How to Give Your Dog a Pill (and other medications)

Giving medications can be tough—especially if you’re uncertain how to administer them.

Your dog will sense this and may avoid you, struggle, or fight you. If you’re confident, know what to do, and can do it quickly, then struggles should become a thing of the past.

Before You Leave the Veterinarian’s Office…

When your vet prescribes medication, there are several questions you should ask. First, “what is this medication?” Then, “what is the medication for?” “What results does she expect from it?” “What side effects should I keep an eye out for, and which ones are serious?” Don’t be embarrassed asking these questions.

Make sure you know how often to give the medication, how much, and for how long.

With many pills, the prescription will be for a specific number of days and you will get only that number of pills. For example, a prescription is one pill a day for seven days, so you go home with seven pills. If your dog needs a liquid medication to take by mouth, or he needs eye medication, the bottle of medication is rarely measured as accurately as pills are. Make sure you understand the dosage details.

Ask if there’s anything else you need to know: Can the medication be given with food? Should certain foods be avoided? If there’s more than one medication can they be given at the same time or do they need to be spread out? If so, how far apart?

Giving a Pill

The most common technique of giving a pill is hiding it in a bit of food. In fact, this is popular enough that there are commercial, edible pill holders. You place the pill in a pocket and give the whole thing to your dog. This makes giving your dog medication easy; especially if he’s an eager eater. However, if your dog takes food gingerly, sniffs everything before eating, or has previously bitten down on a bitter tasting pill, then this technique won’t work as well.

An alternative method of giving pills, and the technique used by most veterinary technicians, may be quicker. While learning how to do this, put a leash on your dog. Scoop him close to your left side (or put small dogs on your lap) and drop the leash to the floor, putting your left foot on it. This will make sure your dog doesn’t run away from you. Hold the pill in your right hand. With your left hand, reach over your dog’s head, placing your hand over the top of his muzzle.

Gently put pressure on his top lips with your index finger and thumb. When he opens his mouth to relieve the pressure, tilt his head back so you straighten his throat. With your right hand, drop the pill to the back of his tongue. Let his head return to a normal position, close his mouth, keep it closed, and gently rub his throat. Watch for him to swallow.

Giving Liquid Medication

Liquid medication is usually administered via syringe or dropper. If the medication comes with a small medicine cup, ask your veterinarian for an appropriately sized syringe or dropper.

Measure out the correct amount of medication. Leash the dog, and scoop him close to your left side. Or, as with giving pills, place a small dog on your lap.

Your left hand can hold the dog’s collar to help keep his head relatively still. Place the tip of the syringe or dropper in the side of the dog’s mouth toward the back. You don’t want to put the medication toward the front of the mouth or tongue as the dog can spit it out. In the back of the mouth, he’ll be more apt to swallow. Express the medication into the dog’s mouth, then close his mouth, rub his throat and watch for swallowing.

dog medication

©istockphoto/Tatomm

Giving Eye Medications

As with for other medications and for the same reason, leash your dog first and once he’s close to you, drop the leash to the floor and put your foot on it. For medium and large sized dogs, have him sit between your knees, facing you. Small dogs can be on your lap.

With your left hand, gently open the top eye lid and squeeze out the prescribed number of drops or amount of ointment. Release the eye lid and let the dog blink. Then repeat this with the other eye, if appropriate.

Most dogs accept eye medication without too much of a struggle. Unfortunately, though, some eye drops sting for a few seconds and these will cause dogs to struggle. A spoonful of peanut butter, cream cheese or cheese from a can will distract most dogs while you administer the eye drops. Just be quick.

Giving Ear Medications

Medications for the ears can be difficult to administer because they’re usually for an ear infection, and ear infections are painful. When the dog’s ears hurt, he’s not going to want anything touching his ears. Some dogs can be distracted by peanut butter, cream cheese, or cheese from a can, but in a few cases, you may need someone to hold the dog for you while you take care of his ears.

If the medication is for an ear infection, your veterinarian probably told you to clean the ears before each dose. To do this, have your dog sit between your knees as we discussed for eye medications. With a cotton ball or piece of gauze, clean your dog’s ears as your veterinarian described. Once the ears are cleaned, before allowing your dog to move from between your knees, place the medication in the ear and gently rub the ear, working the medication into the ear canal.

Keep Track of the Medications

It can be tough to keep track of what medications need to be given or have been administered; especially if your dog needs more than one. Jotting the information on your calendar or your smart phone calendar will help you keep track of everything.

When the medication is prescribed, make a note of the times and days it needs to be given. Then, as it’s given, note that it was successfully given to your dog. If there’s then a problem, side effect, or even just a question as to whether it was given, or if you forgot on a busy day; you’ll know exactly what was done.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com and www.lizpalika.com.

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