How to Give Medications to Your Dog or Cat
By Rachele Baker, DVM – Getting dogs and cats to take medications and/or supplements can be a challenge. If your dog or cat is sick or has a chronic medical condition necessitating medications and/or supplements, it is very important to ensure that your dog or cat receives the medication as directed. There are many options available to help you give medications to your dog or cat. I will discuss some of those options in this post. If you try one of these options and it does not seem to work for you or your pet, then try another option until you find what works best for you and your pet.
Remain calm and positive when giving your pet medications. If you are nervous, tense, or upset when giving your pet medication, then your pet will sense your mood and become nervous, tense, and upset too. Make the medication administration event a positive event that your pet will enjoy by giving him or her food treats or lots of praise and love after he or she takes the medication. If your pet has a positive experience each time that he or she takes medication, then he or she will be much more willing and eager to cooperate with you the next time you need to give medication or supplements.
Giving Medications to Dogs
Flavored chewable tablets: Some medications and supplements are available in flavored chewable tablets that are meant to be given to your dog as a treat. You can ask your veterinarian if the medication that they have prescribed is available as a flavored chewable tablet. It should be noted, however, that not all flavored chewable tablets seem to be enjoyed by all pets.
Multiple treats trick: One way to get dogs to take pills is to hide the pill in one of multiple treats given in rapid succession. Hide the pill or capsule in a tasty treat such as a canned dog food meatball, cheese, etc. Make three more identical treats that do not contain any medication. Then rapidly give your dog a treat with no pill, then another treat with no pill, then the treat with the pill, then a treat with no pill. If you are lucky, your dog will be so excited about all of the treats that he or she will not notice the hidden pill or capsule in the third treat.
Pill Pockets: Greenies Pill Pockets have built-in pouches to easily hide pills and capsules. They come in chicken, peanut butter, and hickory smoke flavors. You can buy Greenies Pill Pockets online, at local pet stores, and at some veterinary hospitals.
Crush pills and mix with food: If, despite your best efforts, your dog eats the treat containing a pill and then spits out the pill, you can buy a pill crusher at a local pharmacy, use it to crush the tablets, and then mix the crushed tablet into a small amount of canned dog food or other treat. You can then form the canned dog food into a meatball shape and feed it to your dog by hand. Pet parents have told me that they hide pills in many different treats including cheese, peanut butter, hot dogs, and liverwurst. Whatever treat you choose, I recommend using healthy, low fat options, and I strongly recommend feeding the medicated treat by hand rather than leaving it in the food bowl where the pet may eat around it.
A couple notes of caution about crushing tablets: You should not crush timed-release or extended-release tablets because that can result in the release of excessive amounts of medication. Check with your veterinarian to see if the tablets prescribed can be crushed. Additionally, it should be noted that crushing tablets and mixing the crushed tablet into food may not work well for bitter medications.
Pour out contents of capsules: Check with your veterinarian to see if medication prescribed in capsule form can be opened before administration and, if so, you can open the capsule, pour out the powder inside, and then mix the capsule contents into a small amount of canned dog food or other treat so that your dog is not able to find the capsule and spit it out or eat around it. You can then form the canned dog food into a meatball shape and feed it to your dog by hand. I strongly recommend feeding the medicated treat by hand rather than leaving it in the food bowl where the pet may eat around it.
Pill poppers: Putting pills or capsules directly into your dog’s mouth is the most challenging option for giving medications and/or supplements. I do not recommend putting your fingers or hands in your pet’s mouth no matter how docile they are because you may get bitten. Pill poppers (also known as pill guns) have a place for inserting a pill or capsule at one end and a hand held plunger at the other end. You can purchase pill poppers online, at local pet stores, and at some veterinary hospitals.
Use the pill popper to place the pill or capsule on the back of your dog’s tongue where he or she will be obliged to swallow it. If the pill or capsule goes on the front of your dog’s tongue, he or she will promptly spit it back out. If you want to try using a pill popper to medicate your dog, I recommend that you ask your veterinarian to demonstrate its use with your dog and then allow you the opportunity to practice once or twice while he or she is there to offer guidance and suggestions.
Giving Medications to Cats
Giving medications to cats can be especially challenging. Here are some options for giving your cat the medications or supplements that he or she needs.
Liquid forms of medications: Some medications come in a choice of liquid or tablet forms. Liquid forms may be much easier to give your cat than tablets. Ask your veterinarian if a liquid form of the medication prescribed is available. Then have your veterinarian demonstrate how to give your cat the liquid medication and allow you the opportunity to practice once or twice while he or she is there to offer guidance and suggestions.
Compounded medications: Many medications can be specially compounded into flavored liquids at a compounding pharmacy. Medications can be compounded into whatever flavor your cat likes including fish, chicken, and many other flavors. Compounded medications can be formulated so that only a small amount of the liquid medication needs to be given which makes it easy to mix the medication into a small amount of canned cat food rather than having to administer the liquid orally. If you mix medication into a small amount of canned cat food, feed the medicated food first before giving your cat the rest of his or her meal so that you can be certain that your cat ate the medicated food.
Empty gelatin capsules (gel caps): Sometimes cats need more than one medication or have to take bitter flavored pills. Some pet parents solve this problem by inserting multiple pills (or portions of pills) into empty Size 3 or Size 4 (Size 4 is the smallest) gel caps. The gel cap can then be given orally with a pill popper. I recommend coating the gel cap with some canned cat food to make it taste better and to help it slide down your cat’s throat easier. The empty gel caps can be purchased online, at some local retailers, and from some veterinary hospitals.
If you want to try using a pill popper to medicate your cat, I recommend that you ask your veterinarian to demonstrate its use with your cat and then allow you the opportunity to practice once or twice while he or she is there to offer guidance and suggestions.
Long lasting injectable antibiotic: Convenia is a long lasting, injectable antibiotic given to your cat subcutaneously (under his or her skin) by your veterinarian. This is a great option for giving antibiotics to cats.
Transdermal medications: Some medications can be compounded into transdermal forms. Transdermal medication absorbs into your cat’s bloodstream through his or her skin. The medication is rubbed into alternating ear flaps with each administration.
So the next time you have to give medications to your dog or cat, discuss the options available for medicating your pet with your veterinarian and choose the option that you think will be the easiest, least stressful, and most successful for you and your pet.