Unless you have a very placid or co-operative cat, you will know just how difficult it is to give tablets. Opening the mouth with one hand and popping he tablet down with the other sounds simple in theory and looks simple in photos and diagrams, but the average cat is not going to take medication without a struggle. Pilling a cat is often a 2 person job (which is a problem if you are on your own) and cats are better armed (teeth, claws) than humans. Many cat care books provide photos, diagrams and step-by-step instructions for giving tablets. An even better approach is to get your vet or the vet nurse to demonstrate - it may also give an indication of how co-operative your cat is and whether it is a one-person or two-person job.

Many cats can detect even the tiniest amount of medication in their food and refuse to eat what they view as "contaminated" food. In nature, this helps guard them against poisoning, but in the home it makes medication a problem. If you give tablets in food, make sure the medicated food is served first and is eaten before you serve the unmedicated part of the meal. It is best to serve the medication in a small portion as you can more easily check that it has been eaten.

It may not be too crucial if a worming tablet/powder takes several attempts, and some wasted tablets, over several days. However, getting antibiotics, steroids or chemotherapy into your cat at the prescribed daily rate is very important. Some tablets must be given whole; they are designed for timed release when swallowed whole and could even be dangerous crushed so check with your vet.

Here are a few suggestions.

To make the "tablet-in-a-treat" method work, your cat should be used to getting occasional treats of the food in question and view the treat as something desirable e.g. a reward or accompanied by praise or following play. Many cats are suspicious of new foods and if you try to hide a tablet in something unfamiliar, you probably won't succeed. For many, the fact they are getting human food (normally forbidden) may be enough to make them gulp it down before you change your mind. Tablets do not mix well with dry food (kibble), but can be mixed with canned foods. Experiment to find out what treat foods your cat likes before you ever need to give tablets. For a long course of medication, you will need to vary the treats as many cats grow bored and/or suspicious.

If your cat is a sucker for titbits from your meals, try some psychology. Cats will often eat titbits from your plate when you are having a meal, but won't eat the same things when served in their usual bowl. They have a concept of these things being treats. Put the pill in a piece of sausage or greasy chicken and have this handy when you eat a meal containing the same types of meat. Give the cat a tiny piece of meat from your own meal as a "loss leader". Having successfully begged for that titbit, most cats will want more. Give it the piece containing the pill. Alternatively, if you don't want to encourage begging (which is probably the lesser of 2 evils if your cat is on lifetime medication), leave the piece of meat containing the pill on your plate and put it on the floor for the cat to eat when your meal is finished. Maybe drip some gravy or baked bean sauce etc onto the meat so it seems like a genuine leftover.

If you have a multi-cat household, you must ensure that only the patient gets the medication. It won't do a sick cat any good if a less fussy house-mate eats the tablet. If it is taking medication mixed into food:

Very occasionally you may have to medicate your cat or kitten using a needle (e.g. for insulin), or medicate and feed it using a stomach tube (through the abdominal wall) or a feeding tube (through the mouth). These are specialist methods used and if this is the case, the veterinary staff will teach you what to do.

Chemotherapy tablets are also special cases. You may simply have to wear gloves when handling them or your country's medical regulations may go as far as to prohibit women of child-bearing age from handling them. These restrictions are for the owner's safety since the substances can cause mutations in embryos.

In many countries it is illegal for any individual other than a vet to administer injections (other than insulin) to pets.

There are a very few cats who resist all attempts to medicate them until the cat is so far in the course of its illness that medication will not benefit it. If this is the case, discuss with your vet whether the condition can be managed without medication. Where medication is stressful for both cat and owner, it may be decided that quality of life for a shorter term outweighs longevity and the stress of daily battles. This is also true of managed feral cats where medication cannot be administered to a single cat in a colony.


If you have any medication tips you'd like to share e.g. methods or types of food to use, methods of subterfuge etc you are welcome to email sarah.hartwell<at> (cut and paste into your mailer and replace <at> with @).

I think I'm a genius. My Jackson Henry, a 9 year old Domestic Shorthair, was recently diagnosed with a severe liver infection, requiring liquid Clavamax twice a day. It's been absolutely horrific giving him his meds; nothing seemed to work. I swaddled him, tried pill pockets, tried pinning him on the ground....the whole thing left us both traumatized and was generally ineffective. He would end up spitting the liquid all over the place. It was so difficult that I switched to the pill format. That was worse. I went back to the liquid, and one day after a particularly upsetting attempt, I noticed Jackson licking his paw (where some of the Clavamax landed). After that, I would scoop him up and eject the liquid on to his paw (rubbed it in just a bit) and he, being a cat, HAD to clean it off of his fur. Voila! When I told the vet that this is how I'm giving him the medicine, she said "It seems to be working because his liver values are coming down." Of course, she can't advise me to do it this way, but I am and it's working! I'm not a vet, so I can encourage people to do it this way because it's infinitely less traumatic for your cat (and you). Good luck!
(Jenn & "Jackson Henry")

"My cat Harry needed to be medicated but even liquid medication was an impossible to get passed his unbelievable resistance. The vet and an assistant found it nearly impossible and did not think I would have great success. Trying to hide it in his food had not worked in the passed but a hint I found on a site on the internet did the trick. First put a drop of the liquid on the tip of the nose (Harry's suspicious nature made this a task, but a doable one). He would lick his nose, cleaning the offending substance off. This "desensitized" him and He ate his tuna treat without realizing the medicine was mixed in the tuna."
Lois Calame

"My cat will only eat the Science Diet and Eukanuba kind of biscuit, so none of the disguise methods work with her. What I had to do when she was on regular medication was to crush the tablet finely, mix it with butter and put it on her front leg. She couldn't bear that, and washed and washed until it was clean."

"Drill a tiny hole in a kibble ("Royal Canin Ageing +12 years" is best because it has a soft centre). I use a tiny screwdriver for that. If your cat chews its dry food, then a hole should be made close to the edge of the kibble. Split a pill into tiny pieces. Each piece should be plugged in the hole with a soft sticky filling of the kibble. The Ageing +12 kibble is small enough for some cats to swallow it whole."
Irene Gardiner

"Tiggy has hyperthyroid medication and now tablets for CRF. Over the past few years she has had over 2000 tablets and I have only had to resort to using force twice! I use many of the methods already on the list, Tiggy often gets bored of whichever 'treat' her tablet is hidden in so I have to switch methods from time to time. The methods I use are: Cheddar Cheese, wafer thin cooked meats, chicken breast, defurr um treats and tuna. My latest method is Primula cheese, the type that comes in a tube. If Tiggy doesn't feel sick (she suffers from nausea due to the CRF) I place the tablet on my finger, squeeze a blob of Primula on top of the tablet and she licks the blob off, tablet and all! If she is feeling nauseous I dab a little bit on the side of her mouth. She licks that off and remembers how lovely the primula tastes, I then use the method above. This methods works for most tablet sizes, she takes 4-5 a day all of varying sizes."
Helen & Tiggy (almost 18 years young)
Several readers have written to say the Primula cheese trick has worked with their cats. Luckily this is available in plain, ham and cheese flavours - and most cats like one or other (or all!) of these. Some yeast-based pastes are also successful.