Pet owners often discontinue their pet’s medication before the prescription is finished, because giving their dog or cat a pill is such a hassle. Unfortunately, this leads to resistant infections, untreated illnesses, and negative associations with medication. To help improve the pet and owner experience, we provide this guide with answers to the most common questions about medicating your pet.

Question: My pet hates pills—can’t my veterinarian give an injection instead?

Southwest Vet (SWV): Maybe. If your pet has preferences, or you struggle with giving certain types of medication, speak with your pet’s veterinarian. Many drugs are available in several formulations (e.g., flavored tablet, liquid, capsule, extended release application, or injection), or can be ordered through a compounding pharmacy. While this isn’t the case for all medications, and tends to be more expensive, you should inquire—especially if your pet will need the medication long-term. Most veterinarians will prescribe the most readily available or economical preparation, but are always happy to accommodate your pet’s specific needs.

Q: My pet sees the medicine and runs—by the time I catch them, we’re both stressed

SWV: Pets are brilliant at detecting patterns and forming associations. Previous negative experiences (e.g., your pet tasted a bitter pill, bit their tongue) have probably left your pet with bad memories—including formerly pleasant things like peanut butter, which may have been used to hide the medicine. If your medication routine is predictable, you’re sending your pet advanced warnings about the impending encounter. 

Rather than repeating the same routine, change the following:

  • Environment — Medicate your pet in the living room or bedroom, rather than the kitchen. 
  • Food — Try something unexpected, such as cream cheese, lunch meat, or Pill Pockets.
  • Demeanor — If you’re normally stressed, sit down and relax with your pet, or take them for a walk, before attempting to medicate them. Never try to give medication if you’re running late.  

Q: My pet used to like peanut butter, but now refuses to eat any—what else can I try?

SWV:  Fortunately, your pet may enjoy many appealing alternatives, including almond butter, cream cheese, cheese spread, coconut oil, wet food (e.g., paté formula), canned tuna, or lunch meat. Sticky foods can be mixed with flour to make a pliable dough, while wet food can be shaped into small meatballs.

Use only enough food to coat your pet’s medication. Always check first with your Southwest Vet veterinarian about foods that may be contraindicated for your pet or their prescription, as some antibiotics are counteracted by dairy products. 

Q: My pet is skeptical about strange foods—how can I encourage them to take their medication in a  treat?

SWV: While we normally discourage giving your pet extra calories, high value foods may be necessary to get pets to cooperate with medication. Periodically giving your pet a “free” treat may make them less wary about a high value reward. Or, engage your pet’s playful side by asking for fun behaviors, such as sit, shake, and rollover, and rewarding them with the tasty morsels. Keep the pieces small, so they look and feel similar to the one that contains medication.

Medicate your pet around mealtime when they’re hungry. Many owners find that making several “dummy treats” identical to the treat containing medication, and giving the treats in quick succession, with the medicated treat in between the normal treats, is helpful. Reward your pet with their meal afterward.

Q: My pet has to take their pill on an empty stomach—what should I do?

SWV: Manually pilling pets is a skill that takes practice, patience, and a little technique. Ask the Southwest Vet team for a demonstration, or follow these steps:

  • WIth someone gently restraining your pet, stand alongside, and place one hand over your pet’s top jaw. Hold the pill or pill popper (i.e., pill gun) in your dominant hand, between your index finger and thumb.
  • Squeeze gently behind the large canine teeth, pressing the gum against the tooth.
  • Ease open the dropped lower jaw with your dominant pinky finger, and then place the pill as far back in the mouth as possible, ideally at the tongue base. 
  • Close your pet’s mouth, and gently stroke their throat to encourage swallowing. Follow with a syringe of water, if directed.
  • Check your pet’s mouth to confirm they have swallowed the medication.

Liquid medication can be given to cats in a similar fashion, with a small amount of liquid released at a time. For dogs, hook your finger in the large cheek pocket where the upper and lower jaws meet, and direct the syringe alongside the teeth toward the back of the mouth. The liquid should funnel back to the throat, and be swallowed.

Q: What if I don’t have a helper to hold my pet?

SWV: Place your pet on a couch, or coax them into a corner so they cannot back away. Kneel or sit beside them, place your non-dominant arm along their back or across their shoulders, and use gentle leverage to open their mouth. Towel wrapping (i.e., the kitty burrito) can effectively restrain cats and small dogs and prevent scratching and flailing, if you have to work alone.

With practice, patience, and the right tasty treats, medicating your pet can be a stress-free experience for everyone involved. If you have additional questions, or to find out if your pet’s medication is available in a more compatible formula, contact the team at Southwest Vet.