How to Get your Cat or Dog to Swallow / Take Tablets and Pills

Most dog or cat owners at some time have had the challenge of getting their beloved pet to swallow a tablet, whether for worming purposes, antibiotics or regular medicine such as heart tablets. Now many of these tablets are described on the packaging as being "Palatable", but clearly no-one thought to ask the pets what they thought was "palatable", and from my experiences I can only assume it must be a human taster coming up with this description, or a very hungry pet. Also, what I will say, is that trying to wrap the tablet in slices of ham, chicken etc is not overly successful, as it is far too easy for the pet to simply remove the tablet and eat the meat. The methods below will be far more reliable.

Having seen numerous lacerations and nearly lost fingers on fellow pet owners who have tried in vain to get a tablet down their pet's throat without ending up in Accident and Emergency themselves, I have decided to share my tips for success without the need for bandages and plasters afterwards. These methods will hopefully reduce the stress levels for both you and your pets, and you should not end up needing to retrieve "Fluffy" from the top of the wardrobe, nor drag your reluctant pooch out from under the rose bush in the back garden at the sight of a packet of tablets appearing out of the kitchen drawer.

The Easy Way

The truly easy ways to get your pets to take tablets are if you can get the pet to eat the tablet themselves without your involvement. The best way to achieve this is to put the tablet in something irresistably tasty to your pet, and in such a way that they cannot eat the good bits and leave the semi-chewed tablet in a gooey blob on the floor.

Some of the best and most successful foods to hide the tablets in are as follows:

1) Marmite Bovril or Vegemite. Most cats love Marmite, and most dogs will at least love Bovril, and possibly Marmite too. First try a taste test on your pet with just the Marmite etc, and if they like it you can progress to the point where you grind up your worm tablet into a very small amount of the product and simply let them lick it up themselves. In the event the tablet is a medicinal tablet such as a heart tablet, then it is best to leave it whole rather than breaking it up.

2) Cream Cheese, e.g. Philadelphia, is another popular favourite, and the same method as above applies.

3) Unsalted Butter, easy to hide a tablet in, and slips nicely down the pets throat, especially in the case of dogs who usually wolf it down without even chewing it to find the tablet inside. Likewise you can grind the tablet up and mix it with the butter before offering it to your cat. If all else fails smear it around the cats face and she will wash it off complete with the tablet powder inside.

4) Cheddar Cheese,this can be used either solid by pushing the tablet into the middle of the lump of cheese, or if you have a particularly clever pet who will still find the tablet and leave it behind after consuming the cheese, try melting the cheese in your microwave for 10-15 seconds until it goes soft. Then place your tablet or ground up pill in the gooey cheese and using a teaspoon keep folding the soft cheese over the tablet until it starts to go firm again as it cools. At this point your dog will probably guzzle down the cheese encrusted tablet without a second thought, and your cat will no doubt take a bit longer, but will usually eat the cheese quite contentedly and leave feeling she has been given a rare treat. In the case of the cats it is probably best to grind up the tablet before adding to the melted cheese.

5) Pill Poppets, are a soft pliable treat that many vets sell. These are quite expensive, but whatever ingredients they make them with seem to make them delicious to pets. The advantage to these is that you can mould them around the tablet and in most cases the pet will happily eat them, although the best success seems to be with dogs.

6) Tuna, is good for hiding ground up tablets in as it has a very strong smell which masks the smell of any tablet. Bear in mind that in the case of cats they have no sense of taste, and are guided purely by smell, which is why if your cat is ill and refuses to eat, especially if it has a bad cold or flu, a strong smelling food such as Tuna is usually recommended to tempt them back to eating. Likewise, warming up any food intensifies the smell of it for your cat, which is another reason you are advised not to keep pet food in the fridge as your cat won't like it nearly as much. Most dogs love Tuna too, so this is a good all round way of persuading your pets to take their tablets, and is a product you will probably have in your kitchen cupboard anyway.

7) Meat Paste, any kind of processed meat paste that you would normally use for your sandwiches such as beef paste, salmon paste, chicken paste etc. Treat tablets the same way as advised earlier.

