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How to Get Dogs to Take Pills: 15 Vet-Approved Ways

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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By the time you’ve ventured upon this article, you’ve probably made several unsuccessful attempts to get your dog to eat a pill. You may have even gotten as far as tossing the pill into your dog’s mouth—only to see it reemerge fully intact in a puddle of drool. Now what?

If this scenario sounds all too familiar, read on. As dog owners, we’ve been in the same frustrating position with an uncooperative dog. The truth is that not too many dogs like swallowing pills, and like a toddler, no amount of reasoning is going to work. You need a fresh approach and out-of-the-pillbox thinking.

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve researched and listed nearly every method of persuading and enticing your uncooperative dog into swallowing its pill. One of these ideas is bound to work!

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First, Talk to Your Veterinarian

Before you decide on one of our proposed methods, make sure your first plan of action involves discussing the medication with your vet. You may be surprised to learn about certain do’s and don’ts.

weimaraner dog check by vet
Image Credit: Nejron Photo, Shutterstock

For instance, some of our proposed strategies involve breaking or crushing the pill. However, certain medications, such as antibiotics, lose their effectiveness when tampered with. If this is the case, you’ll need to find a way for your dog to ingest the whole pill.

Additionally, your vet may suggest exchanging the pills for a liquid or powdered form. Or, perhaps the pill may be offered in a flavored option or in a different size or shape that your dog finds more agreeable.

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The 15 Tips on How to Get a Dog to Take a Pill

1. Get Past Your Dog’s Five Senses

The first several ideas on how to get a dog to take a pill involve side-stepping your dog’s naturally acute five senses. Dogs have instincts biologically wired into their brains for survival. While you know that the pill is a form of medication intended to improve and restore their health, your dog most likely views the pill as a poisonous foreign object.

For success, you’ll need to tip-toe past your dog’s natural inclination to avoid swallowing that pill by not alerting even one of their senses.

2. Be a Pill Ninja

Your dog may be keenly watching your every move, hoping for a treat or a dropped table scrap. When they see you reach for their food bowl, they’re probably on your heels. When they hear you rip open a new bag or box of treats, they may stop in their tracks and do their impersonation of a perfectly trained dog.

Now, shake a pill bottle in front of your dog to see the exact opposite reaction. Your dog knows what’s coming and most likely, wants none of it. Now that you’ve shown your hand—or rather, what’s in your hand—the battle lines have been established. You’re up against your dog’s made-up mind, and good luck trying to change it.

3. Don’t Let Them See or Hear What’s Coming

When medication is a daily occurrence for them, your dog may see and hear you following the same routine and in turn, brace themselves to resist what’s coming.

Before your dog runs and hides, take measures to prepare the pill in an unnoticeable manner. Make sure to approach your dog in a calm and matter-of-fact manner. Be as stealthy as possible in order to delay your dog’s reaction to the pill until it’s too late and they’ve already swallowed it.

Belgian shepherd wearing prong collar
Image Credit: Three Dogs photography, Shutterstock

4. Don’t Let Them Smell It

Even if you go to great lengths to hide the preparation of their pill, your dog can use their ultrasensitive nose to foil your sneak attack plan. You don’t have to own a trained narcotic-sniffing dog to be outed for handling medication.

Before we go into several clever techniques for hiding a pill in food and in treats, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling the medication. This step is critical to your success. Even if you’ve found the best hiding place inside your dog’s favorite food, your ploy can be given away in a second by your dog sniffing your hands.

5. Mix the Pill Into Their Food

A common way to get a stubborn dog to take pills without a power struggle involves adding it to their bowl of food at mealtime. The idea is that your dog will be so hungry, it’ll eat everything in its food dish, including the pill. Problem solved!

Thwarted by Taste and Texture

Or, maybe not. You may make the exasperating discovery of the pill laying untouched in their otherwise empty food dish. Your dog must have felt the different texture in their mouth and/or detected the bitter coating that’s on most pills. As a result, your dog left the pill and ate everything around it.

Despite its questionable level of success, it’s still worth a try to hide the pill in your dog’s food, as it’s one of the easiest methods on this list. Keep in mind that dry food doesn’t work nearly as well as canned dog food for obvious reasons. You can press and better hide the pill in wet food rather than having the pill sit loosely among the kibble. Also, if you own multiple dogs, take precautions that the right dog is eating the food with the pill.

dog and cat eating at home
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6. Hide It!

If mixing the pill with your dog’s food turns out to be a failure, don’t be dismayed. There are plenty of other options that may work, including food items and specialized treats. You may want to pair these hiding places with our sneak attack tactics listed below in order to ensure your dog doesn’t wise up to you.

Best Foods to Hide Dog Pills In:

A variety of foods you have readily available can make excellent hiding places. Of course, make sure you’re giving your dog something that they can easily digest and won’t cause other health problems or interfere with the pill’s effectiveness.

1. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is often the go-to food to hide dog pills in because it has two advantages working for it—most dogs love peanut butter, and its sticky consistency makes it the perfect camouflage for a pill. You can lather it on top of a treat or simply glob it all over the pill and offer it to your dog. Hopefully, your dog swallows it down instantly. Even if your dog is able to spit it back out at you, at least they’ll have a difficult time separating the peanut butter from the pill.

One note of caution: Make sure your peanut butter doesn’t include the common sweetener, Xylitol, which has been found to be toxic to dogs. Also, you’ll want to use creamy peanut butter.

spoonful of peanut butter
Image Credit: deborahmiller56, Pixabay

2. Plain Yogurt

Yogurt, which should be plain to avoid stomach upset, works similarly to peanut butter. If crushing the pill is a viable option, you can mix it into the yogurt.

3. Cheese and Other Dairy Products

In small amounts, cheese, particularly soft cheeses, can mold around a pill for a tasty treat. However, in order to avoid creating a new problem, you’ll need to be sure that your dog isn’t lactose intolerant. Also, some dogs should not consume high-fat foods such as cheese.

Start by offering your dog cheese without the pill in order to watch for digestive issues such as diarrhea and vomiting. Also, avoid cream cheese and sour cream, which have a higher incidence of stomach upset. Keep in mind that certain pills, such as pet antibiotics, become less effective when paired with dairy products.

4. Applesauce

The idea of creating a crushed pill mixture works for applesauce. Be sure to only give your dog a small amount of applesauce to avoid digestive issues, and do not offer applesauce to puppies who can’t digest it yet.

5. Bananas

With their soft texture and fruity aroma, bananas make viable hiding places. Like all fruits, bananas are high in sugar for dogs and should be given in limited amounts. Do be mindful that bananas contain potassium, which may be problematic if your dog has certain health concerns. It may also interfere with medications for high blood pressure and heart disease.

peeled banana
Image Credit: t_watanabe, Pixabay

6. Marshmallows

Marshmallows allow you to encase the pill like a little Trojan Horse. Simply cut the marshmallow in half, press the pill into the sticky center, replace the other half, and offer your dog this sweet treat.

Be aware that marshmallows, like bananas, are high in sugar and should not become a daily habit. If your dog is diabetic, you may want to find another food source.

7. Hotdog Pieces

If you want to appeal to your dog’s meat-eating instincts, apply the same strategy as the marshmallow. You can make a covert cut in the center of the hot dog piece and insert the pill. Most dogs are so excited to get a piece of hot dog, they swallow the whole thing without chewing it. They never know that a pill is hiding inside!

Much like marshmallows, you shouldn’t make hot dog pieces your regular method of administering your dog’s pill. Hot dogs and other processed meats are high in salt, preservatives, and by-products.

8. Chicken Hearts, Liver Pate, or Sardines

If you feed your dog a homecooked or raw food diet, you may already be offering your dog these food options. Do remember that raw foods contain bacteria, which increases the risk of harmful contamination.

Chicken hearts offer naturally made pockets in order to hide a pill. Liver pate can be effective in much the same way as plain yogurt, albeit with more of a meaty aroma. Sardines may mask the pill’s scent and bitter coating. Similar to the hot dog pieces, simply make a cut in the belly of the fish and press the pill inside it.

close up canned sardines
Image Credit: Pixabay

9. Pill Pocket Dog Treats

You can purchase dog treats specifically designed to conceal a pill inside. These treats look like mini round tubes or pockets with an opening on one side. You place the pill into the hollow center and then press together the soft texture of the treat to close the opening.

Pill pockets work well for several reasons. They look, feel, smell, and taste like any other dog treat you may offer your dog, and they’re designed to mask the smell of the pill. Also, unlike people’s food, a high-quality pill pocket dog treat is made to match your dog’s digestion requirements.

10. Gelatin Capsules

As another option, you may opt to buy gelatin capsules. These hollow pill casings allow you to place your dog’s pill inside it in order to cover the bitter coating and medicated scent. Depending on the size of the pills and the casing, if your dog requires multiple pills, you may be able to consolidate all of them into one capsule.

7. Sneak Attack Tactics

Now that you’ve found a viable medium in which to hide your dog’s pill, you’ve conquered half the battle. Next, you’ll need to convince your dog to take the “treat” and eat all of it, pill included. The following sneak attack tactics ought to do the trick.

Remember, before trying any of these ploys, make sure you’ve taken great measures not to alert your dog’s senses that you’re going for the pill container. Also, you must wash your hands after handling the medication. Finally, make sure the treat is small enough to be swallowed in one gulp.

One failed attempt makes this process much more difficult because now your dog is onto you.

a Labrador dog getting heart shaped cookie treat
Image Credit: Maya Shustov, Shutterstock

8. Mix It Up

Do you know that game with the three cups and a ball hiding under one of the cups? The cups get scrambled, and unless you’re watching closely, you’re not entirely sure which upturned cup is hiding the ball. This idea uses the same level of distraction for your dog.

