Giving a pet oral medications, or medicines that must be swallowed, can be frustrating and even near-impossible with an uncooperative pet. Here are some tips and tricks for getting your dog or cat to swallow that pill, capsule, or liquid safely and with minimum hassle.
The “Meatball” Method
When it works, this method is the quickest and easiest for pills. Roll a small “meatball” of wet dog or cat food and see if your pet will swallow it with minimal chewing, or if they chew it all before they swallow.
If your pet is a chewer, you’ll have to move on to another method. If your pet swallowed the test meatball, you can roll another, this time with the pill inside, and let your pet eat it. If this method works for your pet, stock up on pill pockets--treats ready-made with a pouch for hiding a pill.
Don’t skip straight to the pill-in-meatball step, in case your pet will chew the whole meatball—they’ll find the medication, probably dislike the taste and spit it out, and leave you with a mess and a pet that’s now wary of what you’re feeding it.
Manually Give a Pill
You can do this simply with your fingers, or with a special pilling device—essentially a long plastic holder that will keep your fingers out of your pet’s mouth as you deliver the pill.
Use your non-dominant hand (left hand if you’re right-handed), to hold the head of your cat or dog around the cheekbones. If your dog has a long nose, hold it by the nose instead. In your dominant hand, hold the pill between your thumb and forefinger.
Tip the animal’s head back. A cat’s jaw will usually drop open when you pull its head back. If it doesn’t, or if you’re giving the pill to a dog, use the hand holding the pill to gently open your animal’s jaw.
Hold cat's head around cheekbones. Hold the long nose of a dog.If your dog has a short nose, hold around the cheekbones.
With the hand holding your dog's nose, gently fold the skin of your dog's lips over his top teeth. This will keep your hand safe from their teeth.
When working with either animal, be sure that on the bottom jaw, your fingers are resting on the small incisor teeth, and keep them clear of the longer, sharp canine teeth.
Quickly place the pill as far back on your pet’s tongue as you can reach. Then close your pet’s jaw, stroke their neck, and blow a puff of air at their nose. Stroking the neck and blowing at the nose will encourage your pet to swallow.
If you have a pilling device, use that to reach the back of your pet’s tongue instead of your fingers. Don't try to aim the pill straight down the throat--simply put the pill far back on the tongue and let your animal do the swallowing, or you'll risk a choking hazard.
The Dropper Method for Liquid Medications
Liquid medications will come with a dropper that you can use to administer the medicine.
DO NOT tip your pet’s head back when using liquid—doing so could cause the liquid to enter the windpipe instead.
Hold your pet’s mouth closed, and use a finger to pull open just the lips on one side—so you have a “pouch” between the teeth and the cheek, far back to one side of the jaw.
Quickly squirt the dose into this pouch, then hold the mouth closed, stroke the neck, and blow a puff of air on your pet’s nose to encourage them to swallow. If the dose looks like a large amount to swallow at once, divide it into a few applications. Use your judgement on how much your pet can comfortably swallow at once.
Vitamins or Supplements
Vitamins and supplements for pets often come in powdered or liquid form, in which case you can mix the dosage in with your pet’s food. Wet food is better for this than dry kibble, since you can stir the vitamins in, and your pet won’t be able to discern the difference or eat around them. Also, liquids and powders can fall to the bottom of the bowl, leaving some of your pet’s dose uneaten.
Don’t do this with liquid medications, since medicines are more likely to have an adverse flavor, keeping your pet from eating the food at all. Also, in general, you’ll need to be more precise about the dosage of a medicine than a vitamin or supplement, so use the dropper method described above.
Two Helpful Tips
If you know you’ll have to give oral medication to an uncooperative pet, go through all the motions of the process right up to giving the medicine—touch your pet’s head and jaw, make soothing sounds, open their mouth. Then praise your pet like they’ve just completed a trick, and maybe give them a treat. That way, your pet won’t always associate your touching their face and jaw with unwanted prodding, and they’ll be more cooperative when you need them to be.
If your pet squirms away from you while you're trying to hold their head or face, stand beind your pet, so they'll just back up into you.
Always read the label and heed your veterinarian's instructions for dosage and application of any medication or supplement.
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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.