How to

Getting dogs to take their medicine

Claire Dunling

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…

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.
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

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

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!