5 (Other) Ways to Give Your Dog a Pill

She knows you when you’re stressed, so don’t act like giving your dog a pill is a big deal.

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This is the universal face for “There’s a pill in that, isn’t there?” By: Monica Kaneko

Does your dog hate pills?

I wasn’t always that sympathetic to people who said, “I can’t give my dog a pill.” For cats, sure — I get it. Some cats are just about impossible to pill, even for professionals.

But dogs? I’ve just about always been able to pill a dog…until my newest adoption.

The Pill Sniffer

Coco is a 15-pound, 2-year-old Dixie dog. She has been in my house for a year. She is brilliant, wily, high energy and a bit of a herder. DNA results reported her ancestry as Chihuahua and cattle dog — with a little Boxer thrown in. Really?

My little creature is intensely food motivated. When she needed medication, I figured it was a slam dunk: Put the tiny pill in her favorite canned dog food and no problem, right?

Wrong.

This dog who eats her food before I can get it out of the can took one whiff of my “pill in a meatball” and basically told me to eat it myself.

So I did what I tell my clients to do: Use lunch meat, peanut butter, hot dogs and — when nothing else works — liverwurst. Or cheese in a can that gave me scary memories of my mother putting it on a “Chicken in a Biskit” cracker in 1971.

Nope. Coco ate every bit of food and still left that little pill on the floor.

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Dogs who’ve experienced the bitter taste of broken pills in their mouths may not be too eager to try it again. By: Tony Alter

The Pill Talks Back

I began to think the pill was talking back at me.

“See? She found me!” the little pill said gleefully. “Nice try, stupid human. Now you won’t have enough medicine to finish the course, so you have to go back to your veterinarian. Wait, what? You’re a veterinarian? Well, why are you such a complete failure at pilling your own dog?”

I began to hate the pill. So I changed my tactic.

A Trick That Worked

Coco is ravenous in the morning. I tried my liverwurst again, but this time, I gave her a nice slab of German fat meat without a pill. She ate it right up. And because she is so smart, I made sure she didn’t see me hiding the pill in the second piece. It worked!

But would this work again tonight, when she needed her second dose? It did…for 2 days. Then she must have smelled something and the pill fell to the floor, faintly covered with liverwurst. It laughed at me again: “Stupid human! She’s onto you.”

So I changed out the food. This worked, and we got through 10 days of pills. But if I had trouble with my little Coco after pilling dogs for 30 years, what’s a client supposed to do?

This veterinarian makes it look way too easy:

5 Other Ways to Give Your Dog a Pill

My clients frequently say that “they have some of those pills left over” — meaning they didn’t finish the prescription, leaving the pet at risk. Client compliance shows as low as 30% in some surveys, when a person just gives up.

Ask your vet or a vet tech for advice. In the meantime, consider these alternatives:

1. Try that old camouflaging trick — again.

Although I failed at it with Coco, some dogs actually give their humans a break and swallow the pill in their food, whether it’s on try number 1 or after a few unsuccessful attempts.

2. Ask your vet for a different formulation.

Compounding pharmacies can make liquids or pills that are more palatable, but this always raises the medication’s price.

3. Consider using pill guns.

What a terrible name. But these can work for some dogs and some people. They are also known as “pillers.”

4. Have your vet prioritize the meds.

Find out how important each medication is if your pet is taking several meds and you’re having trouble. Your vet would rather know and help you out if you’re feeling frustrated.

5. Try not to make a big deal about it.

Pets know you. They know your stress. If they see you getting the pills out and sense that you’re getting anxious, they will pick up on this.

Remember that some medications are more noxious to your dog than others. For example, a common drug for diarrhea, metronidazole (Flagyl), tastes disgusting. If your dog bites down on this pill, he will be very upset. The same goes for some capsules. If your pup has a bad experience chomping on a vile-tasting medication, then we may have lost the battle.

Good luck out there! And don’t despair — together, we can always figure it out.

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated Oct. 11, 2018.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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