How to give your dog or cat medication

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When it comes to taking medicine, pets are often like children—they don’t usually swallow a pill, capsule or liquid medication willingly. To make things a little easier, we have some helpful tips on how to give your pet a medication so it’s not such a struggle.
One of the easiest ways to give a medication is to use a treat that is specially made for giving medications (i.e., Greenie’s® Pill Pockets®). Pill Pockets are a natural treat that have a built-in pouch ideal for hiding a pill, capsule or liquid medication. The pouch masks the smell and taste of the medicine and is healthier than slipping the medication into human foods like cheese or tuna, for example.
Pills or capsules
Don’t crush pills or open capsules unless your veterinarian says it’s OK to do so. Delayed release, coated and long-acting medications should not be opened or crushed either. This can cause unwanted side effects and/or cause the medication to not work properly.
Most pills or capsules can be given with a portion of canned pet food. Place the medication into the center of a small, ball-size lump of the canned food and then give it to your pet. Many pets will eat these treats with no problems. If your pet is adept at getting the medication out of the treat, try giving the treat without the pill followed by a treat with the pill and then followed with another plain treat. The anticipation of the next treat can help keep your pet from finding the medication in the previous treat.
If all else fails and your pet is just too good at picking out the medication in the food, here are some additional tips:
  1. Tilt your pet’s head back. This will often cause your pet to open its mouth slightly. If your pet doesn’t open its mouth wide enough, press on the roof of the mouth just behind the canine teeth.
  2. Open your pet’s mouth wide enough to get the pill on the base of the tongue. Place pressure on the roof of the mouth and the front of the bottom jaw to help with this.
  3. Place the pill on the base of the tongue in the rear of the mouth and then quickly close your pet’s mouth. If you can’t get the pill to the back of the mouth, there are some tools that are designed to help with this. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on which one will work best for your pet.
  4. Keep your pet’s mouth closed until it swallows and/or watch the throat for the swallow. Also, if your pet licks its nose, it has successfully swallowed.
  5. If your pet does not want to swallow, you can blow on its nose or massage its throat.
  6. Some medications can cause damage to the esophagus if they become stuck. To avoid this, feed your pet after giving the medication to help it go down. If the medication is supposed to be given on an empty stomach, you can give your pet some water to help prevent the medication from getting stuck. 
Liquid medications
When giving liquid medications, tilt your pet’s head back and place the dropper or syringe in the cheek pouch (at the rear of the lips). If your pet doesn’t swallow the medication this way, place the tip of the syringe or dropper just inside of the back teeth. Tilting your pet’s head back while giving liquid medication is key to keeping the liquid from dripping out of the mouth. Larger amounts should be given slowly to prevent choking. You’ll want to close your pet’s mouth after giving the medication and keep it closed until your pet swallows. Again, if your pet does not want to swallow, you can try to blow on the nose or massage the throat as mentioned above.
With any medication, always follow the directions provided by your veterinarian and don’t start your pet on any new ones unless directed by the doctor. Give all of the medication prescribed unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian to stop. Your Banfield veterinarian can show you how to give medications to your pet if you’re having trouble or need assistance. You also should know that there may be other medication options available for your pet.
Need more advice?
If you have questions about giving medication or any other pet health concerns, your local veterinarian is a great resource. Use our hospital locator to find a veterinarian in your neighborhood.