It’s no fun seeing your pet unwell. And going home from the vet with a bottle of meds and that pit of dread in your stomach just adds to the stress. How will you get them to take their pills? Will it be a simple process or a battle of wits? Nobody likes the idea of prying their pets’ jaws open and shoving the pills down their throats by force, so here are a few tips and alternatives on medicating your pet.
Let’s start with the medication itself. There’s more than one way when medicating your pet. If your pet is difficult to medicate, talk to your veterinarian about your concerns. Depending on the medicine, they may be able to offer it in a different form, such as a palatable chewable or even a transdermal gel. Keep in mind that if they didn’t offer this as a first option, there may be some reason. It may, for example, be more expensive, somewhat less effective, or have to be special ordered. If you’re not otherwise able to get your pet to take the medicine, though, it may be worth it.
But let’s say you’re not sharing your home with a medication-hating evil genius. How do you give meds then? The simplest way is to put it in food. A dollop of wet food or a little parcel of cheese like a maraschino cherry on top of their meal can disguise a bitter pill quite nicely and a food-motivated cat or dog will happily gulp it down without stopping to investigate.
Is your pet a little too clever for that? Here’s a trick I learned about medicating your pet a while back. Some dogs tend to eat the cheese, pill pocket, or other casing, and then daintily spit the pill out. If that sounds familiar, try feeding them the pill-in-treat and then IMMEDIATELY, like before they’ve even got it down, offering them a series of really delicious high-value treats. Most dogs will swallow what they’ve got in their mouth in order to get to the next treat, especially if that treat is straight-up ham or something. Also, make sure the pill is concealed in the smallest amount of treat necessary to conceal it. Using only a partial pill pocket and molding it firmly around the pill not only makes the pill pockets go further, but also means there’s less for the dog to chew and less chance for them to spit out the part they find unsavory.
For cats, the pill-in-treat trick tends to be less effective. Treats may sweeten the deal and encourage the cat to come willingly for pill time, but medicating a cat will usually have to involve some manhandling. Not to worry- there are ways to make it safer and less unpleasant. A pet piller, also known as a pill gun or a pill popper, is a game-changer. It allows you to push the pill further down a cat’s throat without sticking your fingers in his mouth, which can be dangerous for you and requires his poor little mouth to be pried uncomfortably wide. The other trick with cats? Hold them gently, but firmly, by the scruff and flip them onto their backs. Their mouths will usually open a little, which means you can sneak that pill popper in without having to pry their jaw open manually. Once the pill is down, if they haven’t swallowed it, hold their jaw closed for a moment and blow gently in their noses. That usually does the trick. And, of course, in order to make everyone feel better after, give them whatever they love most when it’s all done- a cookie, some catnip, a brushing session, whatever.
Unfortunately, sometimes, none of these will work and you just have to do your best when medicating your pet. I have a dog and two cats. The dog gets her daily meds tossed on top of her breakfast and she scarfs the whole thing down quite happily. One cat takes his pills willingly with the help of a pill popper and the promise of a bit of squeeze-up treat after. The other absolutely will not tolerate being handled in that way and attempting to give her daily oral meds would end up being traumatic, frustrating, dangerous, and ultimately futile. An antibiotic shot, for example, may be an imperfect solution for some ailments, but it’s better than nothing. You know your pet better than anyone. Sometimes, care and advocacy for them means you go ahead and do something not-so-fun and deal with the dirty looks they give you after because it’s the best way to take care of their health. And sometimes, it means exploring alternatives and doing what you can.
Does pilling your pet involve some sleight of hand, a false-backed wardrobe, and two or three lovely assistants? Worried about how they’ll get their meds while you’re out of town? Leave it to our dedicated pet experts- it’s not our first magic show! You can find out more about our services and REQUEST for your special need 4-Legged Kids.
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.