My Dog Won’t Take Pills! What Should I Do?

Many people hate taking medicines. Many dogs, with their very keen sense of smell and taste, hate taking medicines even more. Medicines don’t just taste bitter to them, but smell wrong as well.

However, some dogs have to take pills for regular maintenance, like flea control. Most of the time, dogs also take pills as part of their medical treatments. This makes it very important for them to follow the rules properly.

Now picture this: you are staring at your dog with a pill in one hand. Your dog is staring back at you, daring you to come near with that medicine. It’s a tense standoff that is very reminiscent of old Western movies. You decide to make the first move by stretching out the hand with the pill towards your dog. Your dog reacts by running far away. It’s another dud. Your dog will not take the pill. And you are left to shout: now what do I do?

Well, here are some tips and tricks to help you deal with your dog when they won’t take their medicine.

Tips for your dog won’t take pills

1. Go for bribery

Consult your vet and ask if your dog’s medicine can be taken with food or if it should be taken on an empty stomach.

If it’s the former, then you can mix the pill into your dog’s regular food or kibble. Be careful, though. If you have more than one pet, you might want to make sure that your other pet will not try to eat your dog’s spiked food.

If your dog loves eating anything that does not smell like medicine, hide the pill inside their favorite treat. It can be inside a baked sweet potato, banana, boneless chicken breast, butter, egg, gelatin, liverwurst, marshmallows, peanut butter, potted meat, or yogurt.

Strong-smelling canned cat food has also worked for some dogs! However, you might not want to use canned food too much because it usually contains a lot of calories and salt, which are not good for dogs.

If your dog is allowed to eat fried or roasted food, try wrapping the pill in some bacon or roasted chicken skin.

If your dog loves cheese or other salty foods, try to hide the pill in a low-fat variety. Remember: foods high in fat might cause pancreatitis in dogs.

Be creative with your choices and try to vary them as much as possible so that your dog does not associate a particular food with the idea of taking meds. The bottom line is that the food should be able to hide the smell and taste of the medicine.

If you want the medicine-taking to be an extra special routine, you can buy some of Greenies or Milk-Bone’s Pill Pockets. These treats have special “pockets” or “pouches” where you can hide capsules or tablets. They come in different flavors and ingredients that are safe for dogs.

2. Do the switcheroo

Most dogs are cunning. Has your dog eaten their treat and left the pill behind? Have they swallowed the treat but spit out the pill?

Then, you might want to try the old switcheroo trick.

First, dangle the treat in front of your dog. When they open their mouth, shoot the pill into their mouth, close their jaws, and massage their throat so that they will swallow.

Afterward, give them the actual treat as a reward for a job well done.

3. Try the guessing game

This involves several treats. First, play with your dog or ask them to perform a trick for you. In this way, your dog knows that there will be a reward soon. Give a treat that is normal, without any medicine. Then, still using a happy, excited voice, give the same type of treat but with a pill in it. Then give the third treat as a “chaser.”

You can also turn this into a game. Toss the normal treat and let your dog catch it. Then toss a spiked treat. If your dog notices something weird but has already swallowed the food, gently give them the final normal treat.

Be careful that your dog does not notice you tampering with one of the treats before the game begins. Remember, dogs have a great sense of smell and a keen sense of routines. If your dog smells the medicine on your hands or notices you handling medicines, then it’s game over even before the game begins.

Also, this method works best for dogs that do not chew their treats. Chewers might accidentally bite on the medicine and spit it out. Worse, your dog might develop a bad reaction to the bitter medicine, like vomiting or frothing at the mouth.

4. Get physical and take matters into your own hands

If you are very sure that your dog will not bite you, then just use your physical strength on them. This method can be very stressful for you and your dog, so you should only consider it as a last resort. But at least it takes just a few minutes to finish if done successfully.

If your dog is a fighter, you might want to restrain them first. You can also back them into a corner where they cannot run away, but you still have room to move.

