Most dog parents find themselves needing to give their dog a pill at some point in their lives. Regardless of whether your dog is food-motivated or wildly uncooperative, we cover important information to help all dog owners successfully give medication.
Here we’ve curated the top vet-recommended ways to give your dog a pill and make your experience as stress-free as possible. We’ll use the term ‘pill’ in this article in its broadest definition – from tablets to capsules and medications to natural supplements.
Hide Your Dog’s Pill in Food
The easiest way to give your dog a pill is to hide it in food. Before you try this method, it’s important to check with your veterinarian (DVM) to make sure that the medication doesn’t need to be given on an empty stomach. While you’re at it, ask your veterinarian if it’s okay to open a capsule or crush a pill up before mixing it with food.
Time your dog’s medications with their meal time (if possible) so they will be hungry when it comes time to eat their medicated food. We recommend you hide the supplement or crushed pill into a small amount of wet dog food to start. A small portion ensures you can try again if need be and that they are able to finish all of the food you give them. For some dogs, this is as easy as downing a pill pocket treat. For other dogs, they may be a bit skeptical as to why their regular food has a bitter taste.
You can choose special treats that will not only mask the taste of the pills, but also be easy to hide their pill in. A piece of soft meat (e.g. hot dog, liverwurst, chicken, meatball), canned pet food, small piece of cheese, cream cheese, soft dog treats, peanut butter, and pill pocket treats are all great options.
Foods with a high fat content are especially good at masking the taste and smell of yucky meds. If you choose human foods as your treat, first make sure that they don’t contain ingredients that are harmful to your dog (e.g., the sweetener xylitol) or contain an ingredient that could cause an allergic reaction.
Remember, if a pill shouldn’t be crushed, it likely shouldn’t be chewed either. In this case, you can use a tiny piece of food that your dog won’t need to chew. If a pill can be crushed, it’s best to mix it in with wet food rather than dry kibble, so you know they ingest the full dose.
Observe your dog while they are eating to make sure they’ve swallowed their medication. If they spit it out, try again with another small portion of food. If this still doesn’t work, it’s time to try a more hands-on approach.
How to Put Medication Directly in a Dog’s Mouth
Some dog parents prefer to pop medications straight down their dog’s gullet rather than worry about mixing it with food. Other dog parents can’t use food to give their dog oral medication because it needs to be given whole or on an empty stomach. Whatever the reason may be, here are some veterinarian-backed techniques for giving a dog medication by hand.
Imagine having your dog’s mouth open, they are about to wiggle free, and you realize that you haven’t opened up the bottle of their medication yet. Learn from the mistakes of countless people before you and make sure you’re prepared.
You’ll want to have the correct dose of their medication ready to go and all the supplies you need (e.g., dog treats, toys) within arms reach. Some pet owners find that it’s best if their dog doesn’t see the pill bottle so they don’t know what’s coming – they can be quite clever!
Harness the power of treats! Consider making your dog do something to earn a treat. This is a good opportunity to observe if they chew or swallow a treat. Dogs generally swallow quickly when they anticipate another treat is quickly forthcoming, so have a few treats ready to go for rewarding commands. Offer the treat with the medication in your session – chances are they’ll be oblivious to your plan.
Whether you’re going at it alone or you have someone to help you, walk through the plan of exactly what you’re going to do. Choose a time when your dog is relaxed and approach them in a fun, confident, and calm manner with lots of praise.
How to Position Yourself and Your Dog
You will want to kneel, squat, or sit on the ground with your dog between your legs and facing away from you. Your shoulders should be slightly higher than your dog’s head, so choose the position that is most comfortable for you.
You’ll be giving them the medication with your dominant hand and holding their jaw open with your non-dominant hand.
Remember to give them a lot of praise, pats, and maybe even some treats. When you’re ready to give them their supplement, pet your dog’s head and move closer to their mouth. You’ll be doing the next step as quickly, but controlled as possible.
How to Give a Pill
Place your non-dominant hand over the top of their snout, lift their lips, and place your thumb and pointer finger just behind their canine teeth (in the space where there is only a bit of gum and no sharp points). Gently lift their nose upwards to open their mouth.
