Human adults often struggle to take pills, so it’s no wonder your dog might have some trouble swallowing their medicine, too. Encouraging a dog to take medicine can be stressful for you and Fido, but it’s often crucial for your pup to swallow the pills to keep parasites like fleas, ticks, or heartworms at bay.
To make it easier, follow these eight tips and tricks when giving your dog a pill.
1. Follow vet guidance for prescription medicines
Some pills should go with food, while other medications are best taken on an empty stomach. Before you start giving your dog medicine, make sure to closely follow all instructions to keep your dog safe. You might need to give your dog one pill twice a day, morning and night, or two pills three times a day. Double- and triple-check the dosages and times, then set up a schedule to follow the instructions. This can help ensure the medication works as intended and your pup stays safe and healthy.
2. Work with their routine
Oftentimes, you’ll need to give your dog their medication on a regular basis. Incorporate the medicine into a normal part of their day, like breakfast, dinner, or their morning walk. Especially when paired with food at mealtimes or a treat before their walk, your dog might actually start looking forward to taking their medicine.
3. Stay calm
Your dog can sense when you’re feeling stressed. Be sure to stay calm and happy when it’s time to give Fido a pill. That might mean lots of belly rubs, a relaxing walk in the park, or snuggles on the couch.
Go for a walk
Dogs love walks, so use this time to also give medication. The excitement for a walk will distract your pup from feeling anxious or stressed about taking medicine. Try giving your dog their medicine just before or during their first walk of the day, if the medication instructions require a pill in the morning.
Give lots of love
Both before and after you give the pill, also snuggle, pet, and kiss your dog. All this love can help you both feel more relaxed. Don’t forget the belly rubs and ear scratches as a reward for taking the medicine!
4. Pair the pill with treats
Whether your dog loves peanut butter or cheese or a classic dog treat, use this to your advantage. Food is one of the most popular ways to help your dog finally take their pills. Give the pill to your dog along with some dog-friendly human food or a dog treat. For ultra-stubborn dogs, hide the pill within the food.
Just note that dogs can often smell the pill residue, so use one hand to hide the pill and the other hand to touch the treat and give it to your dog. Wash your hands after hiding the pill and before giving the treat. Also, make sure you use a food that is safe for your dog to eat. The following options are dog-friendly, but keep any of your dog’s food allergies in mind.
👉 Some dog medications don’t work with certain foods. For example, avoid hiding tetracycline antibiotics in a piece of cheese or other dairy products, which can counteract the effects of the pill.
If your dog isn’t terribly discerning, you might be able to drop the pill right into their food bowl, particularly around breakfast or dinner time.
This fruit is safe for dogs to eat, and the thick, mushy texture is great for hiding dog pills. A ripe banana will have a stronger flavor and mushier texture, while a less ripe banana might be better texture-wise for hiding the pill, but the flavor will be more subtle and earthy.
Cantaloupe is another safe food for dogs, and its sweet, melon flavor can help mask the taste of a pill. Plus, it’s a hydrating fruit that your pup is sure to love.
Dogs love peanut butter, so this is a great option for hiding a pill. Just make sure you use an unsalted or no salt added version. You can simply put the peanut butter, and hidden pill, on a spoon or on a favorite toy.
If your dog likes wet food, cream cheese is another great option for disguising a pill. Cream cheese is very thick in texture, so it can help disguise chalkiness, and it has a tangy flavor that can cover up a bitter pill coating.
Pups also love cheese, and this food has a soft, thick, mushy texture to conceal the taste and feel of a pill. Alternatively, check your local pet shop for Kong, a brand of sprayable, dog-safe cheese that you can spray into or onto your dog’s favorite toy to help hide the pill. If your dog isn’t a fan of cheese flavors, the brand also offers sprayable or spreadable treat pastes in liver, peanut butter, sweet potato, or pepperoni options. For sensitive puppy stomachs, Kong makes a formula specifically for puppies.
Some dogs can also take the pill with home-cooked meat. Of course, avoid giving your dog chicken or turkey if they have a poultry allergy, and don’t give dogs home-cooked meat if they have kidney disease. Keep the portion small, just a treat to go with the pill, and skip high-sodium options and pre-prepared options (like deli meat).
