Tricks to Get Your Dog to Swallow a Pill
5 vet-approved techniques to make it go down easy.
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If you live with a dog, it is likely that at some point, you will be faced with the dreaded task of having to give them medication. For an animal that will try to eat pretty much anything — couch cushions, socks, spiders — dogs sure are picky when it comes to swallowing medication. Whether it’s antibiotics for a cough or anti-nausea meds for car sickness, watching your dog spit out pill after pill is frustrating, to say the least, for pet parents. Don’t panic. And don’t pretend to eat the pill to fool your dog, either (it won’t work — we tried). Instead, try these vet-recommended techniques on how to give a dog a pill.
1. Hide it in human food
If ever there was a time to slip your pup some table scraps, this is it. The trick is to use human food as the Trojan horse: Bury the pill inside a soft cheese like mozzarella or small fruit like a strawberry (avoid sticky substances like peanut butter). “Homemade pill pockets are easy to create. There’s a wide variety of foods that can become your next pill pocket. Use foods your dog really loves. Monopolize on textures of foods and chill foods for better pill-holding properties,” says Melissa Shapiro, DVM, owner of Visiting Vet Service. Some of the best foods to hide dog pills in include homemade pill pockets such as:
Scrambled egg patty
Warm or chilled peanut butter sandwich squares
Chilled peanut butter balls
Chilled cream cheese balls
Cut pieces of hot dog
Soft cooked pasta
Small pieces of chicken and beef
Melted cheese on toast
The key is you don’t want your dog to have to chew in order to swallow, since they might bite into the medication and associate the food with a bad taste and/or spit it out. So stick to small treats that they’ll swallow whole — none the wiser. “Most important, act like they are getting the best treat in the world. Have them sit, do tricks, and then hand off the medication-laden treat to your unsuspecting very happy pup,” adds Shapiro.
2. Use a pill pocket or paste
Pill pockets are soft dog treats with a notch cut out to hide your pet’s medicine in (genius, right?). Several brands make them, so you’ll just want to find a flavor your pet is especially fond of. Pill pastes are another popular method, which, like the name implies, is a super-flavored paste rather than a solid treat that envelops your pup’s medication.
3. Try the ‘three-treat method’
If you’ve got an exceptionally smart pup (here’s looking at you, Border Collie parents), a single treat might not be enough. Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital, suggests using the ‘three-treat method’ if you’re struggling to get your dog to take a pill. “Get three identical treats and stuff the medicine into one of them,” she explains. “Give your dog the first treat so they know what it tastes like (yum), then give them the treat with the pill in it, followed quickly by the third treat. Your dog will be so excited to eat all the treats that they’ll quickly swallow the one with the pill. This method works even better if there is another dog around.”
4. Learn to ‘pill’ your dog like a pro
If your dog consistently spits out their meds after you’ve tried every trick, ask your vet to teach you how to pill your dog (pill being a verb here). This is what Dr. Ashley Rossman, DVM, a veterinarian at Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital, tells her clients: “Gently pry your dog’s mouth open and quickly place the pill at the back of their throat, then massage the outside of their throat to make sure they swallow it.” They won’t like it, but hey, you tried the easy way! Watch this video on how to give a dog a pill.
5. Try liquid or chewable meds
Some dogs are just impossible and will not take oral medications under any circumstances. If all else fails, ask your vet if your dog’s medication comes in flavored liquid or chewable form. It may be more expensive, but also easier to administer. “Specialty compounding pharmacies are popping up to address the need for tasty ways to get meds into dogs. They offer flavored liquids and tablets, tiny capsules, transdermal creams, and even injectable meds,” says Shapiro. Of course, check in with your veterinarian for the best place to start when you have questions and concerns about medicating your dog.
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Colleen Stinchcombe lives near Seattle, WA, where she works as a writer, editor, and content strategist. Her two rescue pups wish she were a professional ball-thrower.