5 min read

Tips for Administering Pills to Your Dog


By Wag! Staff

Published: 09/22/2017, edited: 12/16/2022

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Most dogs, like people, do not like to take pills. After all, they usually don't taste good, nor do they resemble or smell like a food item. Combine this with the fact that your dog has no idea why they need to take a pill, and it can be difficult 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.

Ways to administer pill medication to dogs

There are several methods for effectively giving your dog a pill. 

  • Giving medication in food or in a food treat
  • Crushing pills to add into food
  • Dissolving pills in water and administering as a liquid medication
  • Cover pills in gelcaps to mask the taste
  • Manually administer pills by hand or with a pill applicator

Let's take a more in-depth look at each method, but first, we'll explore how to prepare to administer medication to your dog.

big brown dog sitting up at a table - Tips for Administering Pills to Your Dog

Prepare the space

When your dog needs medication in pill form, make sure you are prepared ahead of time to make the process easier. Read all the instructions on the medication packaging before you begin and be sure 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, any interactions with certain foods should be avoided, what to do if you miss a dose, and how to handle and store the medication.

Next, prepare the space that you will be working in. Gather the medication, treats, wet food, and/or a pill gun, or anything else you need before you begin to administer any pills. Once you are ready, call your pooch over to get started while keeping your tone and body language happy and positive.

Golden Retriever puppy eating food from a dog dish

How do I give my dog a pill in food or treats?

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 biting into the pill resulting in a bad taste 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.

Some prescription pills can be crushed up and added into wet dog food. If you use this method, be sure 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. 

What do you do if your dog is nervous or resistant to taking pills, whether it's because they have “tasted” the pill inserted in a treat before, or just don’t trust that sneaky look in your eye? Here are a few tips to try:

  • Give your dog several treats without medication before giving the one with the pill inserted to “trick” your dog into gulping down the treat and pill. 
  • Make a game of medication time by playing your dog's favorite game, such as fetch, then give treats as rewards when they succeed, such as when they return with the ball or frisbee. Then, mix in the treat or food with the pill in it during one of the returns, making sure to give another non-medicated treat after to keep the trust and positivity going.
  • Have another dog present to foster competition which can make some dogs 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.

an oral syringe for administering liquid medication

How do I give my dog dissolved pills or gelcaps?

Many pills can also be dissolved in warm water and placed in a syringe. In this form, they can be administered as liquid medication by inserting the syringe into the mouth and depressing the syringe to release the dissolved medicine. Some pet parents find this easier than administering a pill, which a dog may be able to manipulate out of their mouth with their tongue, however, the taste can vary from medication to medication. 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. Place the pills into the gelcaps to disguise the taste of the pill. Gelcaps can then be hidden in food or administered manually.

Related: Tips For Administering Liquid Medication to Your Dog

small black and white dog sniffing a pill in human hand

How do I manually give my dog a pill?

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 with your hand or a pill applicator, a device that looks like a syringe with an end that holds the pill and a plunger that releases the pill. If you are not comfortable putting your hand in your dog's mouth or are worried about getting bitten, then a pill applicator may be for you.  

Here's how to manually insert a pill:

  • Hold the pill or applicator in your dominant hand.
  • Grasp your dog's upper jaw with your 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 dominant hand, pull the lower jaw down and drop the pill into the back of your dog's mouth at the base of the tongue. Be careful not to insert the applicator or your fingers too far back as they can injure the mouth or throat, or even cause a gag reflex.
  • Quickly remove your hands to allow your dog to close their mouth and swallow.
  • You can gently hold your dog’s mouth closed to encourage them to swallow. You could also stroke the throat or blow gently into the nose to encourage them.
  • 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.

Your dog may be resistant to this method at first, but be sure to stay positive with encouraging words and treats at the ready. Remember to not ever punish your dog for moving or dropping the pill as this will cause a negative association and make it even harder to give them medication in the future. Instead, gently start over, and reward your dog with lots of praise and treats.

If you are nervous about administering pills to your dog, consult your vet for a visual demonstration. 

Paying for your dog's treatment can get pricey. Fortunately, most pet insurance companies reimburse 90% of vet bills back in your pocket. Compare leading pet insurance companies to find the right plan for your pup.

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© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.