If we had our way, our dogs would always be in perfect health, never in need of veterinary care or medication.
But alas, we don’t live in a perfect world, and in all likelihood, your dog will need to take a pill at some point in his life. Whether it’s a cautionary antibiotic, a soothing painkiller, a routine antiparasitic or a life-saving chemotherapy drug, medication could make or break your dog’s health.
The problem is that dogs don’t know just how important those pills are. And they’ll do anything to avoid taking them.
But giving your dog his pill doesn’t need to be as much of a struggle as he seems to think it does. Try these three simple tricks to make the pill-giving process easier for both you and your dog — one is sure to work on even the most stubborn pill refusers.
Three Easy Ways to Give Dogs Pills
1. Mix It in a Meal
This is the easiest way to get your dog to take his pill, and it’s especially effective if he’s the type to wolf down his dinner without so much as a glance. Just mix the pill in with his regular food and let him at it!
Hiding the pill in your dog’s food works best if you feed your dog wet food — he’s less likely to notice it if it’s fully encased in meaty goodness. But if he’s not particularly observant, you can often get away with mixing it into kibble as well.
This method isn’t foolproof, though. If your dog doesn’t finish his meal, doesn’t have much of an appetite or manages to spot the pill, he may not end up eating it — not good if he’s on a specific dosing schedule!
Plus, not all medications can be safely or easily mixed into food. Some medications need to be taken without food, and some taste so bad that your dog is sure to notice it and refuse to eat any of his food.
2. Try the Treat Trick
Your dog loves treats, and you can exploit this weakness when giving him his pills. Hiding the pill in a tasty treat is an excellent way to trick him into taking his medication without a fuss.
Special treats called Pill Pockets are designed specifically for this purpose. They’re soft treats with a cavity in the center — just put the pill in the cavity, pinch the opening closed and toss it to your dog.
If you can’t find or don’t want to use Pill Pockets, you can also use sliced ham, turkey, cheese or other food that your dog enjoys.
Your dog may be suspicious of new treats at first, so we recommend playing a little game with him to get him used to them.
First, offer him a Pill Pocket or other treat without a pill in it. Let him sniff it and check it out if he wants, then let him gobble it down when he’s ready.
Chances are he’ll love it and want another one now that he knows there’s nothing shady about it. So give him another one without a pill and watch his face light up.
Now it’s time to discreetly tuck a pill into a treat and offer this one to him. He’ll be on a treat-eating roll at this point and may not even stop to chew the treat before swallowing it — and the pill — whole.
Finally, give him one more empty treat and a bunch of pets for being such a good boy and taking his meds.
3. Physical Pill Administration
If your dog has figured out your food and treat tricks, you may need to be more direct about giving him his pills.
Giving your dog a pill manually means getting up close and personal with his mouth and teeth. The last thing you want is to get bitten when trying to help him, so we recommend using a pill giver device instead of your bare hands.
A pill giver is a special contraption that’s designed specifically for giving pills to dogs. You insert the pill into the device, then insert the device into your dog’s mouth and “shoot” the pill back past his tongue and into his throat to get him to swallow it.
The key is to get the pill as far back as possible, so he has no choice but to swallow. If it ends up too close to the front of his mouth, he’ll simply spit it out without swallowing it.
Load up the pill giver and hold it in your dominant hand. With your non-dominant hand, grasp your dog’s upper muzzle, placing your thumb behind his canine teeth on one side and your fingers behind the canines on the other side.
Once you’ve got a gentle but firm grip, tilt your dog’s head back slightly until the lower jaw opens. Don’t tilt it so far back that his nose is pointed at the ceiling; his head should still be mostly parallel to the ground.
When his mouth is open wide enough to fit the pill giver, insert it past the “hump” of the tongue and release the pill into the back of the mouth. Then remove the pill giver and gently but firmly hold your dog’s mouth shut until he swallows.
If your dog won’t swallow, try blowing lightly on his nose or massaging his throat to stimulate the swallowing reflex. And if you have difficulty getting the pill giver in, have another person hold the dog’s mouth open while you administer the pill, or vice-versa.