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How to Give Your Dog a Pill

by Bella Woof

Convincing a dog to swallow pills that smell suspicious, taste bitter, and feel unpleasant can be a challenge. Forcing a dog to swallow a pill can result in a bite or disrupt a human-canine relationship. What’s the best approach?

Try food. That’s the number-one recommendation of veterinary staff, dog trainers, and experienced owners. Of course, this works best with dogs who are chow hounds to begin with, but even finicky dogs can be tempted by treats that contain pills.

Some of the most effective pill-hiding foods are:

  • Soft cheese, goat cheese, or cream cheese
  • Raw or cooked ground beef or other meat
  • Hot dog pieces
  • Soft spreads like liverwurst
  • Nut butters
  • Pureed pumpkin
  • Mashed strongly flavored fish like sardines or mackerel

If using a prepared food, check its label to be sure it doesn’t contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs such as onions or xylitol.

Pack the cheese, meat, or other treat around the pill, but not while your dog is watching. Create a morsel large enough to surround the pill but small enough for your dog to swallow whole. Biting into a bitter-tasting pill can ruin your dog’s attachment to any treat, even a favorite.

Another strategy is to learn whether a pill can be crushed without harming its medicinal properties. If so, try crushing it in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or hammer, then mix the powdered bits into canned or pureed wet food.

Suspicious Hounds

If your dog suspects that you’re loading his treat with something unpleasant, try these strategies:

  • Wash your hands after handling the medication. Dogs’ noses are so sensitive, your pup will recognize the medication’s fragrance if you don’t.
  • Pretend to eat the medicated treat yourself. Everything you eat is of interest to your dog and he’ll want some, too.
  • If you have another dog, set up a rewards session and feed treats to both of them. Most dogs eat everything faster when there’s potential competition.
  • Give your dog five treats in quick succession with the treat that holds the pill somewhere in the middle. Your dog won’t have time to do anything but swallow the next treat.
  • If you use pill pockets, offer one from time to time that contains only a special treat with no pills. This will make pill pockets less suspicious.
  • Administer pills immediately before a fun activity like going for a walk, running in the yard, or playing an indoor game. Soon your dog will associate medication time with play time.

Try pill pockets

These hollow treats are designed to hold tablets or capsules. One popular brand is Greenies, whose chicken-flavored pill pockets contain chicken, glycerin, wheat flour, wheat gluten, vegetable oil, dried corn syrup, natural flavor, vinegar, sodium bisulfate, natural hickory smoke flavor, mixed tocopherols, citric acid (preservatives), and rosemary extract.

For pockets with minimal ingredients, try making your own by mixing 1/4 cup water, milk, or bone broth with 1/4 cup peanut or almond butter (made without salt or sugar) and 1/2 cup wheat or gluten-free flour. Roll 1/2 teaspoon dough into balls and use the round tip of a wooden spoon or chopstick to form a pill-sized indentation in each ball. Refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months.

Pill Poppers

To give your dog a pill without food, try a pill popper or pill gun. Available from vet clinics and pet supply stores, this syringe-like tool drops a tablet or capsule through a tube into your dog’s mouth. See the Lxnoap Pet Pill Gun at Amazon and other suppliers. Load it with a pill, gently open your dog’s mouth, and drop the pill at the back of the throat. Follow with a small amount of water and massage your dog’s throat to encourage her swallowing reflex. Then check her mouth to be sure it’s gone as some dogs are clever about hiding pills and then spitting them out when no one’s looking.

When All Else Fails…

If your dog is still resisting, ask your veterinarian for help. Vet techs are pilling experts and can give you a detailed demonstration, or your vet may be able to supply the medication in a different form, such as liquid or flavored, that is easier to administer.

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