Tips for Administering Pills to Your Dog

Most dogs do not like to take pills. After all, they usually don't taste good, nor do they resemble a food item. Combine this with the fact that your dog has no idea why they need to take a pill. This can make for a difficult time convincing your pup to take their medication. Sometimes a little trickery, persuasion, and technique may be required to get your dog to take medication in pill form when they require it. For helpful tips and information on administering pills to your dog, read on.

Prepare the Space

When your dog needs medication in pill form, make sure you read all the instructions on the medication packaging, so you understand the appropriate dosage and administration schedule. It is also essential to be aware of whether the prescribed pill can be taken with food, what to do if you miss a dose, and how to handle and store the medication.

Prepare the space that you will be working in. You want the medication bottle stored at a height your furry companion cannot reach as you work, and it is important to have treats, wet food, or the pill inserter on hand in case you need them. Call your pooch over to get started.

How do I give my dog a pill?

If the pill can be taken with food, then administering it with food is usually your best option. Find a soft treat or food your dog really likes, the more aromatic the better, to disguise the smell and taste of the pill. Soft food allows you to insert the pill into the food, and hand-feed it to your dog. 

Try to use relatively small pieces or amounts of food, so that your dog is tempted to gulp it down without chewing. If your four-legged buddy has to manipulate and chew the food, it could result in the pill getting separated from the food item, or your dog getting a bad taste from the medication in their mouth. Your clever pup will remember the unpleasant taste, and that will make them resistant to pill-taking in the future. 

Foods that are useful for administering pills to your dog include meatballs, balls of canned food, cheese, and peanut butter. There are also commercially available soft treats that you can insert a pill into, specifically designed for administering pills, that most dogs love and readily eat.

If your dog is somewhat resistant to this method because they have “tasted” the pill inserted in a treat before, or just don’t trust that sneaky look in your eye, you can try giving them several treats, without medication, before offering the one with the pill inserted, to “trick” your dog into gulping down the treat and pill. 

Sometimes, having another dog present to foster competition, will make the dog gulp down the treat more readily, for fear of their companion stealing the prize. Just make sure the right dog gets the medication-laced treat if you use this method.

Can I crush my dog's pill?

Some prescription pills can be crushed up, and the pill put in canned dog food. If you use this method, you will have to check with your veterinarian to verify that crushing up the pill will not have any effect on the medication’s effectiveness. Monitor your dog to ensure all the food is consumed and that another dog or pet in the house does not accidentally ingest the medication-laced food. 

Many pills can also be dissolved in warm water in a syringe, and then administered as liquid medication by inserting the syringe into the mouth and depressing the syringe to release the dissolved medicine. Some pet owners find this easier than administering a pill, which a dog may be able to manipulate out of their mouth with their tongue. Ask your vet to demonstrate this method because the liquid can be inhaled into the windpipe if given incorrectly. Do not tilt your dog's head back when you give the liquid.

For foul-tasting medication, you can purchase empty gelcaps from a pharmacy, and put pills in the gelcaps to further disguise the taste of the pill. Gelcaps can then be hidden in food or administered manually.

How do I give my dog a pill that cannot be mixed with food?

If the medication you are using cannot be administered with food or dissolved, you may need to manually insert the medication into your dog's mouth. You can do this with your hand or use a pill inserter. A pill applicator looks like a syringe with an end that holds the pill, and when the plunger is depressed, the pill is released. You can use an applicator if you are not comfortable putting your hand in your dog's mouth, or are worried about getting bitten. Be careful not to insert the applicator too far into the mouth as it can injure the mouth or throat or cause a gag reflex.

Consult your vet for a visual demonstration. Manual insertion of a pill can be accomplished by following the appropriate steps:

- Have the pill or applicator in your dominant hand
- Grasp your dog's upper jaw with your left or non-dominant hand, behind the canine teeth. You can curl the lips over the teeth where you are grasping if you are concerned about your dog biting. If your dog bites, they will bite their lip before your fingers.
- With the pill in your right (or dominant) hand, pull the lower jaw down and pop the pill into their mouth at the base of the tongue.
- Quickly remove your hand to allow your dog to close their mouth and swallow.
- You can hold your dog’s mouth closed and stroke the throat or blow gently into the nose to encourage them to swallow.
- Do not pull your dog's head up too high, or they will begin to resist and can choke. The head should be horizontal to the ground, or just tilted slightly up.
- Check your dog's oral cavity afterward, to ensure they have swallowed the pill and are not holding it between the lip and gum.

Choose your Method

There are several methods for effectively giving your dog a pill. Giving medication in a food treat is the easiest, if possible. If your pooch is wary of this, making a game of it, providing several non-medicated treats along with the medicated one, or using another dog to foster competition may help. 

Using gelcaps or dissolving pills in water and administering as a liquid may also be possible. If required, you can directly place the pill in your dog's oral cavity with your hand or a pill applicator. Work quickly, and hold the dog's mouth, behind the canines, with their lip curled over the teeth to avoid being bitten. With a little practice and ingenuity, you should be able to successfully administer your dog's required medications in pill form smoothly and effectively.

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