How to Pill a Cat (Without Bleeding)

You’re standing at the vet and they tell you that your cats need to go on medicine.  Ok, no big deal, I’ll just mix it in their food.  Then they tell you the medicine only comes in pill form.  Big deal, you start falling to the floor, sobbing and crying “I’m going to die!”.    For anyone who’s ever had to pill a cat,  this is probably a situation you can relate to.   It’s very rare that a cat will take a pill willingly with a smile,  so sometimes you have to figure out Plan B… and then Plan C, Plan D, Plan E when everything else fails.

Many of you guys expressed how hard pilling was for you in the Bofinkles post so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to talk about techniques I use for all our critters.   We have 4 cats and every single one of them needs to be pilled a different way. I’m not lying.    So with that, I have done so much research,  so many trials, so much crying to find what works for each of them.   Down below I’m going to discuss all 4 ways we use in hopes that one of them will relate to your cat and help you.

First, some news.   For some of you that follow me on Instagam you might have seen there have been a few trips to the Vet in the last few weeks. All these trips started when Goblin arrived. Right away we noticed Goblin was a bit itchy to the point of where he was scratching himself causing cuts.  Because Brother had ringworm year ago when we brought him home, we had a feeling Goblin did too, but upon the first Vet visit they didn’t recommend this at all so I didn’t want to step on anyones toes.  So then Bofinkles got sick.  And then Goblin started to lose a little hair around his ears and continued to itch.  Then I got ringworm on my leg (I call it a love mark).  Then I took Goblin back to the vet and I said to them “I think it’s Ringworm!”.  They did a black light test but didn’t see anything but I knew the scabs on his ear were totally ringworm as they were the exact same scabs that Brother had.  So  then they took a skin culture and we had to wait 2 weeks.  Well not even 1 week in the vet called and confirmed, Goblin had ringworm. 

When we had Brother we quarantined him for 45 days in our bedroom.  It was quite a ordeal because we had to protect Essy who was a senior and not let Xanadu into the room who is the most curious cat in the world.  Instead of doing the whole quarantine situation the vet recommended that we just give all the cats 1 month of ringworm medicine to both treat Goblin while making sure the other cats don’t get it.  This will allow them to all live together, continue their wrestling and just be normal… while receiving 1 pill a day.

Ringworm is a bit of a bummer in terms of you have to work to defeat it, but it’s something that’s totally treatable so if your cat ever gets it, don’t worry.  For example, Goblin has ringworm but you would not tell in terms of eating or personality. He eats like a hungry man and plays like a crazy man.   And and he’s a giant cuddle bug.. I’m in love!
Goblin Floor

Ringworm spores are common at shelters so don’t freak out if you bring home a cat and you find out weeks later it has ringworm. This  happened to us with both Goblin and Brother, but 1-2 months of treatment is worth the world in terms of making your cat healthy, loving it and growing old with it.  

So with 4 cats that now needed to take their daily Fluconazole pill, let’s get to pilling them!

First, take a deep breath. It’s totally going to be ok.  I know at first it might suck and you might get defeated, but you’ll figure it out.  Even when your cat scratches you, bites you, makes a meow like it is dying (its not) just know you have to work hard to get that pill into your cat, it’s important, so don’t give up.  Once you figure out what technique works for your cat then you’ll be smooth sailing (ok, maybe not smooth, but you’ll be calmer.. and your cat too).

The 4 ways that we have to do to pill our cats:
Goblin, hiding in soft food.  EASY.
Bofinkles, hiding in a treat with pill pocket.  EASY.
Brother, turning pill into powder and rubbing on fur.  MEDIUM, BUT PERFECT FOR THE MOST DIFFICULT CAT.
Xanadu, inserting pill into mouth by hand. MEDIUM-DIFFICULT.

So let’s start with the easy ways.  These are both sneaky and if your cat can fall for them I’m so happy for you!

