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The essentials

  • Double and triple-check dosage instructions — Always make sure you’re giving your dog their medicine as prescribed or as directed by your vet.
  • Try hiding it in a treat — Hide the medication in a pill pocket or a little bit of canned food. Give it by hand to make sure they don’t spit it out and that they actually swallow the pill.
  • Hand-feeding or pill devices can help — In some cases, you may need to use a hand-pilling technique or pill devices, especially if your dog doesn’t take the pill or if it needs to be given on an empty stomach.

As humans, we often struggle to take pills. So why wouldn’t your dog? Especially something foreign that smells different and may not taste good. Most dogs will need to take medication at some point. And while some dogs have no problem swallowing up that pill wrapped in a treat, others know it’s coming from a mile away.

While encouragement can help for some dogs, others will spit it right back out in front of you. Giving your dog a pill in food like peanut butter may not always work, and you may have to try other methods like hand-pilling or using a pet piller. Knowing these other methods can ease some stress when giving your dog medication.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to give a dog a pill.

How to give your dog a pill

1. Pair the pill with a treat

If your dog loves peanut butter or cheese, you can use this to your advantage. Dogs can often smell the pill residue, so you may have to use a few techniques and see which works best for your dog.

I also like to sandwich the pill-containing treat in between 2 regular treats in dogs who may be getting suspicious. Also, some dogs will be more accepting of treats if you ask them to perform a trick or task first.

Dr. Liza Cahn, DVM

2. Work medication into your dog’s favorite routines

Oftentimes you’ll need to give your dog their medication regularly. Incorporate the medicine into a routine, like breakfast, dinner, or a morning walk. Your dog might actually start looking forward to taking their medicine if it’s paired with food at mealtimes or with a treat before their walk.

Also, give them the same enthusiasm and encouragement as you would with a regular treat. Another way to encourage them to take a treat is to ask them to perform a trick or task. While some dogs may not fall for this, the excitement may be enough for others to willingly take it.

3. Follow vet guidance for prescriptions

Some pills should be given with food, while others are best taken on an empty stomach. Before you give your dog medicine, follow all instructions to keep it safe. For example: You might need to give your dog one pill once daily, morning and night, or even three times a day.

Double- and triple-check the dosages and times, then set up a schedule to follow the instructions. Try setting calendar reminders and alarms or using apps to stay on track. This can help ensure the medication works as intended and your pup stays safe and healthy.

4. Hand pill your dog

If your dog is wise to all your tricks, this hand-pilling technique might be your best bet. Make sure to give them lots of praise during and afterward. Follow these steps:

  1. Gather your supplies — Get your medication and whatever food-pairing or pill device you need. Make sure your dog is in a comfortable place and that you have your meds easily accessible.
  2. Calmly hold your dog’s jaw and tilt it up slightly — The dog’s mouth will open somewhat, and you may need another set of hands to do this.
  3. Use your non-dominant hand to fully open the jaw — Use your thumb and middle finger of your dominant hand to place the pill as far back on the dog’s tongue as you can. Ideally, you want the pill to go on the back third of the tongue, as close to the dog’s throat as possible.
  4. Gently keep their mouth closed with your hand — Bring their head back to a normal position. Stroke their throat or softly blow on their nose to help get them to swallow. This should be enough time for the dog to swallow the pill rather than spit it out.
  5. Follow with water — If indicated, follow with a small amount of water in a syringe without the needle.

5. Use special pill devices

For very clever or stubborn dogs that can find the pill and spit it out in just about anything you give them, you might need help from specialized pill tools.

  • Puzzle toys. Slow-feed bowls or puzzle feeders for dogs can be a fun way to provide mental stimulation. By putting the pill in a treat and into the slow-feed bowl along with their kibble, your dog may not even notice as they work their way through the bowl. Just be sure to watch and make sure they consume the pill.
  • Pill cutter. Sometimes, the pill is just too big to swallow. Use a pill cutter to slice it neatly into smaller pieces that are easier to hide in your dog’s food. Not all pill cutters cut cleanly, so make sure you are still giving the proper dosage.
  • Pet pillers. Pillers work by pushing the pill through a tube and into the back of a dog’s mouth. They are great for stubborn or finicky dogs and also helpful if you have to give a dog a pill without food.

6. Ask your vet for help

If none of these methods work, ask your vet to show you how to get your dog to take the pills with less resistance. 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.

