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How to Give Your Cat Oral Medication

how to give cat oral medicine

It’s never easy when your fur baby is sick and needs medication. This can often be stressful for both you and your cat. Cats are known to be finicky even when they’re healthy but even more so when they’re sick. Read about our tips and suggestions in this article to help you successfully give your cat medication and get them feeling better.

Always follow your vet’s instructions regarding how to give medicine to your cat. Some medications must be given on an empty stomach or cannot be given with food. While some cats will easily take their medication when hidden in a tasty treat, others will often eat around the tablet or capsule or just plain refuse to eat the treat containing the medicine. Cats use their keen sense of smell to stimulate their appetite and this may be lessened when they’re sick, making it difficult to offer treats with medication hidden inside.

Ask your veterinarian or veterinary technician to demonstrate how to safely give your cat medication while you’re at the hospital with your cat. You can even practice in the exam room using small treats similar in size to the medication or syringe filled with water for liquid medications.

Prepare to Give Your Cat’s Medication

Read and follow the instructions on the medication’s label:

  • How often must the medication be given?
  • Does the medication need to be given with food or on an empty stomach?
  • Can this medication be given with other medications or supplements or do they need to be spaced out?
  • If a liquid, does the medication need to be shaken?
  • If kept refrigerated take it out and warm to room temperature in a warm water bath (never microwave medication).

Have the medication, canned food, pill pockets, or treats easily within your reach.

Calmly bring your cat into a quiet room. Place your cat onto your lap or a table with a familiar towel or blanket sprayed with Feliway (a calming pheromone product you can find at your vet’s office). Assure your cat with your calm soothing voice and gentle petting (if he/she is used to that). Cats feel more secure and safe when wrapped in a blanket or towel with only their head out. It can help to have someone hold your wrapped cat while you give the medication.

If you notice your cat becoming anxious, stressed, or angry, stop and give them a break, offer tasty treats, or even allow them some time to become calm before trying again.

How to Give Your Cat Pill or Capsule Medication

1. Using Food or Edible Pill Pockets

Start with a small “meatball” of canned cat food or tasty pill pockets (often found at your vet’s office or local pet store). Offer this to your cat without any medication to see if he/she is willing to eat it. If so, place the medication into the center of the “meatball” or pill pocket and set it close to your cat. Be aware that if your cat bites into the medication it can leave a bad taste in their mouth making it harder to medicate them and causing the tablet or capsule to partially dissolve.

If your cat won’t eat the “meatball” or pill pocket with the medication, you’ll have to try a different method to get it into their mouth without getting bitten or scratched. Note that a cat’s mouth contains lots of bacteria and cat bites can be very painful and become infected. If you get bitten by your cat, clean the bite wounds using antibacterial soap and seek medical attention right away.

You may be tempted to give your cat medication in food like cheese or tuna; however, this may cause stomach upset so be sure to ask your vet before offering anything other than their regular food.

Unless recommended by your vet, do not crush or grind pills, as the medication can be bitter or cause oral irritation or other problems, making it even more difficult to medicate your cat.

2. Giving Pills or Capsules Directly into the Mouth Without Food

Medications to be given orally (by mouth) come in the form of pills, capsules, or liquids. Have the medication ready by holding the pill or capsule in your dominant hand between your thumb and index finger. You can also practice using a small piece of kibble that is about the same size as the pill or capsule.

Your cat should be sitting with their head facing towards the right if your dominant hand is your right hand and facing left if your dominant hand is your left hand

Begin by gently holding your cat’s head from the top using your non-dominant hand. You will gently hold your cat’s cheekbones on either side of their head.

Slowly tilt their head up and back which will allow your cat to open their mouth or lower jaw. Place one of the remaining fingers on the hand containing the pill or capsule, on the lower incisor teeth (the small teeth between the long sharp fangs or canine teeth) to keep the lower jaw open. Keep that finger over the small incisor teeth and NOT over the sharp fangs. Drop the pill or capsule as far back over the tongue as possible, immediately close their mouth and gently blow on your cat’s nose to encourage them to swallow.

If your cat does not open their mouth when you tilt their head back, use your middle finger (of the same hand holding the pill or capsule) to gently pry open their mouth, drop the pill or capsule as far back over the tongue as possible, close their mouth and gently blow on their nose to get them to swallow. You can also gently pet or rub your cat’s throat/neck to encourage them to swallow.

Cats will often drool or salivate excessively as many medications have a bitter taste. If your cat experiences this talk to your vet about your concerns.

3. Using a Pilling Device or Pill Popper to Give Medication

Using a pill popper to give your cat pills or capsules protects you by keeping your fingers out of their mouth. Have your veterinarian or veterinary technician show you the safe way to use a pill popper as there is a risk of hurting your cat’s throat if used incorrectly.

How to Give Your Cat Liquid Medication

1. Using Food to Give Liquid Medication

The easiest way to give liquid medication is to mix it in with your cat’s canned food. Mix a small amount of their normal portion of canned food with their liquid medicine and hand-feed it to them to ensure they get the entire dose. Cats can often be picky and will not eat the food with the medication. This means you will have to give the medication directly into their mouth.

2. Giving Liquid Medications Directly into the Mouth Without Using Food

While holding the syringe or dropper containing the medication with your dominant hand, offer it to your cat - some cats will lick from the tip of the syringe. If so, you can slowly push the plunger or squeeze the dropper as your cat licks and swallows the medication.

If your cat won’t lick the liquid you can gently hold your cat’s head by their cheekbones with your non-dominant hand and gently place the tip of the syringe or dropper in the area between the cheek and the teeth inside the mouth. Gently squirt the medicine in and blow on your cat’s nose to get them to swallow. Do not tilt your cat’s head back when giving liquid medications as this increases the risk of inhaling the medicine into the windpipe and lungs.

Unfortunately, many medications have a bitter taste, and cats will often spit out some of the liquid and drool or salivate excessively. Do not give additional medication unless you’re sure they didn’t swallow any of the liquid. The small amount of medication they spit out is accounted for in the dosage. If your cat experiences this talk to your vet about your concerns.

Rinse the syringe or dropper after each dose and allow it to air dry. Place medication in the refrigerator if indicated on the label.

After Giving Your Cat Medication

Be sure to praise your cat. Give special treats or canned food for a more positive experience and hopefully make it easier to give the medication next time.

Read more:

Giving Your Pet Eye Medication: Step-by-Step Instructions

How to Apply “Spot On” Medication to Your Dog or Cat

Have more questions about medicating your cat?

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