Giving Pills to Dogs

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

What is the easiest way to give a pill to my dog?

The easiest way to give your dog a pill is to hide the pill in food. This usually works best if you hide it in a special treat such as a small amount of canned dog food, cooked sweet potato, or a soft dog treat that can be molded around it (i.e., Pill Pockets™). To ensure that your dog swallows the pill, you should hand feed the medicated piece of food or treat. Some dogs may spit out the pill, so it is important to watch your pet after administering the medication. Frequently, people find a pile of pills behind a bed or couch when dealing with a particularly clever pet!

If your dog persists in spitting out the pills or if dietary restrictions prevent you from hiding the pills in an appealing treat, you can administer the pill directly into your dog's mouth. Make sure that you have carefully read the prescription label and understand the dosing instructions.

"Make sure that you have carefully read the prescription label and understand the dosing instructions."

How do I give a pill directly into my dog's mouth?

1. Place your dog in a safe and comfortable area where he can be easily handled. Have the pill ready and easily accessible.

2. Lubricate the pill with a very small amount of gravy from canned dog food (nothing too fatty or greasy, as it may upset the pancreas) so that it does not stick in your dog's mouth or throat and is easier to swallow. Pill Pockets™ can also be used to coat the outside of the pill.

3. Hold the pill between your thumb and index finger. Use your dominant hand - for example, if you are right-handed, use your right hand.

4. Gently grasp your dog's muzzle from above with your other hand, by placing your thumb behind the canine teeth on one side of the upper jaw and your fingers on the other.

5. Once you have a firm but gentle grip, tilt your dog's head toward the ceiling. The lower jaw will usually drop open. With your pilling hand, use the little finger and ring finger to open your dog's mouth further by gently putting downward pressure on the lower lip and front teeth.

6. Quickly place the pill as far back over the tongue as possible. Your dog is more likely to swallow the pill if you place it beyond the hump of the tongue at the back of the mouth. Try not to place your hand or fingers too far back in the mouth, as this may stimulate a gag reflex.

7. Close your dog's mouth and hold it closed while you return his head to a normal position.

8. Gently rub your dog's nose or throat or blow lightly on his nose. This should stimulate swallowing. A dog will usually lick his nose after swallowing a pill.

9. Give plenty of praise throughout the process and offer a treat or playtime right after giving the medication. This will make the experience more positive, making it easier to give the medication the next time.

"A dog will usually lick his nose after swallowing a pill."

What if this does not work either?

If you continue to have difficulty, you may want to try a ‘pet piller’ device. If your dog is anxious or fearful of being pilled, contact your veterinarian for advice. Giving pills to your dog can become frustrating (for both of you) and it may be possible to have the medication compounded into a flavored liquid or treat. Veterinary pharmacies can prepare many medications into liquid or treat formulas with appealing flavors such as chicken or beef.

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