How to Give a Dog a Pill: Helpful Tips & Methods

Published by Dre Laci Schaible
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When Food Isn't an Option

When the pill can't be given with food or you have a super sniffer who spits it out, learning how to give a dog a pill may require that you take matters into your own hands — literally. Use these steps for guidance:

  1. Stand next to your dog ensuring that you're both facing the same direction. Then, place a treat in your dominant hand.
  2. While placing your non-dominant hand on your dog's upper jaw, with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other, use your dominant hand to pull down the lower jaw. You'll also have the treat in this hand. Try to keep in mind that a dog's mouth opens by the lower jaw dropping down. Try not to pry your dog's mouth open by pulling up. Small black and white dog licks a pill from a human hand.
  3. To acclimate your dog to this new experience, now offer the treat by placing it toward the base of the tongue. You'll have to temporarily remove your hand from the lower jaw to pop the treat in toward the back of the tongue, so try to be prompt. This does require your hand to be in your dog's mouth momentarily, so only do this if you're very cautious as there's an inherent risk of your dog biting you during this maneuver. The goal of giving them a treat this way is to help your dog relax, as they'll learn this isn't a terrible experience and a little cooperation will be to their benefit. Depending on how much of a challenge these first steps were, you're free to repeat with treats — or even regular dog food — as a way of training your pup to take a pill without a fight.
  4. When you and your pup have mastered the "open jaw and get a treat" maneuver, it's time for the main act, substituting the pill in the treat's place. If possible, place the pill toward the back of the tongue, ideally at the base.
  5. Always give verbal praise and a treat after your dog successfully takes the medication. For particularly anxious dogs, the repeated training with a treat instead of the pill at first and praising each time they accept the treat will help desensitize your pup to the whole pill experience.

Because this technique requires a little bit more skill, it may be worthwhile to ask your veterinarian to do a demonstration before attempting this on your own. Once you've successfully placed the pill in your dog's mouth, do your best to keep your pup's mouth closed by quickly replacing your dominant hand back on the lower jaw to allow gentle control. Blowing onto your dog's nose and stroking their throat softly will encourage swallowing. Most dogs will lick their nose after they've swallowed a pill. For those more discreet dogs who keep you wondering, just keep an eye on them for a moment afterward to see if they spit out the evidence.

Other Forms of Medicine

If you're still not able to get your dog to take their pill, other forms of the medication may be necessary. For example, your vet may prescribe liquid medications; liquids can be given via a syringe (or dropper provided with the medication) into the rear of your dog's mouth by inserting the tip of the syringe near the back teeth on either side. The cheek pouch is another good spot to aim for with liquid medications. The Merck Veterinary Manual explains that holding your dog's head pointing partially upward can help prevent spills — a particularly important tip when learning how to get a dog to take a pill. It's important to have an open and honest line of communication with your veterinarian if you are struggling to administer medications, so they can help tailor your pet's treatment plan in a way that keeps both you and your pet relaxed and safe. Even if they can't prescribe a different formulation of a medication, they may have their own tips and tricks they've learned over the years they can share with you.

If you've struggled with giving your dog medication in the past, be sure to use these steps to ensure you understand how to give a dog a pill.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dre Laci Schaible

Laci Schaible, DVM, MSL, CVJ is a small-animal veterinarian and veterinary writer. She has won numerous awards for her commitment to pet owner education and is considered a leading veterinary telehealth expert.

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