Even the friendliest, most easygoing cat can put up a fight when it’s time to take a pill. But it’s your job to make sure she takes the medicine she needs. The good news: You can employ a few tricks—and offer some treats—to get the job done. Read on for a step-by-step guide.

The Basics

If you know your cat doesn’t like swallowing pills, you can ask your veterinarian if the medicine can be compounded, or changed into a powder or liquid to make it easier to administer. But that’s not always possible. If the medicine must be given in pill or capsule form, you may need to experiment with different methods before finding one that works for you and your pet.

Follow Recommendations

When your veterinarian prescribes a medication, it’s important that you use only that medication, and that you treat your cat for the full length of time prescribed, even if your pet seems to have overcome the health problem. If you have any questions about how to administer the medicine, you can ask your veterinarian to demonstrate how to do it.

Specific Techniques

The easiest way to get your cat to take a pill or capsule is to hide it in a treat or in her food. But cats are smart, and if they don’t like the taste or texture of the medicine, many will eat the treat or food and leave the pill behind. Another problem with this method: If you hide the pill in food, it may be hard to tell whether your cat has taken the pill on time—or at all—if she grazes throughout the day. To work around this, you can buy cat treats designed to hide pills. But before you give your cat medicine with her food, ask your veterinarian if it’s OK, since some medicines can’t be given with treats or food. You should also find out if there are any restrictions on what your cat can eat while taking the medicine.

If you want to give your cat the pill without hiding it in food, try the following technique, which many people find to be more reliable:

  • Put one hand on top of your cat’s head, holding firmly—but not too tightly—so that the tips of your thumb and middle finger touch the corners of the mouth.
  • Tilt the head back. Your cat may open her mouth automatically at this point.
  • Hold the pill between the first finger and thumb of your other hand. Use the tip of the middle finger of this hand to gently push down on your cat’s lower jaw. Be careful to place your finger on the short teeth at the very front of the mouth, not on the longer “canine” teeth at the corners.
  • Drop or quickly place the pill as far back in your cat’s throat as you can. Don’t push the pill down.
  • Hold your cat’s mouth closed and stroke her throat or blow on her nose to encourage swallowing.
  • Give your cat a reward, such as a veterinarian-approved treat, for being a good patient.
When using this technique, be aware of your cat’s mood. If he or she gets agitated and seems likely to bite, stop and try again later or contact your veterinarian.

Restraining Your Cat

It’s often a good idea to have another person keep your cat still while you administer the medicine. But you can do it alone if there’s no one to assist you.

  • To start, place your cat in your lap (preferably on a towel, to reduce the risk of being scratched). Put one arm — the one you will use to hold the head—on top of your pet’s body, and use your upper arm and elbow to help keep your pet still, without using excessive force.
  • If your cat won’t stay in your lap, try the same method while seated on the floor. Your cat may be more comfortable sitting upright.
  • If your cat struggles, talk to her calmly, and stop what you’re doing if she becomes extremely agitated. Contact your veterinarian if you have questions or difficulty administering any medication.

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.