Pill Popper
Pill Popper

The Hard Way!

Okay, so you have tried all of the above, your dog or cat is having none of it and simply refuses to eat the treats on offer with the carefully hidden tablets or pills within. Now comes plan B, which is the "hands on" approach.

1) Wrap your cat completely up in a large towel leaving only the head exposed, and making sure the paws (and claws) are firmly contained within the towel itself. Sitting down place this "bundle" under your left arm next to your hip and use your left hand to gently hold on to the scruff of your cat's neck to prevent her struggling to escape from the towel. With the tablet in your right hand, gently use the same forefinger and thumb to prise open your cats mouth, then in one quick deft movement use your index finger to pop the tablet as far back in the cats mouth as you can, (to the point your finger is right at the back of the cats throat behind the "gag reflex"). Immediately hold the cat's mouth gently closed and slightly raised, then rub her throat on the outside for a few moments. In this brief time she will have swallowed the tablet, in fact in most cases the tablet will have automatically been swallowed at the point you inserted it rapidly to the back of the throat, but the latter exercise of holding the mouth closed and rubbing the throat is a precaution in case you didn't push the tablet back far enough.

2) Use a similar method for your dog, although the wrapping in a towel will probably not be relevant unless you have a very small dog. Much of the time it will be just as easy to have a spare pair of hands in the form of a helper to stand behind the dog to prevent it backing away when you prise open the mouth to insert the tablet. If you are on your own try to do this in front of a wall so the dog cannot try to walk backwards.

3) Most vets sell "Pill Poppers", which look a little bit like a plastic syringe with a small clip at the end for holding the tablet. These are quite clever little gadgets and will ensure the safety of your fingers. The idea is to place the tablet in the small clip at the end of the "syringe". You then hold your pet, either in your arms, in a towel, or with help, and prise open the mouth from the sides either with your fingers or using the "Pill Popper" itself whilst holding the scruff of the neck (only in the case of cats). Finally you quickly insert the end of the pill popper to the back of the pet's mouth, depress the plunger and remove. This action will have literally "popped" the tablet to the back of the pet's throat much like your finger did in step 1) of this section.

If all of the above have still not worked then your local vets will usually get one of the nurses to administer tablets such as wormers for you free of charge, although you will have to pay for the tablets and of course will have the added hassle of taking your pet into the vets especially. This is not very practical if your pet is on regular medication, so my advice is to perservere until one of the above works for you.

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Comments 42 comments

alexadry profile image

alexadry 8 years ago from USA

Great hub! I think it is Pill "Pockets" you are referring to, unless they are called differently in other States. I used pill pockets often and at the vet's office they were very popular! I use Peanut Butter to make my 50 pound rottie swallow his large flucanazole capsule twice a day, it is amazing how fast and effortlessly it goes down!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks for your comment, here in the Uk there are "pill poppets" but I am guessing they are the same thing as "pill pockets" from what you have said.

starrkissed profile image

starrkissed 8 years ago from Arizona

this is great. my fiance's mom is constantly having to give the cats some kind of medicine and she has this pill popper [like the one above] that she uses. it's still a pain. they wrap the cats up in a bath towel and hold them so that they won't scratch and then use the pill popper. sometimes the cats end up ripping through the towels, though lol.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Hey, get them to try the marmite or the cheese, it really works!

2patricias profile image

2patricias 8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

I have 2 Burmese cats, both the same age, from the same breeder. One will let me put a pill in his mouth, and swallows it. The other is truly scary. I have to wrap him in a towel, ensuring all claws are well out of my way. Then prise his mouth open, and (if there is another person available) get 2nd person to get the pill in his mouth. Then it is necessary to clamp his jaw shut and stroke his throat. Usually, I chicken out and ask the vet if he could just have an injection.

seamist profile image

seamist 8 years ago from Northern Minnesota

Great hub, Misty! I bought one of those pill syringes. They actually work pretty good if you make sure they are far enough back in their throat. I used to give Nickie pills in peanut butter. She has since smartened up. She runs now if she sees peanut butter.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks for the compliment seamist, glad the pill popper works for you at least :)

KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 8 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

I pill Skylar three times a day, for hyperthyroid. I open his mouth like illustrated above, then put the pill in as far back as I can, then hold his mouth closed. At first, I gave him a treat afterwards, but now he comes running towards me as soon as he hears "Skylar, medicine time!", sits, and half-opens his mouth. He knows he needs his pills, and that they're good for him. He even reminds us if it's time for his meds and we forget!

