Make the Medicine Go Down

Giving a Dog a Pill

Originally produced by Patricia B McConnell PhD CAAD

Can you give your dog a pill? More to the point, can you give your dog a pill three times a day without any stress on you or your pooch? A recent online discussion reminded me how difficult it can be to get some dogs to take their medicine, and I thought it might be helpful to go through some strategies that make medicating your dog relatively easy and stress-free. I’ll list techniques in order of easiest to most involved:

1. Mix it in with the food. This is a no-brainer, and it works great for some dogs and some pills. It helps to add some soft and gooey food like canned or cooked meat if you usually just feed kibble. Caution: If you use this method and have more than one dog, you have to ensure that Dog A gets the medicine while Dog B does not.

However, lots of dogs are picky about what they eat, and some medications seem to taste terrible to dogs. (The pain reliever Tramadol is famous for being rejected by dogs because of its bad taste. I’ve always wondered if sometime it related to the fact that it also causes nausea in some dogs.

Here are some ideas for dogs who won’t take a pill mixed into their dinners:

Dog Medicine

2. The One Two Three Game: First, encase the pill in some highly palatable food, perhaps a piece of chicken or some peanut butter. Put it aside and give the dog a treat with no pill. Then give the dog a second treat. Next, pick up the treat-encased pill and put it right next to your dog’s nose, but don’t let him eat it! Pull it away, as if to tease him. Move it within an inch of your dog’s nose/mouth again and snatch it away a second time. Move it a third time toward your dog’s mouth and let him eat it. Follow it up with a fourth treat, this time with no pill. Unless the pill is truly noxious, this works really well and makes the entire exercise great fun.

3. The Competition Game: Along with #2 or on its own, alternate giving your dog a pill-less treat and giving the treat to either another dog (best), or another living entity in the room, two or four-legged. You are basically trying to set your dog up to see that another food lover is getting the food, and if he doesn’t take his share he’ll miss out. You can do lots of jazz-riffs on this (# of treats, # of times the “other” gets the food) based on your household and your dog’s personality. Obviously, avoid this technique with other dogs if there is any food-related resource guarding in the house. If you’re not married this is a great test of a good potential partner for dog lovers. If the person you are dating won’t help by being the “competitor,” you might want to look around. I’m just saying.

4. Empty Gel Caps: I’d never thought of this as a solution to nasty tasting medicine until it was mentioned on a sheepdog list serve. It is relatively easy for me to give a dog a pill so I’ve never used it, but what a great idea: You can buy empty gel caps at any drug store and put a nasty-tasting pill inside so that your dog won’t reject it. Smart solution, right?

5. Physically giving your dog a pill: Sometimes you don’t have time to go through the suggestions above, or perhaps you’ve tried them all and they haven’t worked. (Rare, but possible.) In addition, I like knowing how to get a pill down a dog without much stress; it seems like a good skill for any dog owner to have. The trick here is to understand that the muscles of a dog’s jaw are designed to press down, but not to pull the mouth open. That makes it easy to open a dog’s mouth if you know where to put your hands. You can make it relatively stress-free by conditioning the dog to expect a great treat when you grasp its upper jaw in one hand. Like the One Two Three Game, you hold the dog’s upper jaw with one hand, pull down the lower jaw with the other and pop a treat into the dog’s mouth. Let her eat it, repeat and then eventually do the same with the pill. Follow up with a real treat. Physically it is easier to do than describe in text. The most common mistakes are to pull the dog’s head up too high (it should be horizontal to the ground) and/or to try to open the dog’s mouth too wide, which makes her begin to fight you because it is so uncomfortable.

Dog Medicine Treats

This is one of those issues that seems trivial… until you have to do it yourself and it’s not going well and your dog is really sick and is beginning to run away from you when you pick up the pill bottle. How about you? What’s your experience giving your dogs pills? Any good ideas I’ve neglected?

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