Expert Tips and Tricks for Pilling Your Dog

Expert Tips and Tricks for Pilling Your Dog

If you're lucky, the next pill you have to give your dog will be one that tastes and smells really good, so he'll eat it right out of your hand.

If that's not the case, there are a few techniques you can use to trick him into swallowing a foul-tasting pill. “I find it helpful to try to stay positive when giving medication to your pet; if you’re frustrated, your dog can tell,” says Dr. Sarah Nold, DVM, on-staff veterinarian for Trupanion, a pet medical insurance company based out of Seattle. When in doubt, always try a few different things. “And always give your dog lots of praise and attention afterwards to help him associate the experience with good things,” Nold says.

Hide the Pill Inside Food

Perhaps the easiest—and least traumatic way—to give your pet a pill is to hide it inside a small piece of food. One option is to hide the pill in a small meatball, says Nold. “Preferably the same type as the food you feed your dog to limit the chance of causing gastrointestinal upset,” Nold says. “Other options are putting the pill inside of a marshmallow or one of the commercially available pet treats designed with a hole in the middle for you to put a pill inside.” Ideally, whatever food you use should be small enough and soft enough that your dog can swallow it whole. If he needs to chew it, he might find the pill and spit it out. “With other medications some dogs will eat the pill if you just mix it in with a small amount of wet dog food,” Nold says. The Honest Kitchen makes many "wet" diets, which can be convenient for hiding pills in.

Be Careful with the Foods You Choose

When choosing foods to hide food into, Nold recommends avoiding higher fat foods such as cheese or peanut butter. “This is especially important if your dog is being treated for certain medical conditions such as pancreatitis,” Nold says. If you decide to use peanut butter anyway, make sure it doesn’t contain Xylitol, which can be toxic to dogs, according to Nold. You should also avoid any foods that might cause a flare-up if your dog has a known food allergy. “This is an example of when using the dog’s current wet dog food may be the safest, because you aren’t feeding anything different,” Nold adds.

Crush It Up

If the pill is too big for your dog to swallow, ask your vet if it's okay to crush it. “The right thing to do would be to use a mortar and pestle and crush the pill or empty the capsule and mix it with something that has substance,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, an author and integrative veterinarian. Do not mix the powder with water, but instead use baby food or apple sauce. “When people mix things with water, you risk aspiration ammonia, so it is best to never do that,” Osborne says.

Dealing with Liquid Medication

As with pills, some dogs will take liquid medication when mixed with a small amount of wet dog food. “I find it easiest to slowly give the liquid with a syringe into the side of the mouth and aiming towards the back of the tongue. Your veterinarian should be able to demonstrate this for you so it is done safely,” Nold says. Another option is to buy empty capsules and fill them with the liquid. You can then use any of the other techniques to hide the capsule inside food. “Mixing the liquid with a small amount of butter, stage two baby food, apple sauce, or a small amount of your dog’s favorite food should also work,” according to Osborne. “Most owners know their dogs quite well, so these things really vary from dog to dog.” If liquid medication is proving to be a headache, Nold recommends talking to your vet. “Many medications are available in multiple forms (such as tablet, capsule or liquid), you may know your dog does better with one versus the other and it is important your veterinarian know if this is the case,” she explains. “The goal is to have your dog take the medication with the least amount of stress on the part of your dog and you.”

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at
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