Pilling Cats: It's Possible


Q: Do you have any suggestions for giving my cat the anti-seizure meds she needs three times a day? I use Pill Pockets (flavored treats to hide pills inside) and sometimes she’ll take them. I’m planning a trip in late summer and am very concerned about the pet sitter being able to give the meds. Is there anything cats can’t resist that I might use to fool my cat into taking her pill? — N.C., Margate, FL

A: “Over the years, many cat owners have told me it’s impossible to get pills into their cats,” says feline veterinarian Dr. Margie Scherk, of Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. “They ask for liquid formulations because they think these will be easier (to give). Some ask for transdermal formulations, which are medications in a cream/ointment format that you rub on the inside of the ear. My favorites (for medical effectiveness) are pills or capsules.”

Scherk explains that “using a liquid, some of the dose remains in the syringe or dropper, and a lot of times the liquid that is delivered dribbles out of the cat’s mouth. So, some of the dose is on the furniture, on Fluffy’s chin and on the owner. Not so great.

“Even though we can get many medications compounded with flavors that cats like, such as tuna, chicken, beef, or liver, these specially formulated liquids are often not stable for the full duration that the cat needs them,” Scherk says. “The same goes for medicated chews. Unfortunately, there’s no assurance of stability or quality in any compounded product. ”

Scherk says many transdermal products haven’t been tested. Of the approximately one dozen transdermals that have been evaluated, only three actually get into the blood stream at therapeutically effective doses.

The editor of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, and scientific advisory committee member to the Winn Feline Foundation, Scherk says, “Traditional pills/capsules deliver a known dose. I like that. But there is a technique to getting them into a reluctant kitty. Trust me; I’ve pilled hundreds of cats! You’re using Pill Pockets, and they are terrific in most cases.” But Scherk also has another idea.

“If the pill doesn’t have an outrageously obnoxious flavor and if kitty has a soft spot for a particular kind of canned ‘junk’ cat food, using an inexpensive pill crusher from the drug store, you can crush the pill into powder and mix it into a small, appetizer-size portion of the yummy food (your cat) doesn’t get as her main diet. Or try anchovy paste, Cheese Whiz, salmon cream cheese, smooth peanut butter, plain yogurt; all depending on what kitty thinks is fabulous.”

For cats for whom this doesn’t work, you can certainly use a pilling device, or so-called “pilling gun,” available online and at some pet stores. Remember to flush the pill down with a bit of water, tuna juice or clam juice. Even when pilling by hand, you need that liquid chaser so pills don’t stick in your kitty’s throat.

Be quick and confident delivering pills, which may take practice. And reward your kitty with a special treat afterward.

As for pet sitters, some are more experienced at pilling cats than others. Consider a test run. Invite the pet sitter over and see how he or she handles giving meds to your pet. Or hire Dr. Scherk for the job!