It’s Medicine Time:
Try These Tips to Help Make it More Welcoming for Your Pet

Posted - October 18, 2021

By Arden Moore – The Pet Health and Safety Coach™

One of the most challenging tasks facing pet parents is giving pills or liquid medicine at home to their resistant dogs or cats. It might also rank among the most dreaded tasks. Some cats seem to tap into a sixth sense knowing what is about to happen and hide out of sight moments before medication time. Some dogs are masters at spitting out the pill or liquid medicine or rapidly move their heads side to side to keep you from opening their mouths. Medicine-giving time doesn’t have to be a struggle for you and your pet.

PREPARATION

Mindset:  In my veterinarian-approved Pet First Aid 4U classes, I emphasize the importance of being in the right “can-do” mindset before reaching for that medicine bottle. Face it, cats and dogs are masters at reading our moods…and intentions. So, put yourself in the right frame of mind. Be patient but purposeful. Do not be anxious or worse, in a hurry or agitated.

Location: Next, select a location that prevents escapes, such as a bathroom where you can close the door. Do not attempt to give a dog or cat a pill in a wide-open area, such as the kitchen or living room. The savvy pet will be identifying lots of possible escape routes and could be tougher to manage. Or, they may deftly spit out the pill on a thick carpet or under a table that goes undetected by you or worse, have the pill accidentally gobbled up by another pet.

Supplies: Before approaching your pet, bring everything you will need into your room. Items to have include:

  • The pill or pre-measured syringe of liquid medicine
  • Thick towel to wrap a cat or small dog or a nonslip rug for medium to large dogs to stand.
  • Yummy treats

ADMINISTERING THE MEDS

Yum-Yuck-Yum

Try what I call the Yum-Yuck-Yum approach. Once your pet is in the room, start by doling out a few favorite treats. If your pet is being given a liquid, I recommend having two extra syringes in the room but have them filled with tuna water or sodium-free chick broth and allow your pet to lick from one of these syringes first. That’s the first Yum.

The next is to give your pet the actual pill or liquid medicine. That’s the Yuck. And, then quickly follow with another treat or syringe containing tuna water or broth for a second dose of Yum. This technique is known as counter-conditioning. You are creating a positive emotional state and association in your pet by first offering a treat and follow the giving of the medicine with a treat.

Giving Pills

When giving any medicine, it is important to speak in a “can-do” tone and avoid any baby talk or apologies to your pet. I also recommend when administering any meds to never directly face your pet as this can be perceived as a threatening gesture.

When giving a pill it is helpful to tilt your pet’s head back and open his mouth. You can use a pill gun or simply insert the pill to the back of the tongue. To help the pill slide down the throat, you can also go old school by first dabbing the pill with butter. Or you can hide a small pill in a small piece of cheese or a spoonful of canned food or inside a commercial product known as a Pill Pocket.

Massage your pet’s throat gently to induce swallowing. Scratch behind his ears if he likes that to make it a positive experience. Follow up with a few small treats to help ensure the pill has been properly swallowed.

Alternative Options to Pills

Fortunately, some medications can be given in easier forms than pills. If pill giving is a real struggle, ask your veterinarian about other medication-delivery options. These may include:

  • Switching to a liquid medicine form that may be easier for your pet to swallow.
  • Seeing if the dosage can be taken once a day rather than two or three times.
  • Learning how to split a large pill in half for easier swallowing by your pet.
  • Inquiring if the medicine can be compounded with palatable flavors, such as tuna or chicken.
  • Crushing the pill and sprinkling it into canned food or a pill pocket to disguise the pill’s taste or odor.
  • Opting for transdermal delivery where the medicine is compounded into a cream.

Giving Liquid

Before you give any liquid it is important to make sure you know the right dosage to avoid an accidental overdose. Do this by having your veterinarian identify the amount on the syringe using a permanent marker or tape.

When giving a liquid medication the goal is to get your pet to associate the syringe with a rewarding opportunity. It is important to take the time to train your pet that getting medicine is a fun procedure that merits tasty rewards. You can do this by dabbing canned cheese, peanut butter, or another tasty treat on the outside of the syringe for your pet to lick off. Praise him as he does this. Syringes filled with tuna water or chicken broth also make good treats. Keep your pet from wiggling free by positioning his body against you. This also prevents him from backing up. Gently restrain his head with one hand in a U, cupped under his chin. Then insert the syringe into the side of his mouth.

Giving medication is something that most of us pet parents will experience at some point in our pet’s life. Developing a positive experience with the yum-yuck-yum technique is a win/win for both you and your pet. For those with pets needing medications for certain chronic or long-term conditions, I also recommend learning about the potential side effects of those medications. Be sure to read this article I shared on pet Dry Mouth to learn about a common oral condition due to some medications and what you can do to help your pet.

Arden MooreArden Moore wears many collars in the pet world. She is a best-selling author, master certified pet first aid/CPR instructor, pet behavior consultant, host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio and happy pet parent to a Furry Brady Bunch in Dallas. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.