When your veterinarian prescribes medication for your dog, it's not always as simple as it sounds. Dogs can't swallow pills as easily as we can and if they get a bad taste in their mouth from medication, they may start to avoid pills entirely. Don't worry—there are ways to make it simple and safe to give your dog a pill.
Step 1: Check the Instructions
Make sure you talk with your vet about the medication to find out how the pill should be administered. Can it be given with food? Is it available in a “chewable” form? Most medications should not be chewed or ground up first. Unless specifically directed, you should never grind medication into food or let your dog chew it.
To keep the pill intact, you can try the “meatball” method, by stuffing it in the middle of a soft treat, “pill pocket,” cheese, or ball of moist dog food. Dogs don't usually chew small balls of food, but you should test this first. Create a couple meatball treats without the pill to see if your dog chews them and if the pill is likely to fall out. If your dog chews the test treats, try making the meatball smaller.
Dogs are also less likely to chew if they catch a treat in the air. Try throwing meatballs and see if it will work. Once you know your dog will swallow without chewing, create a couple extra treats, and sneak the pill in the middle of the series. Your dog won't even know the difference, thinking they are having a lucky day.
By Hand or with Pilling Devices
When pills cannot be taken with food or the meatball method, you will have to open your dog's mouth to give the pill. Follow these steps to give your dog a pill safely and avoid being bitten.
- Have the pill ready and a treat nearby. Hold the pill in your dominant hand. You might want to coat it with peanut butter to mask the flavor.
- With your non-dominant hand, take hold of the dog's upper jaw around their nose, avoiding the sharp canine teeth. If you have a smaller dog, hold around the cheeks. As you put your thumb and pinkie into their mouth, pull their head up and gently pull the upper lip over their teeth. This discourages them from biting you, as their own lips are in the way.
- Use your dominant hand to pull open their lower jaw, avoiding the canines again.
- With your dominant hand, quickly place the pill far back on the tongue. Always place the pill, never toss it down their throat, since that could make them choke.
- Rapidly close their mouth, tilting it upward, and hold it closed for a few seconds.
- Blow on their nose or massage their throat to encourage them to swallow.
- Once you are sure the pill has been swallowed, it's reward time! Give them a treat for being so good.
- Watch your dog for a little while to make sure they don't spit out the pill.
If sticking your hand in your dog's mouth is a concern, you can give the pill with a pilling device. The plastic device holds the pill so that your dominant hand stays safely out of the way. If you are bitten, make sure you clean out the wound very thoroughly and seek medical attention. A dog’s teeth can be sharp and their mouths contain a lot of bacteria.
Tips for Successful Pilling
The key is to make taking a pill an enjoyable experience, no mater which method you use. It's especially important if you have to give pills often. Whenever possible, give a treat as the final food to avoid a bad medicine taste. If you have to give pills daily, and your dog becomes scared, start giving them treats using the same method. If they associate having their jaw held as a way to get treats, they'll be less afraid and less likely to notice when they do get a pill.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.