines and vases from the hearth and set them on one side for gluing later.

Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with a pencil and blow into drinking straw.

Check the label to make sure the pill is not harmful to humans, drink a glass of water to take the taste away. Apply Band-Aid to spouse’s forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.

Retrieve cat from neighbor’s shed. Get another pill. Place cat in cupboard and close door just enough so that head is showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with an elastic band.

Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Apply a cold compress to the cheek and check records for the date of the last tetanus shot. Throw t-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.

Call fire department to retrieve cat from tree across the road. Apologize to neighbor who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat. Take the last pill from foil wrap.

Tie the cat’s front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of the dining table. Find heavy-duty pruning gloves from the shed. Push pill into mouth followed by a large piece of fillet steak. Hold head vertically and pour 2 pints of water down throat to wash pill down.

Get your spouse to drive you to the emergency room, drop off the cat at the vet clinic on the way. Sit quietly while the doctor stitches fingers and forearms and removes the pill from the right eye. Call furniture shop on way home and order new dining table.

How To Pill a Dog

Wrap it in a piece of bacon and toss it.


The Spruce Pets
Feline Disease Management
VCA Animal Hospitals
CatVills: All About Cats
All Feline Hospital

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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