When I pill the others for tapeworms, I use the same system, except I put a towel around their necks like a bib (not tying it in back). I hold it in back with a couple fingers while I pry their mouths open. This way, they don't automatically put their paws up to try to claw me away, because they would have to fight the towel. I also put them on the couch while doing this, so that if they back up they put themselves against the corner (nowhere left to go). I always give them a treat after I'm done with everyone's pills.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Good advice KT, you are lucky to have such an intelligent cat :)

Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 8 years ago from West By God

I'd rather give them liquid from a syringe. This works for all my animals except my one cat. She;s very clever and gets out of the towel too--no matter how tight we have her in it. The vet even has a hard time getting anything downher so they usueally just giver her a shot. Furbabies are just like human babies. If they don't want it they put up a fight.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

LOL, they certainly do LG :)

rockinjoe profile image

rockinjoe 8 years ago from Standing right behind you!

Great hub. I never thought of using cream cheese. When my dog gets a pill, I usually try and hide it in a slice of American or other cheese. Sometimes we're lucky and she'll eat the whole thing. Other times, she'll spit out the pill afterwards. She LOVES cream cheese though.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

I am fairly sure it will work Joe, but my best result has always been the normal cheese melted in the microwave first :)

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Adorable pictures and nicely written hub. I use the three cheese ball method since my dog has figured out how to chew through and spit out the pill. I make three cheese balls; two that are not medicated and one that holds the pill. I let her eat one of the plain cheese balls first to get the taste. Then, while showing her the third cheese ball, I offer her the medicated one. She usually swallows it whole so she can grab the third one. This works most of the time :-)

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

LOL, what a clever dog you have there PegCole. It always seems to be a battle of wits with our pets, and just when you think you have won they find another way to get one step ahead. Don't you just love them!! Thanks for the feedback :)

Waggy Pants "Mum" 5 years ago

Excellent ideas but Waggy (cat) wont touch anything that's not cat food. So the Marmite etc ideas not an option. Mixing it in his food doesn't work cos he just eats around it!!Any other ideas?

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Best bet is the 'wrap him in a towel' option and quickly pop the pill right to the back of his throat, hold his mouth closed for a few seconds and then it is done. Only way really. Good luck, (not as hard as it sounds....really!)

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

For my cat, we smash the pills into powder and then mix with a liquid. The guard dog that Dad had could have this huge bowl of food and Wolf would eat it all and leave the pill his smell was so keen. Or if it would be included in food put into his mouth, he would eat the food while keeping the pill under his tongue and spit the pill out.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

LOL Flora, yes they can be very clever at avoiding taking pills, which is why I personally always go down the route of pushing the pill straight down the throat so they can't spit it out as it has already gone beyond that point and they instinctively made a swallowing action.

jason 5 years ago

just tried the 'tablet in tuna' trick and it worked a treat for my dog

thanks :)

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Great to hear Jason, thanks for letting me know :)

Rabar Rauf 5 years ago

Useful Info thanks allot :)

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Glad to be of help Rabar Rauf :)

Chris Roberts 5 years ago

So glad to know everyone has the same problem! Some brilliant suggestions that I've not yet tried. Thanks everyone.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Glad this has been helpful Chris. Good Luck :)

Lauryn Smith 5 years ago

this was supper helpful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

thank you!!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

You are welcome Lauryn, pleased you found this helpful :)

Piper Smith 5 years ago

All this helped me with my science project!!

thanks u rock!!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Cheers Piper, really delighted this helped you out :)

vermonta 5 years ago

My dog is very sick and has no appetite. Finally I figured out to open the capsule and mix the powder with butter. Then I rubbed it on her clenched teeth. She doesn't know how to spit (or she's too polite) so she licked it all clean. I only hope she lives until her next pill...