Using your pointer finger of your dominant hand, open your dog’s mouth by gently pushing down on their lower front teeth if the lower jaw hasn’t already dropped open. Place the medication in the middle of the very back of the dog’s tongue. Looking towards their throat, an indentation at the center of the tongue can be visualized. Aim there.
Close their mouth, and with your dog’s nose still facing slightly upwards, stroke their throat and/or blow a short quick breath at their nose as if you were trying to scare them to stop the hiccups or swipe a bit of butter on their nose, to stimulate swallowing. Note: if their nose is too high, it will be difficult for them to swallow. This video demonstrates the technique you’ll want to use.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again from the beginning. Try aiming for further back in the throat; dogs are remarkably talented at spitting out pills from the back of their mouths.
REMEMBER, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE REWARDS!
We recommend that you follow the pill with treats for your dog (only if food is okay) and/or water to help it travel easily. Tell them they did a great job and distract them with a favorite toy – they’ll soon forget it all even happened.
Still Having Trouble? Try These Tips:
Recruit a second person to help you, for your safety and that of your dog. One person can gently restrain your dog and the other one can give the capsule.
Lubricate pills to make it go down easier. Big pills are harder for dogs to get down, especially for small dogs. Consider lubricating larger capsules and chalky pills with a small amount of butter or a pet safe gel to make it move down your dog’s throat easier. This is ok to do even if pills need to be given on an empty stomach.
Your veterinarian may recommend using a pill popper device, also called a pill pusher, piller, or a pill gun. A pill popper looks like a syringe with a large opening for the pill to go into and a plunger to ‘pop’ the pill into the back of the mouth. It helps dog parents get the capsule into the back of a dog’s mouth without putting their fingers in, which is especially helpful for dogs that bite or have small mouths.
Try a different position. Some dog parents find giving pills is easier when they have their dog sitting on their lap instead of the floor. This can make the dog feel more secure, and it makes it harder for them to wiggle free.
Distract your dog with toys, treats and cuddles. You know your dog best; choose items and praise that will take their attention away from the fact that you’re holding a pill. Is there a time of day or certain routine where your dog knows they’ll get a treat? That can be a great time to give them a pill inside their treat without raising suspicion.
Ask your veterinarian if it is possible to change the form of your dog’s medication or supplement. Some medications come in a liquid form rather than a pill, which may be easier to give to your dog. Your vet may also be able to compound some medications, which means they are able to make your dog’s medicine into a different form (e.g. transdermal lotion) other than the routinely prescribed one. While this is often more expensive, it might be much easier to give a custom formulation to a dog who is more challenging. Ask your veterinarian about what other options are available to you.
Remember that for some dogs, giving them a pill can be quite a struggle, especially at first. We promise you will become more proficient by practicing the methods that work best for you. You are not alone and we believe in you!
Giving DoggyBiome Supplements
DoggyBiome™ Gut Restore Supplement is a fecal transplant (FMT) in a capsule that is designed to deliver healthy, dog-specific gut microbes straight to the intestines. These capsules should NOT be opened because some of the beneficial bacteria within will be killed in the stomach acid and the contents of the capsule are potentially not palatable to some dogs. We recommend hiding the capsule in food first and then trying the hands-on approach method – choose whatever way works best for you and your dog.
DoggyBiome GMP Gut Maintenance Plus™ comes in a capsule and contains a science-backed formula of specific prebiotics and probiotics designed to target the cause of occasional diarrhea flare ups. It contains a bacteriophage which is especially helpful for reducing high levels of E. coli or C. difficile bacteria. These capsules CAN be opened and mixed with food or given with the hands on approach.
DoggyBiome™ S. boulardii + FOS Powder contains a science-backed formula of specific prebiotics and probiotics designed to improve your dog’s digestive health and the resilience of the gut microbiome. This dry, loose powder is best mixed in with moistened food at mealtimes.
DoggyBiome™ ImmuneShield™ with Epicor® Chews contains ingredients that improve immune function and promote gut health. These chews are trout-flavored and can be given as a treat. Some dogs really like the taste of these chews, so be mindful of the recommended dosage. Your dog’s weight is used to determine the number of chews they should have per day.