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Pilling a Cat
Revised: August 05, 2022
Published: January 01, 2001

This is Sammie, our model for today. He has volunteered to take an amoxicillin tablet for our demonstration. Our technician will be assisting, and she will use a "kitty burrito."

Photo by MarVistaVet

These directions are for a right-handed person, so reverse them if you are left-handed. The cat will want to back away from the pill, so hold him in the crook of your left elbow so that he has nowhere to go. The pill is held in your right hand.

Photo by MarVistaVet

With your left hand, take the cat by the cheeks and lift his nose to the ceiling. His mouth will automatically drop slightly open.

Photo by MarVistaVet
Photo by MarVistaVet

Use a finger of your left hand to open his lower jaw wider. He has no strength in the lower jaw in this position and cannot bite. Place the pill as far back as possible into the mouth.

Photo by MarVistaVet
Photo by MarVistaVet

Let the cat’s face go, and watch for lip-licking motions, which usually indicate that the pill has been swallowed. Some cats are good at deception, so it is a good idea to open the mouth after a moment to see if the pill has been swallowed. If possible, squirt a small amount of water into the cat’s mouth to promote swallowing. This helps nudge the pill all the way into the stomach where it belongs. Some medicines may temporarily lodge in the esophagus and can cause irritation if the medicine’s pH is in an “unfriendly” range.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Do not try to approach the cat from the front. He will back away from you and escape. Your body should be alongside the cat, with you and your cat facing the same direction.
  • Do not try to give the pill with the cat’s head in a natural position. You will be bitten. You must hold the cat’s head vertically in order to be successful.

Don’t forget to check the cat’s mouth before releasing him. Many cats know you are waiting to see the licking motions and will try to fool you. If the pill is still in the mouth when you check, just reach a finger in and tip the pill further back on the tongue, or allow the cat to spit the pill out and begin again. 

If the cat tries to swat your hand away with a paw, you can wrap the cat in a towel so that his head is sticking out, but the feet are inside the towel wrap. This is often called the "kitty burrito," and will help to keep his paws (and claws) away from your hand.

My Cat Just Won’t Take A Pill! What Can I Do?

Some cats will just not take a pill, regardless of how well you follow these directions. If this is the case with your cat, you may want to investigate an alternative method of providing your cat with the medicine they need.

Compounding pharmacies can take medications normally only available in pill form and create alternative methods of providing that medication, such as in liquid or capsule form or in chewable tablets flavored with fish or chicken.

Get some other hints about pilling dogs and cats.

Video Assistance

See the above technique in the video.

Use a pet piller syringe.

Giving liquid medicine.

Access information about particular medications in the Animal Pharmacy Center.

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