Vet holding a dog treat in his hand while scratching dog's chin.

How to give your pet medication

Tips for making your pet’s medicine go down more smoothly

How to give your pet medication

When your dog or cat is hurt or sick, veterinarian‐prescribed medication may be part of their road back to health. Yet it can be a challenge to get a pet to swallow what’s good for them. Meds may have a bitter taste and a pet may balk at being force‐fed for its own good.

The first time you need to medicate your pet, ask the veterinarian to show you how to administer the medication so that you can follow the best practice.

Be sure that you understand the instructions and frequency of dosage as well as the possible side effects. You’ll also want to know if there’s a particular time of day to give the medication. And ask how long to continue medicating and how soon you can expect your pet to respond.

When pills are prescribed

The easiest way to give a pet a pill is by disguising it in food (as long as your veterinarian tells you to impart it with food rather than on an empty stomach). You can buy commercially made treats for cats and dogs that are specifically designed to hold a pill or capsule inside.

You can also conceal a pill for a cat by wrapping it in cheese or another type of food that your cat likes. Or try making a tiny meatball out of wet cat food and embedding the medication in it.

Dogs, who are more eager to swallow a variety of things, usually accept a pill if it’s disguised as a treat. Coatings and wraps that usually work are cream cheese, peanut butter (make sure it does NOT contain xylitol), meat and meat-flavored baby food.

Once you’ve prepared the pill, you may need to restrain your pet to deliver it. With a cat, wrap him in a towel, leaving his head exposed. That will prevent him from escaping or scratching you. Hold him in your lap or sit with him between your legs. Press his cheekbones to open his jaw, tip his head straight up and drop the pill at the back of his tongue. Then close his mouth and massage his throat to encourage swallowing. You can blow a little air on his nose to encourage a lick, which allows you to see if he’s swallowed the pill.

To give a dog who won’t accept a medicated treat a pill, get down on the floor with him or put him on a table with a non-slip surface. Hold his upper jaw open and tilt his head back. Position his upper lip over his top teeth to avoid getting bitten and drop the pill on the base of his tongue. Then close his mouth and blow on his nose or rub his throat to get him to swallow.

Delivering a pill without food

To give your pet a pill without sticking your fingers in its mouth, get a piller, also known as a pill gun or pill pusher. Veterinary offices and pet supply stores usually stock them. To use one, insert the pill at the open end, open your pet’s mouth, place the plunger near the back of your pet’s throat (side entry may be easiest), push the plunger down and quickly remove it. Then hold your pet’s mouth shut, tilting it toward the ceiling and massaging her neck.

When liquid medication is prescribed

Try mixing the medication with a bit of your pet’s regular canned food. If he rejects that, you’ll need to use a dropper or syringe. To make it appealing, rub a tasty treat on the outside of the device and invite him to lick it. Then tilt your pet’s head back slightly and place the unit between his cheek and back teeth. Release the medication slowly to that area, allowing your pet time to swallow and breathe. Avoid squirting down your pet’s throat. Gently rub his throat to facilitate swallowing.

Afterward, pet your furbaby, tell him what a good boy he’s been, offer him a real treat and make water available.

When your pet won’t take the medicine

Don’t make your pet and yourself miserable if she rejects her meds. Ask your veterinarian if the medication can be provided in a different form. Some pharmacies can even reconstitute the medication into a form or flavor that may better appeal to your pet.

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