How to Safely Give Your Cat a Pill

Vet giving cat a pill
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If your sick cat coughs or vomits after taking a pill, there's probably a good reason. Coughing or vomiting after swallowing medication is the result of what's called dry pilling. If you've ever tried to swallow a dry aspirin without liquid, you'll recognize how uncomfortable the experience can be. Swallowing half a pill can even be worse for a cat because of the sharp corners.

Why Dry Pilling Is Dangerous for Cats

Dry pilling can lead to pills getting stuck in your cat's esophagus, which is the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach. While dry pills are likely to get stuck, capsules are even more dangerous for cats. The smooth, gelatinous surface tends to cause capsules to lodge in the esophagus. Several doses of capsules could potentially lodge together in your cat's throat. If the medication isn't swallowed, it could block and irritate your pet's esophagus.

Avoid Pill Stuffing

Pill stuffing is when you force your cat's mouth open and shove a pill to the back of the throat using your fingers or a pet pill popper tool. Not only is it anxiety-producing for both you and your cat, but you may also end up with a nasty bite from a defensive pet that could land you an infection.

How to Give Your Cat a Liquid Chaser

It may seem impossible to force a cat to drink, but it is possible to help it along. Follow pilling with a liquid by using a syringe. Use a small pet syringe filled with either plain water or low-salt broth. Approach your cat with the syringe from the back or side for easier administering of liquids, rather than forcing the syringe into the front of its mouth, advises veterinarian Dr. Lisa Pierson on Keep the cat's head level, rather than tipped back, to facilitate swallowing.

Using Food to Avoid Dangerous Dry Pilling

Fortunately, there are more tricks you can use to prevent problems when administering oral medications to your cat. You may be able to handle medicating your cat using food and treats.

  • Conceal a pill in a pill pocket or another pill-masking product. You can purchase pill pockets or make your own. Pre-made pill pockets are soft, cone-shaped treats with a hole down the center in which you place the pill. Or use a recipe for treats in which you can pop the pill and pinch the top closed before offering it to your cat.
  • Offering a favorite treat encourages future pilling cooperation. It'll also help get the pill into the stomach quickly so it can go to work.
  • Give your cat a small portion of a regular meal of canned food before the pilling. Then, offer your cat a pill, and feed it more after it swallows the medicine. It'll help the pill go down smoothly. 

Compounding a Medicine to Avoid Pills

If all else fails, ask your veterinarian for help in giving your cat its medicine in a different form. Though the cost may be a bit more, the result may be more palatable medicine for your cat.

  • Some pharmacies will compound medications into flavored liquid doses. It's easier to swallow and tastier than pills. 
  • A compounding pharmacy can also formulate certain medications into a gel or ointment that can be rubbed into your cat's inner ear. 

At least one of these solutions should relieve both you and your cat of the anxiety and discomfort found in dry pilling. It will help ensure the medication reaches the intestinal tract to be absorbed rather than becoming stuck in your cat's throat.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.