Imagine how it feels trying to swallow an enormous pill without any water. Ack! From a cat’s perspective, making them to swallow a medication pill or capsule without a liquid chaser probably feels worse than than what you just imagined, given the relative size of the pill to the cat’s throat. That’s one reason why cats need some help swallowing pills — see our tips below! My vet recently told me about an even more important reason why you should use these tips: it could save your kitten or cat’s life. She also showed me this x-ray that’s posted here, which I’ll discuss in detail below too, but it’s a sad story… so first I’ll tell you how you can prevent a fatal dry pilling situation from happening first!
Getting a cat to take a pill can be like a bad comedy routine if you have a strong willed cat who doesn’t want to be pilled, and you aren’t experienced! So what can you do?
Cat Pilling Tricks
- Liquid medication instead of a pill! Many medications are readily available in a liquid form, you just have to ask. If not already made, some can be compounded into a chicken- or tuna-flavored liquid, or even a gel you rub on their ears. Ask your vet what’s possible!
- Crushed & mixed into canned food. Ask your vet if you can crush the pill or cut it into tiny bits, then mix it into very fragrant canned cat food when they are hungry. Only try this if you have an extra pill, as you cat may refuse to eat it.
- Hide pill in pill pockets. Pill Pockets or Kitty Doh are a soft treat you can mold around the pill so your cat will eat it. If it’s a bigger pill, ask your vet if you can cut the pill up – make sure to ask, because some pills have a coating that shouldn’t be cut. The vet over at CatInfo has this great video showing how to use pill pockets in the middle of giving other treats, so the cat swallows it then other things afterwards. (She also has other great advice!)
Cat Pilling Tips
If you can’t get a liquid, and your cat won’t or can’t eat the pill in food or a pocket, you’ll have to “pill” your cat. Do not dry pill a cat without a chaser. Always follow a pill by immediately offering your cat a chaser: canned food, broth, or water… and making sure they eat or drink at least one full teaspoon. This will help the pill go all the way down. If they are sick or just won’t eat canned food, or even lap up watered-down chicken baby food, you may have to gently syringe 6cc of water into the corner of their mouths. NEVER DRY PILL a cat or kitten. The pill can get stuck and be fatal!
- First, coat pill with butter. Check with your vet, but most pills can safely be coated with butter or hidden in a tiny butter ball, which will help them slide all the way down.
- Second, offer pill like a treat, out of your hand. Every once in a while one of my foster cats surprises me by eating the pill no fuss! If they do, follow with a chaser, and you’re done.
- Third, make a Kitty Burrito: Use a towel to gently but securely wrap your cat up like a burrito in a towel, with just his head showing. It really helps to have an assistant (I owe my friends so many favors!) to hold the kitty burrito on a table or floor, so you have both hands free to open cat’s mouth, insert pill, and hold your cat’s mouth closed till they swallow. See this video for how to get your cat to open his mouth, pill, & swallow. Don’t forget to give the chaser after!
Now for the sad story…
What you’re seeing in the X-ray image above is a tragic result of “dry” pilling a kitten. This was a kitten who was given a standard deworming pill, without any liquid afterwards. The pill got stuck in the kitten’s esophagus before it reached his stomach. The medication caused irritation, which caused the esophagus to swell around the pill, effectively blocking food from getting to the stomach. You can see the swollen bulbous looking mass above the red arrow, and the normal size skinny tube of the esophagus below it.
The poor kitten was starving and trying to eat, would throw up up, and then try again. As the kitten tried and tried to eat, the food and inflammation stretched out the esophagus — it was only two days after the pilling when this xray was taken. By then the esphagus was so badly stretched out, it was too late. The smaller the kitten and the bigger the pill, the more important a pill chaser becomes, but any size pill and any size cat can have this happen. That’s why a liquid or canned food chaser is so important!
So now you have some tips for how to pill or your cat or kitten, and you know about giving a pill safely wrapped in a soft treat, followed by a chaser of liquid or canned food. You just need full body armor, and you’re ready to pill your cat!