If you can get your dog’s medication into their mouth but find they immediately spit the pill out, you can try the hand-feeding technique or use a pet piller. Do not re-medicate unless you can confirm your dog spit out their medication.

If you’re struggling to pill your dog don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet. One option is to have the medication compounded into a flavored liquid, chewable treat, or even transdermal formulation.

Dr. Liza Cahn, DVM

Dos and don’ts for giving your dog a pill

Getting your tricky dog to take a pill is like getting a kid to put on their shoes. While it can be frustrating, there are some dos and don’ts for how to give your dog a pill.

The most important thing is to make sure your dog gets the correct dosage and that it’s a positive experience. Speak with your vet about other options if you’re having trouble medicating your dog.

Do Don’t
✓ Prep medications. Prepping your med can help you ensure you’re giving the correct amounts and have it ready. ✕ Chase your dog. If you can’t give your dog the medication, call your vet. If your dog feels threatened, they may not take medication at all in the future, and some may be more prone to biting.
✓ Use treats. If your medication can be given with food, this is a great way to make it more fun and less stressful, making it more likely they’ll take and swallow medication. ✕ Mess with the medication. Don’t crush pills or open capsules unless instructed by your veterinarian. It can change how they work or are absorbed.
✓ Hand pill the right way. You can make sure they swallow their pull by putting the pill far back in your dog’s mouth, holding their mouth closed, and stroking their throat. ✕ Microwave medications. If using liquid medications, don’t microwave them. Roll it between your hands or put it in a ziplock bag and place it in warm water.
✓ Always watch them. After giving your pup medication, make sure they don’t spit it out in their bowl or on the floor. Many cunning pups will eat around the pill and even the treat it was in, leaving the pill in the bottom of their bowl.
✓ Read instructions. Make sure to always read the instructions and dosing before giving your dog a pill or other types of medications.
✓ Reward and encourage. Give your dog a small treat after their pill and lots of enthusiasm. This extra reward and encouragement helps make medication time more positive the next time.

We’ve been there — giving your dog a pill isn’t for the faint of heart. And your dog can sense when you’re feeling stressed.

Be sure to stay calm and happy when it’s time to give your pup a pill. That might mean lots of belly rubs, a relaxing walk in the park, snuggles, or some playtime. A gentle and reassuring approach can make all the difference when trying to give your dog a pill.

Frequently asked questions

What is the easiest way to get a dog to swallow a pill?

Hiding it in food is the best and easiest way to give a dog a pill. You can try to hide it in a piece of cheese, a pill pocket, xylitol-free peanut butter, or wet dog food.

How do vets give dogs pills?

Vets will try the same methods that pet owners do. If a dog doesn’t take a pill in food, they will try to use the hand pill method or a pet piller.

How do I get my dog to take oral pills?

If your dog will take a pill in food, use that method to get them to take oral pills. If that doesn’t work, try to place the medicine as far back in their mouth as possible. Don’t put your hand so far back in their mouth that they gag or choke. Just the medication. A pet piller is another option, making it easier to get the pill far back enough into their mouth. Make sure to give them lots of praise after!

What is the easiest way to give a dog a tablet?

The easiest way to give your dog a pill is to hide it in food like cream cheese or meat. To make it more enticing, you can also make a game out of it.

How do you give a stubborn dog a pill?

Hiding a pill in food is the easiest way to give a stubborn dog a pill. Stubborn dogs, however, may or may not take a pill, even if it’s hidden in food. You may have to get creative with what you try, making sure your dog doesn’t hear or see you with the pill bottle. Some dogs won’t touch any sort of treat if they know the meditation was involved.

You can also try sandwiching the pill by giving a piece of the treat, then the piece with the pill, then another piece of the treat, or ask them to perform a trick (i.e., sit, stay, come). Some are more likely to take a treat with the pill this way.  If they don’t take it in food, you can try the hand-pilling technique or use a pet piller.

Can you crush a pill to give to a dog?

Do not crush a pill or capsule without advice from your vet. Some medications that are long-acting medications with delayed release can cause unwanted side effects if they’re crushed. Some medications also taste worse and won’t work if they’re crushed.

How do you give an aggressive dog tablets?

The best way is to hide the pill or tablet in food. If they don’t take it as a treat, try adding it to their food. If this still doesn’t work, you can try a pet piller. If you do not feel that you can safely medicate your dog, stop and reach out to your vet.