Originally published March 23, 2018
If you provide care to a canine, you know there are times when you must medicate your dog . Some medications: like their heartworm prevention tabs, are flavored so most dogs will gulp them down like a treat. But when you have to get them to take a pill, that can be harder. Fortunately, most of us are smarter (or sneakier) than most of them.
Small pills like Diphenhydramine and Prednisone can be hidden pretty easily in a glob of peanut butter, cheese, or pumpkin puree. I can put a pill or two in a half-teaspoon of peanut butter and drop it on top of their kibbles and the dog will usually scarf it down without ever knowing.
If the dog is the suspicious type and will “search” the glob of peanut butter for alien objects, roll the glob in their kibbles. The kibbles sticking to the glob make it harder to detect your deception.
Medicate Your Dog With Large Pills
Large pills and capsules are harder to disguise. For large dogs, my favorite trick is to hide the capsules in chunks of hot dog. Most canines go crazy for hot dogs and will happily scarf them down.
Some capsules, like the 500 mg Cephalexin we use with heartworm positive dogs, are big enough that if I have to give them 2 or 3 capsules per dose (we often get the big dogs) the hot dog bit will burst open and reveal the capsules. But I have a trick for that too:
Using this drilling procedure I can hide two or even three capsules in a hot dog chunk. Be sure to let the dog sniff at it a moment to develop an appetite for it.
If you’re trying this on a small dog, cut the hot dog chunk down to a size she can swallow without choking. If she insists on chewing it first, the jig is up!
Alternative Ways to Medicate Your Dog
Before resorting to poking a pill or capsule down your dog’s throat (always my LAST resort) try opening the capsule or crushing the pill and mixing the powder into peanut butter or canned dog food. A tablespoon or two of canned dog food works well for this because it has a strong flavor that helps cover the ucky flavor of the medicine. But try giving the dog an unadulterated glob of your chosen food first to be sure he likes it.
Mix the powder through the glob and drop it on top of their kibble.
If that doesn’t work, medicate your dog by embedding the pill or capsule in a glob of peanut butter. Then open your dog’s mouth gently and stick the glob to the roof of his mouth, the farther back the better, scraping your finger clean on the front teeth. He will work at getting that sticky glob off his palate and will automatically swallow the pill.
If your dog does not like peanut butter and will walk away from it or work to expel the stuff from her mouth, try canned dog food (the stinkier the better, pate’ is better than stew), canned pumpkin, cheese, or small chunks of meat, like leftover chicken. A good batch of bone broth is gelatinous when cold, that will work too. We had one boxer who was crazy-in-love with orange wedges. I could have put ANYTHING in those and he’d eat them! Experiment a little; finding something they like well enough to wolf down will make it easier to medicate your dog.
If that doesn’t work either, mix the powder with a little water or broth to make a suspension which you suck up with a syringe (without the needle, of course) and squirt it into his mouth between his teeth.
The Last Resort
If nothing at all works, you will be forced to resort to (gentle) force. But even in this, there is a right way and a wrong way. Actually there are a couple of ways that work.
One is the blow-gun method. This works best with a helper, but it can be done single-handed with a dog that doesn’t fight you too hard, and as long at your capsule will fit into a drinking straw. You may need to crimp the edges of the straw just a little after loading to keep the capsule from sliding out before you’re ready.
Then gently open the dog’s mouth enough to poke the straw in and give it a sharp puff of breath. That will launch the capsule into the back of her mouth. Quickly close the mouth and gently but firmly hold it shut. Be careful not to cause her to bite her own lips. Holding her muzzle angled up helps the pill slide down. Blowing GENTLY into her nose triggers a swallow reflex.
If that doesn’t work, do it the hard way. Here’s the way I do that.
First, if the dog is a squirmer, maneuver him to where he can’t back away from you: against a wall or in a corner. I place my left hand over the muzzle and slide my middle finger and thumb in behind his canine teeth, careful to not press his “lips” into his teeth. That usually opens the mouth a bit.
With the pill gripped between thumb and forefinger of the right hand, place the back of that hand (pinky finger edge) on the dog’s lower teeth and roll that hand over to open his jaws and bring the pill into position above the back of the tongue.
Place the pill on the back of his tongue and use the forefinger to push it over the hump of the tongue. There is no need to stick your finger down his throat, that just triggers a gag reflex that could get ugly.
Once the capsule is on the back side of the tongue (behind the hump), remove your fingers quickly and close the mouth (being mindful not to trap the “lips” forcing him to bite himself). Hold the jaws closed firmly but gently, angled upward, and blow softly into his nostrils. You can also stroke his neck with your free hand, where the esophagus is, to encourage swallowing.
Once you get the hang of this it is quick and relatively trauma free for both of you.
Use judgement, however, on which dogs to try this. A dog with a mean temperament would be a risk of you being badly bitten. I don’t think I’d EVER try this on a Chihuahua!
After you’ve medicated your dog, be sure to praise her and give her some loving. This is especially important if you’ve had to “invade her space” to get the job done. She doesn’t understand what you’re doing and may look at the procedure as punishment. Leave her with a positive feel for what was done.
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