If you have a small dog, wrap them in a towel with only their head poking out of it. Be sure not to wrap them too tightly, though.

If you have a big dog, you can gently put some of your weight on them. Don’t scare them by leaning into them right away. They might become agitated even before you start the treatment.

When you are sure your dog cannot run away, start talking and coaxing them in a gentle voice, as you follow these steps:

  • a. Tilt your dog’s head up using your less dominant hand.
  • b. With the same hand, keep your thumb and middle finger on either side of the nose.
  • c. Using your thumb, fold the upper lips inward to cover your dog’s upper teeth. Although this does not guarantee that your dog will not chomp down on your finger, they might hesitate more when they feel their lip under their teeth.
  • d. Place your thumb at the roof of the mouth.
  • e. Pinch the pill between the forefinger and thumb of your dominant hand.
  • f. Using your dominant hand’s middle finger, pull open the lower jaw. Work near the small incisors, not the big fangs.
  • g. The jaw will likely not open very wide, so quickly pop the pill into the base or back of the tongue. Do not put the pill on the tongue, because your dog will taste the medicine right away.

    If you are sure about your dog’s self-control, you can physically insert the medicine inside the mouth.
  • h. Close your dog’s mouth. Massage the throat or blow on their nose to make them swallow.
  • i. Give your dog some water and then a treat for being such a good boy or girl.

5. Squirt it in

What if your dog’s medicine is not a pill? How do you get your dog to take liquid medicine?

Dogs have a pouch between the cheek and their teeth. Squirt the liquid medicine through this pouch into your dog’s throat. You can use a syringe, a pill dropper, a gun tablet, or an eyedropper.

Be extra sure that you have the proper dosage in your instrument before you even go near your dog. Also, remember to wash all instruments thoroughly after use.

If your dog is not a biter, you can use the physical method listed above and just use a spoon to pour the liquid down your dog’s throat.

Caution: your dog might accidentally inhale the liquid through their windpipe, so never ever tilt your dog’s head when you give liquid medicine.

You can also sprinkle on or mix the liquid into your dog’s food or kibble. Of course, this might not work if your dog has a really sensitive nose and can tell right away that there is something foreign in the food.

If your dog is not allergic to bread or biscuits, try soaking these in their medicine, which you can then give as a “treat.”

If the medicine has a nice flavor and you can freeze it, you can give your dog frozen pop medicines.

6. Alter it

Talk to your vet about converting or compounding your dog’s medicine into a different form. Maybe it could be turned into powder, capsules, or liquid alternatives. You could also explore adding a different flavor to the medicine. Bacon-flavored medicine? What dog would hate that?

For the really hard-headed (or truly traumatized) dogs, you can also ask your vet if injectable treatments are a possible option. You will need to learn how to inject your dog with the medicine or you will have to go to your vet quite regularly to have your dog injected. But at least you will not be stressed from battling it out with your dog every day.

Some final reminders for you and your stubborn dog:

  • Be sure to talk to your vet if your dog develops diarrhea or starts vomiting after receiving the medicine. Your dog is not only throwing up the medicine (and thus not getting the treatment they need), they might be having an allergic reaction to the medicine as well.
  • Be sure to follow your vet’s instructions, especially regarding dosage and the length of treatment. Be extra careful when you need to give antibiotics to your dog. If humans have a maximum number of days to take antibiotics, dogs do too. Also, some liquid medicines need to be chilled first, while some need to be at room temperature before being administered.
  • Be patient. Your dog is going through a difficult time, which is why they need their medicine in the first place. But they don’t understand why this foul-smelling thing should be shoved, literally, down their throat. Although this may be hard, don’t let your frustration show in your manner or voice. Your dog does not need to feel additional stress coming from you.
  • Maintain your positivity. You are not alone. You have your vet. Your family. Your pharmacist. Your online and offline friends. Consult them. Learn from them. They might have additional tips for you and your dog to try.

These are just some tips to help you make your dog take their pill. Do you have additional tips? Write them in the comments section below.  

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