There is a time in every person and cat relationship when the human has to give his or her cat some medication. It could be preventive medication or something to make a cat more comfortable in her elder years and prolong her life, such as hyperthyroid medication.
Thankfully, in most circumstances, cats will consume their medication if it’s put in their food. However, there are plenty of times when medicating a cat is not so easy. So what are you to do when your beloved cat refuses to cooperate but requires medication to live a healthy life? There are a number of options.
Hiding cat pills in treats
As mentioned above, the easiest and first choice is to hide the medication in some food. You can hide it in canned food that’s part of a cat's regular meals, you can use a commercial product such as Pill Pockets to contain the pills, or you can create a special meatball to hide the pill and give it as a special treat. If you decide to try meatball treats, be choosy about what you put in the meatball. For instance, if your cat has food allergies, the meatball should not contain ingredients that the animal is allergic to. The meatball should be made up of food from the animal’s existing diet (which, let’s face it, is not always enticing).
Also, avoid incorporating foods that are toxic to animals, such as chocolate, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, onions or garlic, to name a few. Many other foods can be toxic to cats, so do a Google search or ask your veterinarian if you’re unsure about using a particular food as a treat.
In addition, some foods are not good for certain disease conditions. For example, salty foods should not be used to give a cat his heart medications. Fatty foods should not be given to an animal with pancreatitis. And really hard foods should not be given to a cat with dental disease. Again, please check with your veterinarian before using a food as a treat vehicle.
Common foods that work well for hiding medications include peanut butter, cheese, chicken or meat-flavored baby food. As many of you know, though, some crafty cats manage somehow to eat the treat and spit out the medications. If the medication can be crushed up, try doing that and then hiding it in mushy food (e.g., baby food). Because some pills can’t be crushed, however, consult your veterinarian before doing so.
Challenges of medicating a cat if you have more than one pet
If you have multiple pets, try giving the pills as a special treat to the cat who needs medication. In other words, don’t give the medication around mealtime, but at a different time, so the cat feels singled out for special treats and therefore is more likely to eat the pill hidden in the treat. This strategy works well when giving short-term meds because, over time, the animal often gets wise to what is going on.
Conversely, you can give treats to all the animals and just have the one treat “doctored” with the medication for the appropriate animal. If there is competition for treats, the medicated cat will feel like he needs to hurry up and eat his treat before someone else gets it. You’ll need to proceed with caution, though, to make sure this strategy does not result in fights and also to ensure that the other animals do not accidentally get the medicated treat. It works best if the cat needing the medication tends to be the treat-stealing one and not the one who lets his treats get stolen.
Pilling a cat using a pill gun
Another option is to try and force the pill down an animal’s throat. This can be done with your fingers if the animal is amenable to that, but many are not. For cats, a pill gun is a handy device you can use to prevent yourself from getting bitten. This device shoots the pill into the back of the animal’s mouth and forces him to swallow it. Cats do not like this and I don’t recommend it for long-term medicating, but it works well in the short run.
If you’re afraid of being bitten when trying this method, get some training from your veterinarian or veterinary technician on proper pill-gun technique. There are also many tutorials online that give great demonstrations on how to pill a cat. This method can work very well, but it can also result in the animal running away and hiding for several days. It is best not to use this forceful method on shy and nervous animals.
Topical, liquid or other feline medication formulas
If the above ideas don’t work, it might be worth trying to get the medication made into a different formula. Many pills may also come in, or can be made into, a liquid form, which can be squirted into an animal’s mouth. Be prepared, though: Your cat might spit it out and make a huge mess.
Some medications can be made into a transdermal form, which means that it absorbs through the skin. This form can work very well for some medications, but it needs to be specially made so may cost a little more. It is important to remember to apply these meds wearing gloves because they can absorb through human skin as well. Similarly, some medications may already come in a form that is applied on the skin. These can be very handy for pill-avoiding animals, but they must be applied appropriately, so follow instructions carefully.
If the above suggestions do not work, please consult with your veterinarian on other options for your cat. Perhaps there is a different medication you can try, a surgery or injections that can be done to avoid medicating, or other solutions. Medicating a beloved cat can be a trying experience for both you and your cat. However, it can be a matter of life and death, and the short-term pain is most often worth the long-term gains.
Note: This resource was adapted from the "How to Give a Dog a Pill" resource.