Pilling your cat at home can be a daunting task if you have never done it before, and even in the hands of seasoned professionals! If you are lucky, treatment might be a short course of 7-10 days, but sometimes, you may need to medicate your cat for a longer time. The most important thing to remember is to always handle your cat in a calm and relaxing manner. Having a second set of hands at home is ideal but sometimes, that is not the case.
How to give a cat a pill
If you have a surface such as a table to work on, place your cat there and surround it with your body. I tuck them in under me and hold them close while petting and speaking calmly to them. Sometimes, I find sitting on my knees on the floor, while tucking them into my knees works better as a restraining method. As well, you can “kitty burrito” them with a towel that tucks their legs in and prevents them from scrambling away. Ideally, you want to remain calm throughout the entire process. It might take several minutes to get them used to be restrained but stick with it and don’t get upset if it takes a few attempts.
I lay my right arm from elbow to hand, along the cat’s spine. This allows you to place gentle pressure on their body, therefore, keeping them from trying to roll or flop over.
Safe cat handling involves controlling the head so they can’t bite you, and controlling the feet so they cannot scratch you.
I then gently grasp them below the eyes (on the cheekbones) with my thumb and middle finger. Now, I am controlling the face. Gently bend your wrist so that the head turns up towards the ceiling. As you do, maintain pressure on their body with the rest of your arm. As the cat’s head lifts to the ceiling, their bottom jaw will open slightly. With your free hand place very gentle pressure on the lower jaw, pushing down. Do not put your fingers in the mouth, you will get bitten! Then drop the pill down the center of the mouth. Hold the mouth closed for a few seconds. A quick lick or sticking out the tongue indicates the pill has been swallowed. You can also administer some water from a syringe into the cat’s mouth afterwards to ensure it has swallowed and that the pill has gone down.
If by chance the pill gets spit back out, give your cat a few minutes to relax and try again. Pill pockets are also a helpful trick. I usually will try to offer a small piece of pill pocket as a treat first, and then sneak the 2nd one in with the pill inside, and quickly offer a third piece. This works great on deworming kittens! If your cat won’t eat pill pockets on their own, I often will wrap the pill in the pill pocket and pill it manually (as explained above). This way the cat is least likely to actually taste the pill and the pill pocket itself will slide easier down the throat.
Other options might be to see if the medication comes in liquid form. There are also multiple videos on YouTube that you can watch to make yourself comfortable before attempting. If you are really struggling, ask a veterinary technician to show you in person. They are a wonderful source of help and information!
Written by Effie Bruce, RVT