How to Give Medications to Your Cat

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How to Give Medications to Your Cat

Don't give your cat any medication until you have spoken to your veterinarian to make sure it is the right medicine for the cat and the circumstances. You should also ask for instructions on how to give the drug and the correct dosage for your cat.

Pills, Capsules, and Powders

By far, the best way to give your cat a pill is to use one of the commercial treats made specifically for this purpose. Although a cat can delicately extract a pill from an entire dish of canned cat food, these treats are sticky enough to make removing the pill almost impossible. They are also soft, so they mold easily around the pill. Pill Pockets and Flavor Doh are two examples.

Administering pills this way avoids the daily struggle with your cat to give him his medicine-which can cause anxiety for you both. It also avoids the medical problems associated with pushing a pill down a cat's throat.

You can also try making up tiny “meatballs” of canned cat food or tasty bits of meat. Give the cat one or two undoctored meatballs, then one with the pill. Follow up with an undoctored one so the cat will continue to take the treats even if he gets a small taste of the medicine.

Of course, these two techniques will only work if it is acceptable to give your cat his medication with food. Always check with your veterinarian on this point. If the pills cannot be given with food, you will have to restrain the cat and give him his pill directly.

Unless the cat is used to taking pills, it may be helpful to wrap his body and legs in a towel.

Place one thumb and forefinger on either side of the cat's face from above and behind the whiskers. Apply gentle pressure at the space between the teeth. As the cat's mouth opens, press down on the lower jaw and deposit the pill well to the back of the tongue. Close the mouth and massage or rub the throat until the cat swallows. Blowing softly into the cat's nose or face will also cause many cats to gulp or swallow. If the cat licks his nose, it's likely the pill has been swallowed. Always follow up the pill by giving the cat at least 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of water from a syringe or an eyedropper. This helps the pill enter the stomach, where it can take effect, rather then remaining in the esophagus, where it has no effect and can actually cause damage. Pills that sit in the esophagus may cause vomiting or even irritation to the tissues lining the esophagus. If medications routinely sit in the esophagus, stricture or ulcers may develop. This is true for capsules as well as pills. That is why pills given without food must always be followed by water.

Avoid breaking up pills. Pills broken into powder may have an unpleasant taste that is poorly accepted. Many pills have a protective coating that is important for delayed release in the intestinal tract.


Liquid medicines, including electrolytes and water solutions, are administered into the cheek pouch between the molars and the cheek. A medicine bottle, eyedropper, or plastic syringe without the needle can be used to dispense the liquid.

Adult cats can be given up to 3 teaspoons (15 ml) of liquid medicine as a single dose. Measure the required amount into the bottle, syringe, or medicine dropper. (Use a plastic dropper in case the cat bites it.) Secure the cat as described for administering pills (above). Insert the end of the dispenser into the cheek pouch and, while tilting the chin upward, slowly dispense the medication. The cat will swallow automatically.


Injecting any foreign substance into the body always carries with it the danger of causing an acute allergic or anaphylactic reaction. Treating anaphylactic shock requires immediate intravenous adrenaline (epinephrine) and oxygen. This is one reason why it is best to have your veterinarian give injections. As a precaution, do not administer a drug by injection to a cat who has had any sort of past history of an allergic reaction to that drug.

If it becomes necessary to give injections at home (for example, if the cat is diabetic), have your veterinarian demonstrate the procedure. Some injections are given under the skin (subcutaneous) and others into the muscle (intramuscular). Directions that come with the product will indicate the correct route of injection.

This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.

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Reviewed on 12/3/2009 11:30:00 AM

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