5. Use special devices
For very clever dogs, you might need to trick them by using devices like certain food bowls, gel pill capsules, or pill syringes to administer medicine.
If you don’t want to purchase a new food bowl, try elevating your pup’s current food bowl. This way, you can hide the pill in the food, and it’s less likely your dog will see the medicine in the bowl.
Slow-feed dog bowl
Slow-feed bowls are a fun puzzle for dogs. By putting the pill into the slow-feed bowl with kibble, your dog will likely not even notice as they work their way through the bowl. There are options for puppies, small dogs, and large dogs, so no matter what breed or age your dog is, they can get a little bit of a brain workout while they sneakily take their medicine at dinnertime. We love this option from Outward Hound because it’s dishwasher safe and has a non-slip base.
A gel capsule helps disguise the bitter taste on common dog medications. You simply place the pill within the larger gel capsule to make it taste better, or at least less distinguishable. The gelatin capsule will dissolve in about 5 minutes once the dog has swallowed the pill. Similarly, a brand called Greenies makes Pill Pockets, which are flavored treats with an opening in the center for hiding a pill.
Sometimes, the pill is just an uncomfortable size to swallow. Use a device to cut the pills neatly into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces might be easier to swallow, or at least you can hide them in food easily.
- Benefits. Cutting the pills into smaller pieces might make it easier for dogs to swallow the pill. It’s especially helpful to use a pill cutter when you need to know how to give dogs large pills.
- Disadvantages. Cutting the pill won’t disguise the taste or texture. Not all pill-cutters cut cleanly, either, so make sure you are still giving the proper dosage.
A pill dispenser, or pill gun, is similar to a syringe for liquid medications, but this device makes it easier to give your dog solid pills. It works by using a plunger to push the pull through the tube and into the back of the dog’s mouth.
While it can be easier than giving the dog a pill by hand, you do need to know how to properly tip the dog’s head back to take the pill, whether administering it by hand or dispenser. We like this kit because it contains three pill dispensers with styles designed for dry pills or liquid medications.
- Benefits. Giving the pill by dispenser is quick and helps prevent accidental biting.
- Disadvantages. This device can be more intimidating for the dog than giving the pill by hand, and you need to have some skill at administering pills using this method.
6. Use pill paste
Pill paste is a thick, flavored paste that can completely coat a pill, making it taste better and disguising any chalky or unpleasant textures. These products are specifically formulated for dogs, too, and some brands offer puppy formulas as well.
7. How to give a dog a pill without food
You don’t have to give a pill with food. You can try chasing the pill with water or using a precise technique by hand to make it easier for the dog to swallow the pill.
Chase pills with water
Talk to your vet about giving the pills with water. Some medications will lose their efficacy when opened, crushed and/or dissolved in water, while others are fine using this method. One tried-and-true tip is to use a syringe or dropper to squirt some water into the side of your dog’s mouth after giving them a pill.
Talk to your vet about the option to dissolve pills in water or chicken broth, which will disguise the pill flavor more than water. If your pup is a messy drinker, though, they might not take all the medicine they need if it’s dissolved in water then slobbered onto the floor.
Give the pill by hand
Start by holding your dog. You might need to recruit an extra set of hands for help here. Then, calmly hold your dog’s jaw and tilt it upward toward the ceiling. The dog’s mouth will open slightly. Then, use one hand to fully open the jaw while using the other hand, particularly the thumb and middle finger, to put the pill as far back on the dog’s tongue as you can.
Ideally, you want the pill to go on the back of the tongue (the back-third is best), as close to the dog’s throat as possible. Keep the dog’s head tilted upward for about 3 seconds, which should be enough time for the dog to swallow the pill rather than spitting it out.
8. Ask for help
Some dogs can see through all the tricks. Unfortunately, that might mean you have to hold them to get them to take the medication. Instead of trying to both hold the dog and put the pill in their mouth, ask a friend or family member to hold the pup.
If none of these methods work, consult your vet
Some medications are available in other forms, like liquids or chewables. If possible, opt for these easier-to-swallow options. Alternatively, ask your vet to show you how to get your dog to take the pills with less of a fight. Your vet can help demonstrate proper techniques and offer additional expert insights into how to help make taking medicine less stressful for you and your dog.