Pilling Your Cat Using a Pill Gun (& Other Methods)

Pill guns for cats can be great for a quick medication dose, but there are definitely some things that make pilling your cat easier and safer for everyone.

Updated January 11, 2024
Tabby cat with blue eyes gives a sweet look to the camera

When all other methods fail, using a pill gun for cat medicine may be the surest way to give your pet the treatment they need. The key to making this tool work for you is using it correctly. Follow these steps and tricks to successfully administer medication without stressing your cat.

What's a Cat Pill Gun? 

A pill gun is a simple tool used to deliver a tablet or capsule of medication to the back of your cat's throat, where it is more likely to be swallowed than spit back out. The design is based on the common syringe, and it's made of three distinct parts:

  • A long hollow housing
  • An inner plunger
  • A rubber tip to hold the pill

How to Load a Cat Pill Gun

Have you had your cat in the perfect position for their pill only to discover that the medication fell out of the pill gun? Loading it correctly is the first step to set yourself up for success. 

  • Pull the plunger all the way back
  • Insert the pill into the rubber gripper tip
Quick Tip

Make sure the pill or capsule is snug within the rubber tip but not inserted too far. If it's lodged in too tight, it won't easily discharge when you go to pill your cat, and you'll have to try again. 

How to Use a Pill Gun for Cat Medications

Such a simple tool should be easy enough to use, and it is — when your cat cooperates. But honestly, how often is your cat willing to let you be in the driver's seat? If your situation is like most, not that often.

1. Acclimate Your Cat to the Pill Gun

In cases where you need to medicate your cat right away, you won't have much time to do this, but it's a great idea to start getting your cat used to a pill gun before they ever need it.

Simply take the tip of the gun and put it in some wet cat food. Then, let your cat lick the food off. Repeat this in tiny increments of time and food so that you train your cat to see the pill gun as a good thing rather than something scary to run away from.

2. Safely Restrain Your Cat

After loading the gun with the pill, the next step is to get hold of your cat in a way they can't wiggle out of.

  • If your cat is comfortable being handled, you can hold them in your lap and insert the pill gun in their mouth, but some cats will fight against this kind of restraint.
  • In cases where your cat is not willing to be handled easily, it's best to have another person around to help.
  • If you don't have access to another person, you can use a big soft towel to make a "kitty burrito." Place the cat on the towel on a raised surface such as a kitchen counter or table. Wrap the towel around the cat so that they can't get his legs out, as demonstrated in the video below.
Quick Tip

Avoid scruffing your cat. Instead, wrap the cat in a towel to restrict their legs and have the second person use gentle pressure to keep the cat in place.

3. Employ the Pill Gun

If you have a helper, have them hold the cat gently on a raised surface, such as a table or counter. Otherwise, use the kitty burrito technique to keep your cat from escaping.

  • Use one hand to hold the cat's head back with your palm firmly around the top of the cat's head, and very slowly and gently move the cat's head back. Have your pill gun ready in the other hand.
  • As you move the cat's head back, their reflex will be to open their mouths, and you need to pop the pill in with the gun as soon as the mouth opens.
  • Make sure you insert the pill gun toward the back of the throat and come in from the side of the mouth.
  • Press the plunger down all the way until the pill is delivered. You will have to move quickly so it's a good idea to practice using it without a cat first to get used to handling it.
Quick Tip

Make sure you talk gently and calmly to your cat during the whole procedure to keep them from becoming fearful.

4. Encourage Swallowing

Next, close the cat's mouth and stroke their throat gently to encourage swallowing. Most cats will lick their nose once they have swallowed. Quickly blowing toward their face can also initiate a swallow reflex. 

5. Chase the Pill With Water

Some types of pills, particularly dry tablets, can get stuck in the cat's esophagus before eventually making their way down to your cat's stomach. Veterinarians recommend giving your cat water to drink after using a pill gun to help move the pill along in their system. Use a syringe or small turkey baster to slowly give the cat a bit of water to chase down the pill. Do NOT flush your cat's mouth with water.

Quick Tip

Once they've swallowed, you should be home free until the next dose is due. Just watch to make sure your cat hasn't tucked the pill to the side of the mouth and is just waiting for a chance to spit it out.

Where to Get a Cat Pill Gun

Many veterinary clinics will sell cat pill guns, but if your vet doesn't carry them, you can buy them at most pet supply stores. They usually retail for around $7 and can be found on online stores such as Chewy.com and Amazon.com and physical stores such as PetSmart and Petco.

Downsides to the Cat Pill Gun

Because most cats do not enjoy having pills forced down their throats with a foreign object, pill guns are not the best tool for long-term medicating of a cat. While they can work for most kinds of pills, they can be harder on the cat's esophagus with hard, dry pills compared to softer capsules. They can also make your cat fearful if they've had a bad experience with it, and your cat will be harder to restrain and may hide when you bring the pill gun out.

Other Ways to Give Cats Medicine

For many cat owners, there's little else that's worse than hearing the vet say, "Just give Fluffy one of these pills twice a day for the next two weeks, and it will fix her right up." However, there are plenty of options for giving cats pills.

  • If you find using a pill gun difficult, you can ask your veterinarian if a vet tech in the clinic would be willing to give you some training.
  • See if you can hire an experienced pet sitter to come to your home and medicate your cat until they're done with the course of meds. 
  • Pill Pockets are treats made specifically for placing medication inside and feeding to your cat. 
  • Ask your veterinarian if it's possible to get the medication in a liquid form, or as a one-time injection. 
  • Some medications can be crushed and mixed in with wet cat food and fed to your cat. Just ask your vet first, and be careful that only the one cat eats the food. Also, know that cats have a great sense of smell, and many are able to detect the foreign ingredient in their food.

Never Miss a Dose Again

While your cat may not appreciate these sessions, they're absolutely necessary for the medication to be effective. Missed doses can result in lost ground when treating an illness, and that's not good for anyone. Practice using a pill gun to medicate your cat, and talk to your veterinarian if you have any concerns. 

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Pilling Your Cat Using a Pill Gun (& Other Methods)