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Professional Tricks to Give Your Cat Medication

September 22, 2010

How to Give a Cat a Pill, and Other Meds like Liquids

Pill Pockets

Pill Pockets are a brand of treat designed with a hole in the center of a soft, yummy chewie treat.  You place the pill in the center and pinch the treat “shut.”  Greenies Brand makes two flavors for cats: salmon and chicken.  These Pill Pockets are incredibly, overwhelmingly tasty to most cats.

“My cat, Mitsy learned to spit out her thyroid medication.  I almost gave up medicating her until we found pill pockets.  No expense of custom compounding, and she thinks it’s a treat!” says Doc Truli.

Possible down-side to Pill Pockets: if your cat has food allergies (they have a new one for that!), digestive issues, or pancreatitis, your veterinarian can advise you whether pill pockets will be safe for your cat.


Another tip for pilling a cat is apiller.  A piller is a pencil-shaped tool with a soft, hollow rubber tip to place the pill inside, and a plastic plunger to push it out once the piller is positioned after the back 2/3 of your cat’s tongue.  Remember to follow any pill you give your cat with a dropper of water to help her or him swallow and to prevent a pill from sitting in the esophagus and eroding a hole in the wall.  If your fingers are unable to deliver a pill, the piller may improve your chances!

“The piller helps the nurses avoid the teeth!  Some cats will chomp on your fingers if you’re not careful.  Or sometimes, we just can’t get the pill far enough back in the mouth.  A piller is quick and easy,” says the Doc.

Possible down-side to a Piller: be careful not to place the pill directly into the center of the back of the throat.  You could shove that pill right into the trachea!  This is the same danger as you have with normal pilling.  To learn how to hold a cat for meds and how to direct the meds into the mouth, see VirtuaVet’s Cat Holding Advice.

Pencil Trick

Here’s an oldie, but a goodie, especially if you don’t have a Piller.

  • Take a pencil with the eraser tip intact (or a pen, but the wooden pencil is easier and lighter to handle the balance of it.
  • Apply a small bit of butter, honey, or cream cheese to the eraser.
  • Stick the pill to the dollop of gooey food to help hold the pill to the pencil.
  • Hold your cat’s head as shown and insert the pencil from the side.
  • Angle 15 degrees toward the back roof of the mouth and behind the hump of the tongue, about 2/3 of the way back.
  • Push the pill toward the side and back of the throat.
  • Lightly close the cat’s mouth when you are done and massage the neck to encourage swallowing.
  • Do not crack the mouth shut; cats will stick their tongue out just as they swallow.  If you shut the mouth tightly, they have a harder time, and you can’t see the tongue movement to confirm swallowing.  Follow with water!

Veterinary Compounding: Liquid Formulation with Eyedropper, Compounded Flavor Chewies, Transdermal

Compounding means taking the raw pharmaceutical ingredients and building the treatment for an individual patient.  For cats, who often cannot take regular manufactured sizes or forms of medication, compounding is a blessing!  Read more about pros and cons of compounding on VirtuaVet tomorrow!  You must call your veterinarian about writing a compounding prescription.

Crush medicine and mix with tuna juice, give via eyedropper

Many medications for cats can be crushed or powdered, or capsules could be opened at home.  Your veterinarian technically should not do this for you, as it is the practice of compounding without a license to guide the results.  But you may alter medication at home without violating any laws.  Your veterinarian can advise you if you cannot split or crush certain medications.

Powder the med.  Mix with cream cheese, tuna juice from the cat, pureed favorite meat, pate, butter, whatever your cat finds yummy.  If you mix with liquid, use an eyedropper or oral dosing syringe to administer the medication orally.  If you use a creamy, pasty food, then smear the mix on the roof of your cat’s mouth (if your cat is docile and swallowing well), or smear the paste on e front paw.  Cats hate mess and usually lick the paste off!  Do not dollop.  Your cat will shake the paw and you will have a glop of medicine on the wall!


Certain medications have been proven efficacious when administered transmucosally.  The mucosa means the lining of the oral cavity, or mouth.  A painkiller such asbuprenorphine hydrochloride (buprenex brand in the US), will absorb through the mucous membrane lining of the mouth.  It works that way!  It does not work so well when swallowed.  If your veterinarian carries or prescribes buprenorphine, it is a powerful mixed opioid painkiller that helps many cats in pain!

Gelatin Capsules and Melt-in-Your-Mouth Strips are Brand New Delivery Systems Being Tested for Cats

Gelatin Capsules are squishy and easy to stick in a cat’s cheek pouch.  The melt-strips are omega-3 fish oil thin strips, like the breath strips that have become popular in the past few years.  Recently published research shows cats and their people like taking the gelatin capsules and the thin strips.  They haven’t studied flavors, which may make the cats like them even more, or actual medication in the delivery capsule or strip, which may make the cats like them less, but the early research is encouraging!  You may have the option of rolling a little thin strip and tucking it into your cat’s cheek pouch, instead of pushing a pill down the ol’ gullet!

Some compounding pharmacies have come up with custom melt-in-cats-mouth little gel tablets.  Ask your veterinarian for options until you are satisfied you can humanely medicate your cat!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2010 10:09 pm

    All great suggestions. One of my cats (the rotund Disco MoreFurno) is on 1/4 of a tab of Paxil twice a day and I actually use half of a pill pocket and that works fine and they go further, too. Did you know there was a company that makes flavored gelatin capsules? Check it out!

    • September 22, 2010 10:23 pm

      Many compounding pharmacies are getting into the gelatin capsules. I ran across a few when researching this for my patients. Some companies are even trademarking fancy cute names for their melty gels.

      Point to realize: compounding is a special privilege granted under pharmacy law. It is intended for individual patients and not for circumventing normal manufacturing and FDA drug approval processes, although many, many pharmacies skate along the line of just plain-old making alternative medicines, that are not strictly manufactured and inspected.
      Before anybody gets excited about the gelatins or the melty-strips, remember that a product infused with the medicine should be custom prescribed and custom made for your pet. You must check that the pharmacy you order from is VIPPS certified if it is online.

      In my area in South Florida, about 20 pharmacies within an hour’s drive court my business for custom compounded cat meds. Most of them reveal their cheap, non-FDA authorized raw materials when I order ponazuril (an equine drug used for cats and dogs to treat coccidia intestinal infections). Only Bayer Animal Health is licensed to make ponazuril (the raw ingredient) in the US. So, when a pharmacy sells me a compounded ponazuril that is more concentrated than the Bayer one, I know their source is outside the US. They are not legally allowed to do that, because of tracking and drug safety and efficacy concerns. An astute pharmacist explained this to me, “If a drug is really cheap, it’s probably made shoddy.” He wasn’t kidding!


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