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Giving your pet pills

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The easiest way to give your pet a pill is to hide it in a small amount of food that your pet is certain to eat. For dogs, try a small amount of canned dog food, peanut butter, a soft cheese, or a marshmallow. For cats, try a small amount of tuna, salmon, or cream cheese. Watch carefully to be sure your pet does not spit out the pill while managing to eat the treat!

If your pet keeps spitting out the pill, you will need to administer it directly in your pet's mouth.

It helps to first lubricate the pill, especially a capsule, with a small amount of butter or margarine so it won't stick in your pet's mouth.

With the pill handy, prepare a safe place where you can comfortably handle your pet. Placing a cat or small dog in your lap may be easier. You can also wrap your cat snugly in a towel with only its head exposed.

Hold the pill between the thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand.

Gently grasp your dog's muzzle or cat's head from above with your other hand, positioning your thumb on one side and the fingers on the other side of the upper jaw.

Slowly tilt the animal's head back. The lower jaw will usually drop open. If it doesn't, use the last two fingers of the hand holding the pill to push down on the lower front teeth.

Quickly place the pill as far back over the tongue as possible. Placing it behind the "hump" of a dog's tongue or on the back third of a cat's tongue should stimulate swallowing and likely ensure success. Do not put your hand back so far as to stimulate the gag reflex.

Close your pet's mouth and hold it closed while you return the head to a normal position. Gently rub your pet's nose or throat, or blow lightly on your pet's nose to help stimulate swallowing.

With a little practice, you'll be able to give your pet a pill in only a few seconds. However, if your pet is especially uncooperative and you continue to have problems giving medication, ask your veterinarian for a demonstration and additional help.

Q&A

What is the easiest way to give pills to pets?

The easiest way to give your pet a pill is to hide it in a small amount of a favorite food, such as canned pet food, peanut butter, soft cheese, or tuna.  Watch carefully to be sure your pet does not spit out the pill while managing to eat the treat!

What if my pet won’t eat the treat or keeps spitting out the pill?

In this case, you will need to administer it directly into your pet’s mouth.  Ask your vet for a demonstration and advice on the proper technique.

How can I control my pet while administering a pill?

It is a good idea to have one person hold the pet while a second administers the pill.  It is often easiest to place a cat or small dog in your lap, possibly wrapping a cat in a towel with only its head exposed.  Larger dogs can be backed into a corner or placed on a metal or tile surface where they have less traction and you have more control.  

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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