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Published: Mar 01, 2024 9 min read

Giving a cat a pill can be challenging, but there are a few methods to try, including hiding it in food or giving it by hand. This guide has more information about how to safely give your cat a pill.

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4 Ways to give a cat a pill

Pills may be essential to your cat’s health despite their reluctance to take them. Since many cats don’t like taking medications, you may have to try a few different ways.

It’s important to ensure cat medicine is taken according to the instructions. Once you know the details, here are four methods to try.

1. Give your cat a pill with food

You can disguise a pill in food so your cat takes it without realizing it’s a pill. Before doing this, make sure the medication is safe to give with food.

The following methods may work for your cat:

  • Use a pill pocket.
  • Put the pill in their breakfast or dinner (dry or wet food).
  • Cover the pill in gravy or another cat treat.

2. Give the pill by hand

If your cat is cooperative, you may be able to place the pill in their mouth by hand. Use the following steps:

  • Ensure your cat is calm.
  • Take the pill in one hand (usually your non-dominant hand) and hold it between your index finger and thumb.
  • With your other hand, gently open your cat’s mouth. First, slightly tilt your cat’s head up. Place your thumb and index finger on either side of the back of their lower jaw. Gently push your fingers to get your cat to open their mouth.
  • Put the pill in your cat’s mouth as far back as possible.
  • Rub your cat’s throat or blow on their nose to get them to swallow the pill.

You can also experiment with different ways to position your cat when giving them their pills. For example, you may find it easier for your cat to be on the floor, in your lap or on a heightened surface (like a table).

3. Use a pill popper or pet piller device

You can purchase a pet piller device — also called a pill popper, pill pusher or pill gun — to give your cat their pills. This device looks like a syringe but has a soft rubber tip where you can place the pill. The other end has a plunger that pushes the pill to the back of your cat’s throat.

Here are the steps to using a pet piller:

  • Make sure your cat is calm.
  • Place the pill in the rubber tip of the device. Hold the device in one hand.
  • Gently open your cat's mouth with your other hand.
  • Place the pet piller in your cat’s mouth.
  • Press the plunger with your thumb to release the pill into your cat’s mouth.
  • Rub your cat’s throat or blow on their nose to get them to swallow the pill.

4. Crush the pill if it’s safe to do so

Some — not all — pills can be crushed and mixed in food. Before crushing your cat’s pill, read the label carefully and ask your veterinarian. If you go this route, use a pill crusher device to make the tablet into a powder.

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Safety tips for giving a cat a pill

Keep these safety tips in mind when pilling a cat:

  • Read the medication’s administration instructions: Before starting, check the prescription instructions to see when and how often your cat should take the medication.
  • Wrap your cat in a towel or blanket: You can wrap a towel or blanket around your cat’s body and legs (like a burrito) to help protect yourself from being scratched.
  • Ask another person for help: If your cat won’t sit still, ask another person to help hold your cat securely so you can safely administer the medication without getting scratched or bitten.
  • Watch your cat’s body language: Your cat’s body language can tell you about their mood. Watch for signs of irritation, fright and anger.
  • Avoid stressing your cat out too much: If you notice your cat is very stressed and irritated, take a break to let your cat calm down. Try giving your cat the pill again once they have settled. Always remember to be gentle with your cat and reward them with affection.
  • Contact your cat’s veterinarian if you cannot give the medication safely: If you can’t get your cat to take the pill, contact your veterinarian for suggestions. Aside from pill form, there may be other forms of the medication your cat can take, such as liquid medication or injections.
  • If you get bitten by your cat, clean the wound and contact your doctor: All cats’ teeth have bacteria that can cause infection. It may be best to call your doctor or visit urgent care to clean your wound and give you antibiotics.

What is the easiest way to give a cat a pill?

The easiest way to give your cat a pill is usually with food, so long as the medication can be taken this way. You can put the pill in a treat, kibble or canned food. You may also be able to crush the pill and mix it into their food, depending on the type of pill.

VCA Animal Hospitals recommends lubricating capsules with gravy or tuna juice from canned cat food. This will help avoid the pill getting stuck in your cat's mouth and make it easier to swallow.

However, the best way to give your cat a pill depends on your cat’s preferences and demeanor. Some cats will be very cooperative and take their medication, while others may be picky and unruly, forcing you to try other methods.

What if my cat spits the pill out?

It’s common for cats to spit their pill out once they notice it’s in their mouth, especially if the pill has a bad taste. Some may even hide the pill in their mouth to spit it out when you’re not looking.

If your cat spits their pill out, you may need to give them their pills by hand or with a pill popper instead of hiding them in their food.

You can use methods to try to get your cat to swallow. Once the pill is in your cat’s mouth, gently hold their mouth closed and rub your hand on the outside of their neck. If that doesn’t work, you can gently blow on your cat’s nose.

Always use positive reinforcement with your cat by rewarding them with a treat, playtime, or affection. Praising good behavior can help your cat be more willing to take their pills next time.

Does pet insurance cover medication?

If your cat requires pills or other medication, you may be wondering if pet insurance covers the cost. Typically, the best pet insurance covers your cat’s prescription medication. You may pay for the cost out of pocket and submit a claim for reimbursement.

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How to give a cat a pill FAQs

Can I crush a pill for my cat?

Some pills can be crushed and mixed in your cat’s food. Before crushing the pill, read the prescription label carefully to see if this is an option. You can also ask your cat’s vet for suggestions on the best way to administer the medication.

What is the best technique for giving a pill to a cat who hates being handled?

Many cats aren’t fond of being handled. If this sounds like your cat, the easiest way to give them a pill is by mixing it with its food. You can put it in a treat or their regular meal.

If that doesn’t work for your cat, you can try to wrap them in a towel or blanket, leaving only their head exposed. This will help prevent them from scratching you if they are upset about being held.

Summary of Money’s guide on how to give a cat a pill

Giving a cat a pill is not always easy for cat owners. While some felines take their medication easily with food, others may be uncooperative.

You can try the following four methods to pill your cat:

  1. Give your cat a pill with food
  2. Give the pill by hand
  3. Use a pill popper
  4. Crush the pill if it’s safe to do so

If you have trouble, contact your veterinarian. They may offer suggestions or an alternative form of the cat medication if available, such as liquid medicine or injection.