Cats are notoriously difficult to give medication to, unlike dogs who are generally fooled into accepting a ham-wrapped tablet or pill popped into a chunk of cheese. However, there are things you can do to make the process easier.

Medication for cats can come in either tablet or liquid form, so we’ll be looking at the best ways to administer both of these. Whichever form your pet’s medication takes, the first rule to remember is to keep calm. This is perhaps easier said than done when faced with the task of giving your cat a pill, but if you can avoid getting flustered and proceed with a confident approach, your pet will be less stressed and therefore easier to handle.

Giving a tablet with food

Before you start, make sure you know what you are giving your pet. Ask your vet or read the manufacturer’s instructions to find out how the medication should be given. Some pills can be crushed and added to food while others must be swallowed whole on an empty stomach. Also, is there a particular time of day that you should be giving the medication?

If you’ve checked the details of the medication and found that it can be given with food, this is your best option for success. Firstly, make sure your cat is hungry as this will mean they’re more likely to co-operate. To do this, take their food away for 12 hours before you intend to give the medication.

Some tablets are labelled as ‘palatable’ meaning that cats should find them tasty. There’s a chance that your cat will take a palatable pill from your fingers happily as if it’s a treat, but don’t be surprised if they are still suspicious of it. If the tablet is a different flavour or texture to their usual treats, they may not take it voluntarily.

Your cat will be more likely to take a tablet if it is hidden in something they already know to be delicious, such as soft cheese or the jelly from their usual wet food. You can feed by hand or put in their food bowl, but be vigilant to check they have actually swallowed it and not cheekily spat it out! 

Giving a tablet without food

If the medication requires that you feed a tablet whole and without food, you will need to be a bit more ‘hands on’! Like most jobs, it’s often much easier with another pair of hands, so if you’re able to grab an assistant – especially one that your cat knows well – then do so. This will mean that one person can gentle restrain your cat while the other administers the medication.

How to restrain a cat:

  • Have your cat stand on a non-slippery surface. This could be a mat on the floor or a towel spread on a table. This will help your pet to feel secure.
  • Face your cat away from you and allow them to sit.
  • Hold their front legs above the elbows and press gently against the sides of your cat. This will prevent your cat from running off and keep you safe from getting clawed!
  • If you have a particularly wriggly cat or are attempting the operation on your own, you might find it easier to wrap your cat in a towel.

Once you have your cat gently restrained, you can give them their medication. Make sure you have everything you need in advance as you don’t want to get your cat into the perfect position and realise you’ve left a necessary bit of kit in another room. Try to get the job done as quickly as possible to minimise any upset to your pet. 

  • Hold the tablet between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Place your hand on the top of your cat’s head, coming in from the side rather than directly in front, which could be interpreted as a threatening action.
  • The thumb and forefinger of the hand on the cat’s head should be pointing downwards, either side of the jaw.
  • Gently tilt the cat’s head upwards and with the middle finger of the pill-holding hand, pull the lower jaw down to open the mouth.
  • Quickly drop the tablet into your cat’s mouth as far back on the tongue as you can. The further back it goes, the harder it is for your cat to spit it out.
  • Gently hold your cat’s mouth closed while their head is still tilted back until they swallow. Stroking their throat can help speed this up.

Giving liquid medication

Your cat might be given a liquid medication that will need to be administered using a syringe in the mouth. Most forms of liquid medicine need to be kept refrigerated until use, but cats are less likely to take it if it’s cold. You can warm it up by holding the syringe in your hands for a little while or standing it in a cup of warm water for a few minutes. Ensure the medicine is only warmed slightly to bring it to room temperature, rather than heating it. 

If the liquid medication is able to be mixed with food, you could try adding it to their bowl at dinner time. Only use a tiny bit of food so they will eat it all and once that is gone you can give them the rest of their meal. 

As with giving tablets, you should gently restrain your cat before administering liquid medication by syringe and it is good idea if you can find someone to help you.

  • While your cat is being gently restrained, allow them to lick the tip of the syringe.
  • Insert the syringe carefully at the side of your cat’s mouth. This will encourage them to open up so you can aim the stream of medicine towards to back of their tongue.
  • Do not squirt the liquid directly down your cat’s throat as this will cause them to gag.
  • Once the medicine is in, gently hold their mouth closed until they swallow it. You can stroke their throat lightly to encourage this.
  • Do not worry if some of it spills out, this is quite common.

The process of giving your pet medication will become easier with practise but if you are continuing to find it a struggle, or your cat is becoming distressed, ask your vet for help.