How to Give Your Dog a Pill

Despite a lifetime of being a dedicated dog mom, one of my biggest tasks to perform is that of giving my dog a pill. If you know how to give your dog a pill without upsetting the dog or fretting over the process yourself, more power to you and we applaud you. If, however, you experience dread at the thought of how to get a pill into your dog without 25 pieces of ham or cream cheese, read on.

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How to give a dog a pill

How to Give Your Dog a Pill

There is a cartoon I stumbled upon in preparing for this piece that clearly summarizes, in jest, the secret weapon dogs have in their throats when it comes to pill swallowing.

funny dog

In all seriousness, I recently struggled with this very issue: Having to administer many medications to my dog due to his Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia (IMT) and acute pancreatitis, trying to get pills down in a stress-free manner proved challenging. The pain medication, Tramadol, provide particularly challenging due to its bitter taste.

Whenever you are prescribed medications for your dog, here is a list of questions to ask the vet as part one of the “how to give your dog a pill” process:

  1. How many times a day is the pill to be given?
  2. With or without food?
  3. Any special time of day to administer the pill (day/night)?
  4. Can the pill be crushed or split? (Sometimes medication can lose its efficacy if its original form is changed.)
  5. When do I stop the medication?
  6. Common side effects.
  7. Urgent/less common side effects.
  8. Does it come in a liquid form?

Cocker veterinarian

Pill Crushing

After confirming that the pill can be crushed, consider a pill crusher. Many times over the years, I’ve crushed pills with a crusher and sprinkled it into the dog’s food. Fortunately, my dogs never knew the pill was there. I even do this with my dog’s joint supplement since it is a bit of a huge pill.

Here are a few pill crushers we’ve used; different strokes for different folks, and everyone has a favorite:


My personal favorite is the miniature mortar and pestle that easily crushes a pill to a powder:

The Great Dog Pill Disguise

I have personal experience with this dog pill administration hack: Buy empty gel caps and insert a nasty tasting or hard to administer tablet into it as long as your vet agrees and the empty gel cap fits the pill. Here’s an example of empty gel caps. I bought a box and had them on hand:

Pill Plunger

I learned of this contraption while perusing the aisles of pet supply stores and seeing it in action at a local veterinary hospital where my dog was recently an inpatient.  You load the pill inside the pill plunge, insert it towards the back of the dog’s throat, and press the plunger down to deliver the medication. You need to be very careful that you are holding the dog’s head properly, among other things. Keep reading. Here’s one such product:

Without Contraptions

If you want to give a pill and not use any fancy assistive devices, as indicated above, you can:

  1. Hide the food in a piece of dog-friendly food, peanut butter without Xylitol, a piece of cheese, etc. Just be sure the food you administer won’t cause digestive upset. I tease my dog with the treat or food if the pill is not something I can crush due to veterinary orders. I tease at him, as in “what’s that Dexter, do you want to see what Mommy has Dexter?” And I do this in my fun, play, Snow White-sounding tone. Dexter’s curiosity is piqued and then I tease the food at him a second time, maybe getting closer. I finally move towards him and I give him the treat. It works for him. He thinks it is a game. As soon as he takes the food with the pill in it, I follow up with a second treat without a pill in it. Sometimes, Dex will spit the pill back out at me. And I cannot guarantee this will work for every dog every time. If you have two dogs or more, you might want to separate them for this activity so there is no jealousy and food lunging behaviors.

  2. . Simply use your clean fingers to administer the pill in a calm, gentle way. Here’s a video to show how it’s done. I like this video because the veterinarian is calm, the dog is squirming, the situation is realistic, she offers a few ways to administer medication in different forms:

 

What Not to Do

According to Dr. Patricia McConnell, whom I adore, “The most common mistakes are to pull the dog’s head up too high (it should be horizontal to the ground) and/or to try to open the dog’s mouth too wide, which makes her begin to fight you because it is so uncomfortable.”

Never yell at, scream, nor physically hit a dog for not cooperating. In her book, It’s Me or the Dog famed positive reinforcement trainer and star of her own dog behavior show on Animal Planet, Victoria Stilwell, writes, “When you hit a dog, you teach him to fear you, break his trust, and you weaken his confidence. Insecure dogs are the ones who are more likely to lash out in an aggressive display.”

Dogs do have the capacity to love, feel, become depressed and get excited. Berating a dog or purposely upsetting him harms the dog in the long run. Be kind. Be positive. Don’t scare the dog.

Never force the dog. Never pin the dog down. This is contraindicated and will train the dog that whatever you are about to do is not good. Be a leader with love.

Final Pill Hacks

After administration of a pill to your dog, some other hacks include:

  • Blowing on your dog’s nose gently. I tend to just rub on the front of his nose near the nostrils, which produces a swallow.
  • Rub your hand very gently on your dog’s throat after pill administration. His swallow reflex will kick in.
  • Offer the dog some water. I’ve even given a few cc’s of water in a syringe afterwards if need be. I am super careful so that the dog does not cough or choke.

medicine versus mom

Medicine Versus Mom

Our blogging friend, Rachel Sheppard of My Kid Has Paws, is a former veterinary technician. In our ongoing series, Medicine Vs. Mom, we present a full-circle / two-sided approach to canine medical topics. Click here for Rachel’s take on dog pill administration.

Don’t Stop Now

Learning how to administer a pill to your dog can be done, if you are diligent, caring, gentle, and willing to be the best pet parent your dog knows you are. I’m headed to get the mortar and pestle out and do some sprinkling of medication on my dog’s food.

Are you proficient in dog pill administration? What has or hasn’t worked for you? Bark at us in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Great article! Thanks for the tips!

    It’s always an epic battle of the minds when it comes to administrating pills to cunning Kala and the name of the game is camouflage. I’ll have to try out those empty gel caps.

  2. Thanks for the tips! We have had great luck with Pill Pockets. Rafi is my trouble child. He just won’t eat a pill period the end. My vet taught me how to give him pills but suggested I still put them in a pill pocket because the pill pocket will help the pills slide all the way down without taste.

    • Dex will not touch Pill Pockets. They don’t have the beef flavor he used to like, only a smokey beef flavor. So glad they are working for your pack, Wendy.

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