At some point, your cat or dog will need medication — whether to prevent internal or external parasites, treat an injury or manage a disease. Giving medicine orally to your pet can be challenging, but not impossible, especially once you know a few tricks of the trade.
Here are seven sneaky and not-so-sneaky tricks to giving medication to your pet. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian first about how to give a particular medication to make sure there aren’t issues such as giving with food, crushing tablets or opening capsules.
#1 Hide your pet’s medication in wet, strong-smelling food.
For medicines that aren’t flavored (or those with a flavor your pet dislikes), hiding the capsule or tablet inside a treat is one of the simplest ways to give medication. Tasty treats made specifically for hiding pet medicines are available at pet stores and many veterinary clinics. However, you can also hide tablets and capsules in pet and human foods that your dog or cat finds appealing. Peanut butter (no xylitol!), butter, deli meats, cheese and bread (no raisins!) all work well to hide medicine. You can also hide some tablets, capsules and liquids by mixing them into canned pet food.
Be sure to check that your pet has eaten the medication and didn’t spit it out after eating the surrounding food. Some dogs’ and cats’ super-sensitive noses can tell when you’re hiding something in a treat, which is why it’s often recommended to use a wet, strong-smelling food. The food’s aroma will mask the scent of the medication while still naturally appealing to your pet.
In some cases, even mouth-watering treats can’t guarantee successful dosing. One strategy you can try — and this works with some cats — is to give a primer treat without medicine, the “doctored” treat containing the medicine and finally a “chaser” treat without medication. If your pet is a dog, making a fuss over the treats to help build excitement is helpful in assuring the hidden tablet or capsule will be consumed.
For food-motivated pets that eat the treat but leave the medication, you can try holding two treats, one with the tablet or capsule and one without. Give your pet the first treat with the medicine inside while showing them the second treat without the tablet or capsule. Often in their excitement they’ll eat the dosed treat quickly so they can have another treat.
#2 Use competition to your advantage and give all pets a treat.
If you have multiple dogs, you know what brouhaha can occur when you’re giving treats. You may be able to use this competition to your advantage. After hiding the medication in one treat, hand out the treats to all dogs, making sure you give the medicated treat to the dog that needs it. Because some dogs tend to eat faster in competitive situations, your dog just may wolf down their dosed treat so quickly that they won’t know they have taken their medication. Just be sure that the tablet or capsule doesn’t end up on the floor or in another pet’s tummy.
#3 Make medication time into a game.
Conceal and distract can work with some dogs. Take out a couple of treats, hiding the tablet or capsule in one of them. Then, play a game of “catch” with your dog by tossing them a treat. They may become so focused on catching the tossed treat that they won’t notice when you finally toss the doctored treat.
#4 Put the medication into a capsule.
Some medicines may be especially nasty or bitter tasting to your pet, even when hidden in food or treats. You may be able to buy empty gel capsules to hide tablets inside and then tuck the capsule-covered tablet in a treat. The gel cap will ensure your dog or cat won’t taste the objectionable medication. Talk with your veterinarian before trying this tactic, however, since oral medications are often designed to work in specific areas of the digestive system.
#5 Ask your veterinarian for a flavored medication or to have the medication formulated into a tasty treat or liquid form.
Many commonly prescribed medications for pets, such as pain-relieving drugs, oral flea and tick preventatives, antihistamines and antibiotics, are readily available as tasty tablets and chews. But if the prescribed medication isn’t flavored and you’re having difficulty giving the medication even when hidden in a tasty treat, you can ask your veterinarian about having the medication made by a veterinary compounding pharmacy into a tastier or otherwise easier-to-give form. Just be aware that not all medications can be compounded, and among those that can, not all drugs can be made into all of the different formulations, including flavored liquid suspensions, flavored chews or transdermal gels.
#6 Put it on the tops of your pet’s front paws.
If your pet has been prescribed a powder or liquid, you can try mixing it with a small amount of peanut butter or “squeeze cheese” and spread it on top of their paws. Dogs and cats typically don’t like anything on their paws, but they tend to love peanut butter or cheese. Your pet will lick the medicated food off of their paws (assuming they don’t flick their paw, sending the doctored glob flying across the room) and they will get their medication dose at the same time.
#7 Take your dog for a walk.
Sometimes if you stop part way through a walk and give your dog a dosed treat, they will take it without realizing they are also getting their medication. Dogs are often distracted by the smells, sights and sounds they encounter during walks, and they tend to find those things more interesting than what’s in their treat.
When disguising the pill doesn’t work
Even with all the disguises and games, there are still some cats and dogs that simply won’t eat a medicated treat or food. A liquid medication may be easier for you to give — but it may not be. In some cases, an injectable form of the medication can be given, or you can bring your pet into the clinic to have medication administered.
As a last resort, you can learn to “pill” your dog or cat directly. Your veterinarian or a veterinary technician can show you how to give the tablet or capsule. If you find that putting your fingers into your cat’s mouth is scary, you can arm yourself with a “pill gun,” a syringe-like device that lets you place the medication at the back of your cat’s throat.
Administering medication to your pet can be challenging and even stressful for both of you, but it doesn’t have to be. Just a little trickery, bribery and game playing — instead of sugar — can make the medicine go down.