How To Administer Pills To a Dog (And Cats Too!)

Medicating dogs can be precarious, because you can’t reason with us about why we need to take a pill.  I’m a food driven 150lb St Bernard, so I’ll happily take any pill as long as it smells like food.  My 165lb St Bernard brother, Masa is another story.  His mouth is as wide as a teenage crocodile, but he somehow manages to pick through the pill and spits it out despite creative camouflage.  Medicating him is war, and in case your dog is as dramatic as Masa,  here are a few tips to administer medication to dogs of all pill detection capabilities.   

Level 1:

Non discerning, trusting dogs like me will take any pill so long as it smells like food.  Pill Pockets are a great invention, because it’s a strongly scented, soft product that allows you to mold the pill into the product.  Most dogs will happily take medication in this format, but in a pinch, here are some substitutes that works just as well:

  • Sliced american cheese: The cheap stuff, not the fancy locally crafted aged cheese. American cheese is pliable like play dough, and it allows you to wrap the medication with ease to conceal any suspicious scents.
  • Peanut butter:  For dogs that love peanut butter, the strong scent masks any medicinal aroma, and the viscosity is a perfect glue to hide the pill.  
  • Cream cheese:  Make a little cream cheese ball and hide the pill in the center. It’s like mid-century cooking!
  • Meat chunks:  Cut a hole in the center to conceal the pill.  Most dogs are too motivated by the high value treat, their pill detection capacity is totally off.  

Level 2:

Some dogs are just not food driven, or you’re in a rush and need to get the pill down your dog’s throat in a hurry.  This method does not work for large pills.  Use this method only for small pills that will easily go down the esophagus.

  • Open your dog’s mouth with your hand, and hold his muzzle steady to keep his jaw open.  Place the pill on the back of his tongue.  The further back and closer to the throat, the better. This process must be planned and swift so that the dog does not realize what happened to him.
  • Expeditiously wrap your hands around the dog’s mouth to close it, and gently blow on his nose.  This will compel him to swallow.  
  • Rub his throat to allow the pill to drop, and offer some water, or a small amount of milk or broth to encourage him to drink.  Don’t give him too much milk as it can cause diarrhea.

Level 3 (Also effective for cats!):

This final method is for dogs like Masa who adamantly refuses to take medication.  He’s like my stubborn and independent 92 year old Aunt in Japan who thinks she’s invincible.  This method is akin to making compound medicine for children by crushing and liquefying the medication.

  • Place the pill on a piece of paper.  Fold paper over the pill, and crush it with a meat tenderizer or a heavy jar.
  • If it’s a capsule, open the capsule and pour the contents into a little bowl.
  • Mix the pulverized medication with a SUPER high value, paste like food item such as vanilla ice cream, liver baby food, or honey and let the dog lick the bowl.
  • If your dog has the tenacity to refuse this method (which Masa does after two weeks of antibiotics), kick it up a notch.  Use liquids that are palatable for dogs, such as milk, melted ice cream, beef broth, and mix the crushed medication.  Use a syringe to suck the contents, and expeditiously shoot it in the back of his mouth by holding his jaw and muzzle steady!  This method must be done quickly, or your efforts will be splattered all over your dog’s nose or on the floor.  By the way, this method is most appropriate for cats.  

The most important thing to remember is that dogs should receive medication with food (unless specified otherwise by your vet).  A round of antibiotics can cause upset stomachs, and over time, your dog will lose his appetite, making the process of administering medication even harder.  Adding probiotics to your dog’s diet is essential in keeping the good bacteria alive during a course of antibiotics, but don’t administer antibiotics and probiotics at the same time as the efficacy of antibiotics can be cancelled by the probiotics.  Be creative with their meals during the period that your dog is on medication to encourage their appetite.  If your dog’s regular kibble is not inspiring him to eat, add palatable additions such as meat, canned pumpkin (which also prevents runny stools caused by antibiotics) eggs, or cottage cheese. Better yet, home cooking always compels Masa to eat when he is feeling lousy.  Check out my homemade dog stew recipe here!