Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.
I am just finishing up my treatment plan for a cute little French Bulldog that has been itching nonstop and losing his hair. The poor little pup was up all night licking and chewing himself raw, and his loving, exhausted parents had been up all night with him. As I finish up my examination, I tell my clients that they need to start their dog on two pills per day: one to relieve the itchiness, and one to clear up the infection. Speaking with confidence and relief that I will be helping this little guy feel better, I glance over at the panicked-looking parents. Before being able to complete my treatment instructions, the clients come forth with their concern—“It is impossible to give my dog pills. He will not take them!” As you can expect, not being able to give pets pills or medications is one the most common dilemmas I encounter with my clients. But remember, it’s not your fault, and there are ways to help! Some pets are not only extremely stubborn and refuse to take medications, but they also are very smart and know when they are being tricked. So today, let’s look at some innovative and unique ways to give medications to our pets. It takes cooperation from you, your pet, and your veterinarian to properly treat and help your fur babies, so let’s get started!
• Soft, sticky food or food pockets. This is the first trick to try when giving pets pills. For many pets, it’s easy—just hide the pills in the middle of something soft, like a meatball or peanut butter, and they will scarf it down without realizing. However, some pets are very particular with what they eat, or know when a pill is being hidden and will refuse to eat it, or worse—they will eat around the pill, and the pill drops to the floor. I always encourage my clients to try different types of foods before giving up. Greenies’ Pill Pockets Canine Chicken Flavor are very tasty dog treats that work. The texture and consistency of the pockets makes it very easy to hide a pill, and dogs love them. Dog pill covers like Tomlyn’s Pill-Masker is also a great way to hide dog treats and gives good results.
• Competition. There’s nothing like a little friendly competition. If you have more than one pet in the house, gather them together and give “treats” to both of them. Most dogs will eat quicker and without too much thought in the presence of other dogs. I do not recommend this method if you have a pet that is food aggressive.
• Pill them. This is the method we use in the hospital. We simply open their mouths and place the pill all the way to the back of the mouth. Quickly close their mouth and raise their head up. A few tricks to help them swallow include massaging the neck area while the head is raised, or blowing air on their face. We also utilize pill guns for this method, which are long tools for easily placing the pill in the back of the throat.
• Fake them out. Grab a few treats, some that are plain and some that have the pills in them. Randomly give the ones without the pills to your pet and sneak in the treats that have the medication. Sometimes our pets will unknowingly take the pills.
• Add a capsule to take away the flavor. Some medications have a bad flavor to them. Putting them inside a capsule helps to take away that initial flavor and smell. You can hide the capsules in food, and your pets may not even realize that there is a pill hidden inside.
• Make them think they’ve scored. This is an easy one and fun to do. When you are preparing food, most dogs come running to see if they can snatch something that fell on the floor. While cooking, or feeding the baby, “accidentally” throw a treat with the medication on the floor. Some pets are so excited they do not even realize the medication was hidden inside.
• Distract them. Try giving them a treat with the medication while they are distracted, like on a walk or in the car.
• Place on paws. This is a great one for cats. Cats especially do not like to be dirty and groom themselves. If you place something on their paws, they will usually groom it off. Sometimes this will work for dogs, but many times they are not as particular.
• Turn it into a game. Similar to the “faking them out” method, start throwing random treats in the air for them to catch. After a few fun catches, throw one that has the medication in it. Many times, they are so distracted with the game, they do not realize the medication was in the food.
• Injectable medications. More and more medications are coming onto the market that are injectable. Convenia, for instance, is an injectable antibiotic that releases slowly in your pet’s body for 2 weeks after the injection. This avoids the process of having to give daily pills. Speak with your veterinarian about whether your pet is a candidate for this form of medication.
• Compounded medications. Finally, drugs can be made specifically for your pet in forms that they may tolerate better. For instance, there are fish-flavored liquids, or medications that can be applied to the skin and absorbed through the skin. Ask your vet if this form of medication is an option.
I hope this article helps give you some ideas on how to successfully give your pet medications. Pet parents are crucial participants in a successful treatment plan. Veterinarians have the easy job of coming up with the plan, and rely on you to implement the plan and succeed. As always, the health and well-being of your pets is my top priority, and I appreciate all the dedication and love that pet parents give to them.