#1:  HIDING PILL IN SOFT FOOD
If a cat sees or smells a pill, it might be stubborn to eat the food, even when it’s laid on top of yummy soft food.   But if a cat really loves wet food and you can hide it in some strong smelling wet food then you’re likely to succeed.
So just throw your pill (or pills) whole in some soft food, then put a little bit of the food on top to hide it.
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Your cat will eat it right up and be licking it’s lips for minutes after.  And even better, it will think that you are really nice by giving it soft food which will result in kisses.
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 #2 HIDING PILL IN PILL POCKET WITH TREATS
Many people have had success with Pill Pockets but our cats think they are gross.  Have you ever smelled a Pill Pocket? It smells pretty bad and nothing like food, so one sniff of it and your cat might be like “No thanks”.   Miss FiFi Bofinkles loves treats, she will ravish you for treats, she will knock other cats out of the way for treats, so going the pill pocket/treat route totally works for her.  And even after she eats the horrible tasting pill pocket, she still looks at me and says “Can I have another treat mom?”
So what you need: Feline Pill Pockets, delicious treats (like Friskies) and your pill.
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First step, put it in the pill pocket.  It doesn’t look appetizing, does it?
Second step, because the pill pocket is soft and sticky, push treats into the top of it.   Bofinkles usually picks one treat up which results in the entire pocket being lifted up, so she just eats one giant treat and loves every minute of it.
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If your cat loves treats, this might be the best way for you.  FiFi Bofinkles approves after eating her big “boat treat” (What I named it).
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#3 TURN PILL INTO POWDER AND RUB INTO FUR
Let’s first talk Brother, he’s a big Maine coon, with giant claws and abs of steel.  He’s made multiple vets bleed, thrown their needles across the room, to the point of noone can clip his claws.   With all that aside, Brother Bear is a giant sweetheart, a gentle giant, but he just doesn’t like to be forced to do things and he hates the vet.  Really hates it.  When he was a baby we had to wrap him up in the blanket method to get him to take a pill, but he was really pissed off and we would get scratched and bitten so bad.  It’s really amazing how strong a cat can be when it’s angry. So now years later and  many workout sessions to get stronger, we knew the blanket method was just not going to work.  During the first night I thought Matthew could hold him and I could open his mouth with my hands and insert the pill straight into his mouth.   Hahahaha, I was so wrong.  While trying to get the pill into his mouth he bit down on my thumb so hard, bruising the entire nail making my thumb unusable for days. This is how it looks a week later,  what a love bite, right?
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So enter the powder + rubbing on fur method.  This is hands down the messiest method, but for us it’s the only way we can pill Brother.  By crushing your pills up into powder (make sure your vet says this is ok) then you have a easier base to work with.    Even when we crush his pills up and put it into soft food, he can smell it and will turn away, so you have to be really sneaky with this trick.     
First step, crush up a pill with the bottom of a spoon. I know this picture looks like we live in a drug den, but Officer I swear this is for my cat!
Ways to Pill A Cat