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

That's a good tip vermonta. Thanks for sharing and hope your dog gets well soon :)

Brandy:-/ 5 years ago

I saw in one of the comments, that cats cannot taste their food. I dont think that is true, because my cats L O V E tuna and I ground up their worm pill, and they wouldn't eat their food! The pills were quite expensive, and now they are pretty much wasted! What should I do? !?:-!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Cats do not have taste buds, they cannot taste and this is what is taught to Vets and Vet's Nurses in their training. You can check out the information with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, (I used to work in two vets practices and my best friend is a fully qualified head vets nurse who used to work for the RSPCA in Putney in the UK). Cats use their sense of smell to judge/enjoy food, which is why they like strong smelling foods like Tuna, cheese etc. You can always encourage a cat refusing to eat to start eating again by either given them strong smelling foods or by warming up their food slightly to intensify the smell.

With regards to your current problem I am afraid your only option is to buy new pills for them. Clearly they have detected the pill within the food. The next pills you should attempt to pop down their throats the way I describe within this hub, either using a pill popper or your finger. Otherwise try the 'melted cheese' method (if your cats eat cheese).

Another option is to buy the 'spot on' wormer instead of pills. It is more expensive, but you place it on the back of the neck like you would a flea treatment (at least 2 weeks apart from when you last treated them for fleas). You can buy these from your vets.

I hope this helps and good luck.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Hi RGrimsby, thanks for your lovely comment. I wish I could allow it, but you posted a link to your own hub in the comment, which is against HP's TOS. If you want to post a comment with no link to your own hubs that is fine and I will allow it. I do agree with the stuff you said in your comment, but it is hubpages etiquette to ask before posting comments to your own articles, (your name is already linked back to your profile simply by commenting, so that is a bonus for most). You might benefit from my hub on the main mistakes new hubbers make, the link is:

RGrimsby profile image

RGrimsby 4 years ago

Nice Hub! I've taken care of a lot of dogs and had to give medications. I've never used a pill popper, but I might give it a try next time. I wrote a similar hub from my experiences where I found hotdogs really did the trick. And good tip about doing the "hard way" against the wall so the dog won't back away! So true! I will add that it's important to be gentle with your pet and give them a treat or a "good dog!" afterwards to diminish the bad associations with pill time.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks RGrimsby, that is a really good comment and some great points made :)

JJSay12 profile image

JJSay12 4 years ago

My Maltese has a thyroid problem and has to take pills daily. When she first got prescribed, we could not get her to take them – and I didn’t want to have to give her people food like cheese to take them. (That was my Mom’s solution – wrap it in cheese – LOL). Luckily we found the dog food rolls from Natural Balance. We buy the turkey one and mush the pill inside a piece of the roll (it’s very soft and malleable) and Crystal takes the pill in one glup – no drama, no mess, and these rolls are all-natural and healthy. I always recommend them. We get them at Petco – they are shaped like sausage.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks JJSay12, that is a good tip, and like you I would not recommend using cheese in the event your dog needed tablets daily for a long period of time, only if it was for a worm tablet or a short course of tablets.

Peter Geekie profile image

Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

So far our three siamese have not needed tablets, but the day will come. Then I will try your methods, but in our cats case it is a matter of finding them first.

Voted up, useful and interesting

Kind regards Peter

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 3 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks Peter, even for their routine 3 monthly worming tablets these methods can be used (although you may be using a 'spot on' wormer as these are available now as an alternative tablets).

Jeff M Adams 19 months ago

I am amazed no one has suggested crushing the pill into powder (mortar and pestle-style) and dissolving it in a pet syringe of water. I do this with almost all pet medications, and wrap the cat in towel with their claws safely tucked inside - like a swaddling cloth on a baby - and simply administer the way one would with any dehydrated pet: by injecting it into the back of the throat and holding the head up until swallowed. MUCH easier than trying to "trick" a picky eater.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 19 months ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Sounds like a great idea Jeff. Worth mentioning that some medications should not be crushed as they are designed to break down gradually over a period of hours and crushing them can effect this process.

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