Giving your dog medication can be a stressful experience. Some dogs are much more willing to accept tablets and capsules than others. Since most dogs will have to take some sort of oral pill at some point in their lives, it's important to have a few ideas of how to medicate your dog so that the process goes as smoothly as possible and avoids stress for you and your dog. I've listed a few suggestions for giving medications below. If you use a different technique that I haven't mentioned, feel free to reply and share your idea.
Tip 1: Hide the taste of the pill by placing the pill inside food or a treat
I would say that this is the most commonly used technique and one of the easiest (some people can get away with placing pills in their dog's food bowl, but most are not that lucky).
There are a few tricks to ensure that this goes smoothly.
(1) The treat needs to be very flavorful. Consider the following options: Greenies Pill Pockets, canned dog food, meat flavored baby food, Hill's A/D, peanut butter (some people think crunchy works best), a small meatball, cheese, piece of hotdog.
(2) To avoid suspicion by your dog, give your dog a treat, then a treat filled with medication, then a treat without medication. Have all of the treats set up ahead of time. If he sees three treats lined up, hopefully, that will be what he's focused on, not that the second one tastes a bit funny.
Note: I know that all of the options for treats that I've listed are not the most healthy. If you can think of healthier options that work, great. If you need to give one of these options short term to give pills, I don't think that's the end of the world. What I would avoid is anything that is extremely high in fat (like butter, which I've heard of people using); high-fat diets can trigger pancreatitis, which we want to avoid.
Tip 2: Place the pill in a gel cap, then give in a treat
Many pills taste very bitter, so I don't recommend crushing them and placing them in food or liquid. You wouldn't want to take pills that way, would you?
To disguise the taste of pills (more than placing them in food) you can place them in a gel cap (gelatin capsule); these can be purchased online, in many health food stores and at some veterinary clinics. The gel cap can then be placed in a treat and given to your dog.
Tip 3: Have the pill compounded into a flavored liquid or treat
If your dog has a condition requiring him to take medication long-term and if you feel that medicating him is a struggle, you can have his medications compounded.
Many compounding pharmacies can create chicken or fish flavored liquid medications (etc.). Some are even offering medications that come as a flavored treat. You can usually purchase a sample of the treats ahead of time (a flavored variety pack) to see if your dog would be interested; if he is, then you can ask them to formulate your dog's medication as a flavored treat. Stokes and Golden Gate are examples of pharmacies that offer these services and ship nationwide.
Tip 4: Use a syringe filled with water
This is a "back to basics" technique. If done correctly, it's quick and painless and you can give your dog a treat after they accept their medication (for being a good patient).
Step 1: Prep
Get everything that you need. You'll need your dog's medication, a 3 or 6 ml syringe filled with room temperature water (ask your vet for this), and a treat (or two) to give your dog afterward for a job well done.
Step 2: Pilling
Don't make a big deal out of step 2. Think "quick and painless".
Hold the pills in your dominant hand (fingertips).
Open your dog's mouth (using both hands) and quickly place the pills at the back of his throat.
Quickly close his mouth and gently hold it closed (using non-dominant hand).
Place the water-filled syringe between cheek and gums (mouth is still closed) and at a moderate pace, depress the plunger so that the water flows into his mouth. This will ensure that he swallows the pills.
Once you see him visibly swallow, reach for the treat...
Step 3: Give your dog a treat
This is also a good time to make sure that all of the pills were swallowed and to think about how you can make Step 2 more seamless next time.
Those are a few basic recommendations for giving oral medications. If you have other techniques, which have worked well for you, feel free to share.
Don't get discouraged if you try one of the above techniques and it doesn't work well. As with most things, it will get easier with practice.
Dr. Lori Cesario
Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist
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