Getting dogs to take their medicine
A spoonful of sugar is NOT an option. Ham may work though! Now you’ve been a smart 21st Century shopper: you got the dog’s prescription from the vet, popped to Pet Drugs Online and saved a packet. Now for the tough bit, as when their drugs arrive in the post you have to get the dog to take them! Of course, when the vet demonstrated this in the surgery it looked easy.
Now it is important that your dog takes the right amount, at the right times, in the right way for the full course of their treatment. The first and most important step is to get the packet out, read the label and look at the medicine to properly understand what you’ll be giving them. Do you need to break tablets in half? What does 3ml mean? What does it look like on the syringe ? Also, be clear if your vet said the medication can be given with food or given on an empty stomach – this matters as it determines the speed with which it reaches their blood stream.
Before you start
We’ve compiled a few tips to help the make the taking that little bit easier. For all medicines the following apply:
Administer medicine on the floor or on a table with a non-slip surface, this is much safer if they panic or wriggle
When giving your dog any medicine, stay calm. Your dog can sense if you are nervous it will just complicate the process
Always praise and reward your pet afterwards. Maybe give them a treat, although be sure to consider the extra calories such treats add to their diet.
How to give your dog tablets or capsules
If you’re lucky any tablets, pills or capsules can be mixed with wet food. In this case you can crush the pills (there are pill crushers for just this purpose) and then mix the dust with the dog’s meat. Some capsules can be opened or squeezed onto food, then mixed in. Some can have a very strong taste, so you may need to do some disguising with smelly or strong tasting food. Pilchards anyone?
Some tablets are given whole, others as halves or quarters. If they need to be divided look to see if they have been ‘scored’ and try snapping one to see if this works. If not you may need a pill cutter (again you get these from us). As a rule you can split pills that are loose in bottles well in advance, but tablets popped from foil need to be split just before you administer them.
Once you’re familiar with the medications, get ready for action…
- Get the pills ready and have them with arms reach
- If you can get some help, do so. Having someone else do the restraining means you can concentrate on the giving
- Grab the pill between the thumb and index finger of one hand while…
- …firmly grasping the upper jaw with the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Gently fold the upper lip over the teeth as you open the mouth. This will reduce the chance of being bitten.Rotate your wrist to tilt the dog’s head upwards. Use your middle finger to slowly open the lower jaw
- Bring your pill holding hand up to the dog’s mouth
- It may feel brave, but place your middle finger over the small incisor teeth. This will help keep their jaw open and although these teeth are not as sharp as those of a cat, they cannot exert enough pressure to bite. Or at least bite hard!
- Try to pop the pill as far back on the tongue as possible
- Immediately close the mouth and hold it closed for at least 30 seconds
- Gently stroke the throat or blow on the nose to encourage swallowing
- Give them a proper fuss. They deserve it!
Pill Crusher/Splitter cut pills with a stainless steel blade or crush them to a fine powder£7.90
There are pill givers, which work in one of two ways, either as long tweezers or a launchers that gently fire the pill down the dog’s throat. Some find having their fingers clear re-assuring, but other find these cumbersome. What’s important is that you find what works for you – and gets the medicines down your dog!
Over the last few years a number of manufacturers have launched specific pill hiding treats. There are tubes of ‘paste’ which have such a moreish flavour that pills are eaten by accident. There are also treats that feel like under cooked, doughy biscuits that can be moulded around pills. These taste nice and may be eaten as a standalone treat or smuggled in amongst kibble to be wolfed down unnoticed.
Persevere. They may not like being given their medication but it is important. So stick with it.
Liquids and syrups
Now if you’re lucky, the medicine the dog’s been prescribed is a liquid that can be mixed with wet food. This may still need disguising in really smelly meat or fish. So be sure to check with your vet if their liquid meds can be added to food or if it has to put directly into their mouth. If you have to use the oral application route, then there are 6 key steps
- Always read the label first to check correct dosage and, if instructed, shake the contents of the bottle. Then check the graduations or dropper to be sure you know how much to draw up.
- If you’re using a syringe, be sure to practice squeezing it in and out one handed. It is surprising how different these can be – some plungers move easily, others resist and then squirt everything out in one gush. When you’re comfortable, fill the syringe or dropper with the liquid.
- Firmly grasp the dog’s muzzle with one hand while holding the syringe or dropper with the other hand.
- Gently place the syringe/dropper into the pouch between the teeth. Squeeze the syringe/dropper to squirt the medication in.
- Hold the dog’s jaw closed and tilt the head back slightly. Stroke the throat or blow on the nose on to them for a few seconds more to ensure they’ve swallowed.
- If they gag or cough out the medication out, lower their head and let them clear their throat. Wait a few minutes to get them to calm down and then try again.
If it doesn’t work first time, don’t worry you’ll get better with practice. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll be a dab hand with a syringe. In your left hand. Whilst holding a collie!
This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.
If in doubt contact your veterinary practice
And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!