How to Give Your Pet a Pill

Published May 23, 2017

By Mindy Cohan, VMD

Giving oral medication to a cat or dog can be a challenge for pet parents. If your veterinarian recommends medication for your cat or dog, she has your pet’s best interest in mind. Fortunately, pilling a pet is not an impossible task once you learn a few tricks of the trade. Here’s how to increase your success.


Hiding Your Pet’s Medication in Food

A helpful strategy for administering medication to pets is using foodstuffs that are highly appealing. Items such as butter, peanut butter, cream cheese, deli meats (e.g., salami, liverwurst), and spreadable cheese or cheese in a can (human and canine varieties) work well to disguise medications.

Small amounts of ice cream or yogurt are not only helpful in hiding medications, but both items also help pets swallow pills with greater ease.

Commercial treats that can be molded around a pill are available in a variety of flavors and are even formulated for pets with food allergies. It is important to disguise the pill in a small amount of tempting food so it will not be too bulky and require chewing.

In many instances, even using delectable treats does not guarantee success. Just when you pat yourself on the back for a job well done, your pet will spit the pill onto the floor, or you will find it behind your sofa. If your first endeavor fails, try a different technique. Wait at least 30 minutes between attempts in order to beguile dogs and cats that are too smart for their own good.

Another ruse that is particularly helpful when it comes to food-motivated pets is to offer a primer treat, then the disguised pill followed by a “chaser” treat. Making a fuss to build excitement over the impending treat is helpful in assuring the hidden pill will be ingested.

Other Ways to Give Medicine to Your Pet

If the aforementioned suggestions leave you frustrated and your pet un-medicated, don’t give up hope. Call your pet’s doctor to ask for other ideas or a flavored liquid medication. Compounding pharmacies are capable of formulating your pet’s medication as a liquid with a variety of flavors (chicken, beef, fish). It is often easier for pet parents to administer a liquid either directly into a pet’s mouth or mix it into canned pet food or table food. Compounding pharmacies also have the capability of creating flavored medicated tablets. Many pet parents are shocked and pleasantly surprised to witness their dog or cat eat the flavored pills without any coaxing or camouflage.

As a last resort, you can try to pill your pet directly. While administering a pill directly by mouth might be more comfortable for dog parents, with practice, it can be manageable for cats. Your veterinarian can demonstrate the technique at the office, or you can view “how to” videos on the internet.

If the direct method is not feasible, consider using a “pill gun.” These devices consist of a plastic straw-like barrel into which a pill can be loaded and “shot” into the back of the pet’s mouth by compressing a plunger. The pill gun enables the pet owner to avoid sharp teeth and injury.

Always bear in mind your pet’s demeanor. Never try to administer a pill forcefully to a dog or cat with a painful mouth or neck. If your pet becomes fearful or growls, abort the mission. Even if the medication is important for your pet’s well-being, it is best to use good judgment and avoid bite wounds. Otherwise, both you and your pet may be taking antibiotics.

Mindy A. Cohan, VMD


Mindy A. Cohan, VMD


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