How to Give your Dog a Pill

Medicating your pooch doesn’t HAVE to be a daunting task. Here are some tips that might make the process easier for both of you…

With oral dog medications, you have several options:

  • Hide the pill in food,
  • Crush the pill and mix in food,
  • Have the medication compounded as a deliciously flavored liquid, or
  • Have the medication reformulated so it can be rubbed directly into the skin (transdermal)

Hide the pill in food

Choose a food that is soft and easily formed around the pill, such as peanut butter, cream cheese, cube of hot dog, or bit of sardine. Whatever you choose, have 3 samples of it, with one of them being twice as large as the others. Give the first treat without anything in it so your pet’s saliva starts flowing. Give the second treat with the dog medication buried in the middle, and immediately show your pet the third treat that is very large. Your pet will swallow the treat with medication to get the large treat. Reward with praise.

If your pet doesn’t accept pills in any disguise, ask if the medication can be prepared as a flavored liquid. Choose from dozens of delicious flavors. If your pet doesn’t accept liquid medications in any disguise, check with your veterinary pharmacy to see whether the medication can be made into a form that is rubbed directly into the skin. This is called a transdermal dog medication.

Avoid the temptation to mix medications directly in with your pet’s regular food. The scent of the medication can make some pets refuse to eat so the medication and the food are both wasted.

Crushing a pill to mix in food

Some dog medications can be crushed and some should be swallowed whole without being crushed. Your veterinarian and your veterinary staff can give you guidance on whether a medication can be crushed or not.

Pilling a dog: giving pills without food or treats

Begin training your dog as a pup to sit before each meal. Gently open your dog’s mouth and place a delicious treat on the tongue as far back as you can reach easily. Close your pet’s mouth, hold the head level or with the nose slightly down because it’s easier for your pet to swallow that way. What you don’t want is for the pet to move the pill forward on its tongue where it’s easy to spit out. Softly praise your pet until it swallows. Then, feed the regular meal. This technique ensures that you can medicate your pet at every meal. If your pet has not learned this technique, begin teaching it now. Act happy, keep your shoulders relaxed and your voice cheerful.

If you must give a dog medication without time for training, avoid becoming anxious because your pet picks up your emotions and will become suspicious of what’s coming. Be relaxed, cheerful, and positive. For some dogs, it’s best to face the pet directly, but with others it’s best when both of you are facing the same direction. The side-by-side technique avoids stressing dogs that feel challenged when you’re standing very close to them and looking directly at them.

Side-by-side technique

When working with your dog, relax your shoulders, breathe calmly, and be upbeat. Consider singing or humming. If you and your dog are facing forward and your left shoulder is next to your dog, your left arm goes behind your dog’s head and your left hand around to its mouth. The left arm gently supports the head and keeps it from moving backward. The left hand slides into the side of the mouth and separates the upper and lower jaw by gently pressing upward on the upper jaw. The right hand reaches into the mouth and drops the medication toward the back of the tongue. Close the mouth, keep the nose level or slightly down, and softly praise your pet. Don’t let your pet push the pill forward on its tongue where it’s easy to spit out. Praise lavishly. Encourage your pet to drink because many swallowed medications stick in the lower esophagus where they damage the tissues.

Getting the dog medication to the back of the throat is done for three reasons:

    • there are fewer taste buds
    • an object in the back of the throat triggers swallowing
    • it is difficult to spit a pill out unless it is moved forward on the tongue.

Do not use this or any other medication technique if your dog is a biter. Instead, work with your veterinarian to develop behavior modification techniques that make it safe for you to medicate your pet. In the meantime, ask your veterinarian for alternatives to “pilling” your pet.

Giving a liquid medication

Use the side-by-side technique, but rather than lifting the upper jaw, simply slide the corner of the lips back and put the dropper into the cheek pouch. Slowly release the medication so your pet swallows in a natural manner. Faster is not better. If you stay happy and relaxed, your pet will too. Congratulate yourself–and give your canine companion an extra dose of praise, too.