- Double and triple-check dosage instructions — First and foremost, be sure you’re giving your dog their medicine as prescribed or as directed by your vet.
- How to give a dog a pill? In its food — This tried-and-true method works best if you hide the medication in a special treat.
- Hand-feeding or special devices can help — Take advantage of a vet-approved hand-feeding technique to ensure your dog doesn’t spit out their pills. Special devices, like pill cutters, cut down large pills.
Adults often struggle to take pills, so it’s no wonder your dog might have trouble swallowing their medicine, too. Encouraging a dog to take medicine can be stressful for you and Fido, but it’s 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 prescriptions
Some pills should go with food, while other medicines are best on an empty stomach. Before you give your dog medicine, follow all instructions to keep your dog safe. You might need to give your dog one pill twice daily, morning and night, or two to 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. Use one of these helpful apps to keep track of your pet’s medicines — and your own!
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 part of their day, 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. Of course, follow your vet’s instructions, as we mentioned above.
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.
In fact, try giving your dog their medicine just before or even during their walk. A good walk not only boosts your serotonin and helps calm your nerves, but the excitement alone can also distract your pup from any medicine-related anxiety.
If you’re all walked out, don’t underestimate the power of a good snuggle. Show your dog some love as a reward for taking their medicine.
4. Pair the pill with a treat
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 and effective ways to help your dog finally take their pills.
Dogs can often smell the pill residue, so use one hand to hide the pill and the other to touch the treat before giving it to your dog. For ultra-stubborn dogs, hide the pill within the food. Wash your hands after hiding the pill and before giving the treat.
Dog-friendly pill pairings
Make sure you use a food pairing that is safe for your dog to eat. The following options are generally dog-friendly, but consider your dog’s food allergies before serving.
- Dog food. If your dog isn’t discerning, you might be able to drop the pill right into their food bowl, particularly around breakfast or dinner time.
- Bananas. 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. 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 your pup will love.
- Peanut butter. 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. A dab on a spoon or favorite toy with the pill hidden inside will work fine.
- Cream cheese. If your dog likes wet food, cream cheese is another great option for disguising a pill. Cream cheese is very thick in texture, disguising chalkiness, while its tangy flavor covers up a bitter pill coating.
- Cheese. Pups also love cheese, and this food has a soft, thick, mushy texture to conceal the taste and feel of a pill. Check your local pet shop for Kong’s sprayable, dog-safe cheese that you can apply to dog’s favorite toy to help hide the pill.
- Home-cooked meat. 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).
👉 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.
5. Use special devices
For very clever or stubborn dogs, you might need help from specialized food bowls, gel pill capsules, or pill syringes.
- Raised food bowls. This way, it’s less likely your dog will see the medicine you’ve hidden in the bowl. If you don’t want to purchase a new raised food bowl, try elevating your pup’s current food bowl.
- Slow-feed dog bowl. Slow-feed bowls are a fun puzzle for dogs. By putting the pill into the slow-feed bowl along with their 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 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.
- Pill capsules. A gel capsule helps disguise the bitter taste of common dog medications. You simply place the pill within the larger gel capsule to make it taste better — or at least less distinguishable. Most gelatin capsules will dissolve in about 5 minutes once the dog has swallowed the pill. Greenies makes pill pockets, flavored treats with an opening in the center perfect for hiding a pill.
- Pill paste. This thick, flavored paste completely coats a pill, making it taste better and disguising any chalky or unpleasant textures. These products are specifically formulated for dogs —some brands offer puppy formulas, too.
- Pill cutter. Sometimes, the pill is just an uncomfortable size to swallow. Use a pill cutter to slice pills neatly into smaller pieces that might be easier to swallow — or at least easier to hide in your dog’s food. Cutting won’t disguise the taste or texture of the medicine, of course. And not all pill-cutters cut cleanly, either, so make sure you are still giving the proper dosage.
- Pill dispenser. Pill guns work by pushing the pill through the tube and into the back of a dog’s mouth. While it can be easier than giving a dog a pill by hand, especially if your dog is prone to biting, you must tip the dog’s head back properly when using it. We like this kit because it contains three pill dispensers with styles designed for pills or liquid medications.
6. 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.
Another option — if your vet approves it — is dissolving pills in water or chicken broth, which will disguise the pill flavor more than water. If your pup is a messy drinker, however, they might not take all the medicine they need if it’s dissolved and then slobbered onto the floor.
Help, my dog spit the pill out. Now what?
If you’re able to get your dog’s medication into their mouth but find they immediately spit the pill out, you will likely need to try the hand-feeding technique below and stick the pill directly on your dog’s tongue — as close to the throat as possible. Do not re-medicate unless you can confirm your dog spit out their medication.
7. Hand-feed your dog a pill
If your dog is wise to all of your tricks and sniffed out every device, this precise hand-feeding technique might be your best bet. Follow these steps:
- Hold your dog — You might need to recruit an extra set of hands for help here.
- Calmly hold your dog’s jaw and tilt it toward the ceiling — The dog’s mouth will open slightly.
- 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.
- Keep the dog’s head tilted upward for about 3 seconds — This should be enough time for the dog to swallow the pill rather than spit it out.
8. 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 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.
Dr. Erica Irish
Sometimes, medications that come in one form can be compounded into another form. This works especially well for cats, like when pharmacists create transdermal versions of popular medications.
More tips for success
We’ve been there — giving your dog a pill isn’t for the faint of heart. If we adults dislike taking our medicine, it makes sense that our pets would avoid it, too. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind during this trying time.
- Be patient — Approach giving your dog medicine just as you would potty or leash training: with lots of patience and positive reinforcement.
- Prepare your dog during puppyhood — Regular touches to your dog’s mouth and brushing their teeth when they’re young will get them used to your hands. This may help prevent biting or nipping during medication administration.
- Get creative — Look for opportunities to be creative if you have an especially stubborn dog. Consider using special devices to assist, like a slow-feed bowl, Kong toys, or pill cutters to make larger pills more discreet. Enlist the help of a friend or family member who can lend a hand.
- Again, ask for help — Your vet is there to help you. If your dog refuses to take its pills, your vet may be able to offer alternative medication administration in the form of liquids or chewables.
Frequently asked questions
How do you give an unwilling dog a pill?
Be patient and start regularly associating their medication with positive actions or items, like a walk or treat. Get creative with pairings and try new dog-safe foods, like cantaloupe or Kong cheese. You might also find a pill cutter and other devices useful. If all else fails, consult your vet for assistance.
How do you give a large pill to a dog?
Consider using a pill cutter to slice pills in halves or fourths before administering, but make sure you’re not losing any of the required dosages in the process.
Is it OK to crush pills for dogs?
Consult your vet before crushing your dog’s pills. Though it’s usually OK, you must make sure your dog’s medication doesn’t need to be swallowed whole — and that, after crushing, they are still receiving the required dosage.
How do you manually pill a dog?
Start by holding your dog and recruiting a friend or family member if possible. Using your dominant hand to hold the pill between your thumb and index finger, calmly hold your dog’s jaw with your other hand and tilt it toward the ceiling to open it slightly. Use your dominant hand with the pill to place it as far back on the dog’s tongue as possible. Keep their head tilted upward for a few seconds to ensure your pup has swallowed the pill.