Pet Care

Giving Your Dog a Pill

Fat brown and white Chihuahua licks his lips in anticipation

Some dogs will eat anything and everything—including their medications. However, most dogs are reluctant to gobble down pills and capsules, especially if they’re large or require chewing or smell bad to them. Some dogs are wary of anything unusual and will refuse all types of medications. Read on to learn how to get the medication your dog needs down his throat.

How to Pill Your Dog

Here are a few tricks that can make pilling your dog easier for you and for him:

  • Whenever possible, purchase chewable medications from your vet. They’re flavored, so they taste just like treats.
  • Try mixing your dog’s medication into his meal. If he eats his food enthusiastically, he might not even notice the pill is in there. If you feed your dog kibble, add a small amount of canned food or a soft treat, like a cube of cheese, and push the pill inside. Alternatively, you can simply stick your dog’s pill inside a soft treat or wrap it up in a soft cheese food slice and offer it to him.
  • First prepare five or six treats. Use something really tasty, like soft dog treats, canned food, chunks of hot dog or cheese. You can also try using special hollow treats, such as Greenies® Pill Pockets®, which are made to hold pills. If your dog tends to chew treats rather than swallow them whole, make them small. Give him a few unmedicated treats first, one right after the other, and then give him the one with the pill inside. So your dog doesn’t have time to notice that you’ve just sneakily fed him a pill, immediately pop one more normal treat into his mouth.
  • Dogs who enjoy catching treats tossed to them will often catch and swallow a pill if you act as though you’re tossing a treat. Grab a handful of small treats and toss them to your dog, one right after the other. Somewhere in the midst of the treats, toss the pill or toss a soft treat with the pill hidden inside. With any luck, your dog will catch and swallow it before he even notices it was different!

If All Else Fails…

It’s best to use the tricks above to avoid causing your dog unnecessary stress. However, if those procedures fail, you’ll need to open your dog’s mouth and insert the pill directly. Before you start, get a tasty treat and keep it within reach.

1. Hold the pill in the fingers of one hand. Place that hand on your dog’s lower jaw and the other hand on his upper jaw. Lift his head up toward the ceiling.

2. Open your dog’s mouth and twist your hand around so you can insert the pill. Place the pill to the side of your dog’s tongue as far back as you can reach, and then quickly withdraw your hand as you close your dog’s jaws. (The action is similar to feeding a baby bird small wads of moistened bread.)

3. Continue to hold your dog’s jaws closed with one hand while keeping his nose pointed up at the ceiling, and gently stroke his throat downward with the other to encourage him to swallow.

4. As soon as you think your dog has swallowed the pill, offer him the tasty treat so that he takes it and swallows again when he takes the treat.

Right after pilling your dog, keep an eye on him for a minute or two. Some dogs learn to hold the pill in their mouth and then spit it out when you’re not paying attention.

If You Have to Give Your Dog Pills Frequently

If your dog requires daily medication for a period of time, he could become resistant to pilling. He might run and hide from you when it’s pill time, or he might get savvy about not swallowing his pills. To avoid problems, you can teach your dog in advance that whenever you open his mouth and put something in, it’s almost always a tasty treat. Cut up some soft, tasty treats, such as pieces of hot dog or cheese, or use small chunks of ground beef or chicken. Then follow the steps above, just as you would if giving your dog a pill for real, but use these treats instead of a pill. Repeat the exercise 10 to 20 times in a row. Practice two or three times a day for several days to prepare your dog for taking medication. Eventually, your dog will look forward to your putting things into his mouth, and he‘ll be less likely to object when you occasionally insert a pill instead of a treat. However, in order for this technique to work, you must continue to practice it after you start giving your dog real pills. Overall, the ratio of good experiences to bad experiences for your dog must be high. So for every real pill you give him, he should receive a minimum of 20 “treat pills”—although not all at one time! You can achieve this ratio just by continuing to do 5 to 10 repetitions of the exercise two or three times a day until your dog has finished his entire course of medication.

Where to Find Help

If you need help, a qualified animal behavior expert can give you additional advice. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or an experienced Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area.