Step 2, dip your finger in some Vaseline, then rub into the pill powder.  Depending on how many pills you are giving, or the size, you might have to do this a few times. I also tried dipping my finger in cat food gravy and butter, but the Vaseline sticks better.   Vaseline is often used for hairballs, so it’s safe to use for your cats, but only use a small amount for getting the powder to stick. 
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Then find your cat, you want it to be standing up preferably.   With your dipped finger, wipe the sticky mixture onto their leg/paw.  Often I will have to do this a few times as once you do the first smear your cat will know what’s up. Almost immediately your cat will be disgusted by the mess on it’s leg and will clean it up.  If you have more powder to swipe on then smear it on the opposite leg while they are cleaning their other one.   You’ll receive some glares but your cat will be sure to clean the other mess up right away too.  
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And just like that, your difficult cat will take it’s medicine.  Once it’s done cleaning, there will be no real mess left on it.
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#4 INSERTING PILL BY HAND INTO MOUTH
For this method, you need your cat to trust you.  Also after the first time you surprise your cat with this, every time you pick up your cat to do this again it will know what’s up, so  expect a chase once the pills come out.  Xanadu is our Siamese and she’s paranoid about the world and incredibly cautious, so we have to do this manually by hand.  I’ve given Xanadu liquid medicines by hand so I have it down pretty solid on how to open her mouth and get it done. In fact, I do this to Xanadu by myself, so there’s a lot of trust built up between us… but she still hates it every single time.
Step 1, get your pill.  You can put the pill in your hand but I find using a pill gun so much easier as it’s skinny to fit into your cats mouth and then shoot it into the back of the throat.  This means no fiddling around with the pill in the front of the cat’s mouth.   I bought this at my local pet store for $4 and it’s worth millions in tears.
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Step 2.  Get your cat and hold it tight between your legs.  I do this by myself, so while holding her between my thighs, I reach around with one hand to open the mouth while holding the pill gun with the other.  
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Then I open her mouth wide, keeping my finger there to make sure it stays open.  With the pill gun, I stick it into her mouth and shoot the pill into the back of her throat.
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Immediately after the pill is shot in, I drop the gun onto the floor and close her mouth.   While holding her head up (to swallow), I blow on her nose softly while rubbing her throat with  my fingers.  Both the blowing and the rubbing will cause your cat to swallow, causing the pill to go down with it.  
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You can see your cat swallow by it’s neck, so after 2 swallows I release her knowing the pill went down and we’re safe.
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Then I reward her in kisses, hugs and treats and tell her we’ll never do that again (I lie, I’m a horrible Mother I know).

So that’s how we pill our 4 cats! I hope this helps you some in the future!

Do you have any pilling stories with your pets?

12 Comments

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  • I’ll have to keep the vaseline in mind for peter! He has a pretty similar temperment to Brother but he’s (luckily) loved the taste of the only pill I’ve ever had to give him (which oddly enough, smelled like Vaseline). Chester is super trusting and lets you do pretty much anything to him. He had to take a painkiller over the weekend that’s absorbed through the gums so I had the pleasure of holding up his lip and rubbing it on lol

  • My older dog needs a pill twice a day and crushing it with wet food and mixing it into her dried food has worked well! When I used to give it to her coated in peanut butter, she would like the PB off and spit out the pill!

  • Yay! Loved this post! Got a chuckle at ” I know this picture looks like we live in a drug den, but Officer I swear this is for my cat!” Your #3 solution is genius!! I will try that next time (hopefully not for a long time!) we have a pill to give.

  • Written by a true animal lover, Pamela! I just loved reading this post. You are one fabulous cat Mama. We’ve had our cats for 8 years and have never had to pill them, only supplement. This will come in handy should the time come. Thanks for helping so many “pet parents” and I hope your thumb heals fast! xo

  • 1. 1.2. I have experience with pilling because my previous cat had IBD, then went into congestive heart failure from prednisolone. She was on a score of medications morning and evening. I bought clear gel caps and combine what I could, but some of them were too big. She wasn’t keen on treats, and her appetite was bad without medications, so she’d not eat pill pockets. I got very handy in using my fingers, I found pill gun cumbersome. I preferred to put her on the table, held her head from the top with one hand lifting it slightly while opening her mouth with my middle finger of the other hand, quickly pushing the pill deep enough with the first two fingers. Speed is the key here. There are videos on you tube showing this technique. BUT – this was a 13, then 14 year old sick cat who by then lost many of her teeth. I am not sure how it’d work with my current two kittens.
    2. Regarding Fluconazole. I have my two 10-month old kittens on it now for ringworm. I have a compounding pharmacy compound it into the tuna-flavored liquid, and the kittens love it; they think it’s a treat. They actually run up to me the moment I open the drawer where the medication is. I give them a couple of treats afterwards as well. There is a warning about itraconazole compounded from bulk chemical not being effective, but there is no such issue with fluconazole. It is still effective, it doesn’t cost much either especially as the compounding pharmacy puts the prescription for both kittens in one bottle, and it makes giving the medication a snap. I think the cats will miss it…

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