Take three treats and hide a pill in one of them. (It’s important that you know which treat has the pill.) Wash your hands and approach your unsuspecting dog. First, offer your dog one of the regular treats to earn their trust. Next, slip your dog the treat containing the pill, followed closely by the last of the treats for a happy ending for both of you.

9. Let’s Go for a Walk

When you’re outside with your dog or on a walk, there’s so much engaging your dog’s senses that it can be overwhelming. Take advantage of this opportunity when your dog is distracted to offer the treat containing the pill. Hopefully, your dog will gobble up the treat quickly so they can get back to sniffing the ground or chasing a squirrel.

10. Make Your Dog Earn It

Like a walk, when your dog is performing a trick for you, their mind is distracted. They’re focused on performing the trick and earning the resulting treat. They want that treat in your hand so badly that they most likely don’t care what may be hiding in it. Sit. Stay. Roll over. Beg. Treat. Gulp! Mission accomplished.

dog learning trick
Image Credit: alexei_tm, Shutterstock

11. Pretend You’re Eating the Pill

Does your dog want to eat everything you’re eating? Do they sit and stare longingly at you as you munch on a snack, hoping that you’ll toss something their way? If the answer is yes, use your dog’s begging routine to entice them into eating their medicine.

Grab your favorite snack and the pill. Play it up so your dog really wants what you’re eating. You may want to employ one of the previous strategies and toss your dog the real snack first. Then, offer up the pill as if it’s your own snack. Hopefully, your dog is fooled long enough to swallow it down without realizing the switch.

12. Make Your Dog Jealous

If you have multiple dogs, this is a great way to get your dog to take a pill. Otherwise, you may need to ask a neighbor or friend to borrow their dog to accomplish this strategy. Also, it should go without saying that you’ll need to take precautions that the right dog eats the pill, another reason to have another person help you.

For this tactic, you’re using your dog’s natural inclination to become jealous to entice them to eat their pill. You’ll need to be a little meanspirited at first by giving treats only to the other dogs and not to the dog needing the medicine. Once your dog seems agitated about being the only one left out, offer them the treat with the pill and watch it disappear down their throat in seconds.

13. The Paw Ploy

Dogs generally prefer their paws to be clean. When debris gets stuck to their paws, most dogs lick it off in order to remove whatever it is. Do you see where we’re going here?

This paw ploy works best if you can crush the pill without it losing its effectiveness. Add the crushed pill to any type of smearable food that your dog can digest, such as peanut butter, plain yogurt, or applesauce. Dab the mixture onto your dog’s paw for them to lick off.

Be aware that this plan may backfire. Your dog may get excited and run around your house first. The pill mixture may be wiped across the cushions of your sofa before your dog starts licking. In this case, you may not be able to determine how much of the pill was lost and how much was digested by your dog.

an Australian shepherd paw on a hand with a dog clicker
Image Credit: Melounix, Shutterstock

14. Down the Hatch

If your uncooperative dog will not be fooled by hiding the pill in foods and other sneaky tactics, it’s time to take matters into your own hands—in some cases, literally. You know that your dog needs their medication. Despite the losing score of failed attempts, the stakes are too high for you to accept defeat. However, you still have a few options left at your disposal.

15. Last Resort Ideas That Work

These tips on how to get dogs to take pills are well-proven. However, you may want another person to help you. Also, consider your dog’s temperament before proceeding in order to avoid accidentally being bitten. If you have serious concerns, contact your vet for assistance.

By-Hand Method

If you do this technique properly, you’re sure to find success. When you get the hang of it, giving your dog a pill may become easier than you ever imagined possible.

Before you begin, it may help to watch a video to fully understand the steps. Also, you may want to practice a few times with a small treat that your dog can easily swallow whole. Once they can get the treat down without a problem, you’re ready to try the pill.

It’s recommended that you attempt the by-hand method at mealtime, with your dog’s filled food dish in front of them. Then, once you get the pill down, your dog can go right back to the pleasure of eating. Also, you can swipe the pill in peanut butter or plain yogurt to help mask the smell and keep your dog calm.

If you’re using this method to get your dog to take a pill, firstly sit behind your dog and comfort your dog by petting them. When you’re ready, put the pill in one hand. With your other hand, reach on top of your dog’s snout and pry open your dog’s mouth.

With your hand holding the pill, shove your hand deep into your dog’s mouth. Make sure to drop the pill onto the back of their tongue. You’ll want to get at least two-thirds of the way into their mouth, so the pill has nowhere to go but down their throat.

Finally, close your dog’s mouth with both your hands and gently massage their necks in a downward motion to encourage swallowing.

Using a Pill Gun

If you’re wary about placing your whole hand into your dog’s mouth or are having difficulty gripping an especially small pill, a pill gun may solve your concerns. This device looks and works more like a syringe than a gun.

You place the pill into the main chamber, insert the tube area into your dog’s mouth, and depress the end to shoot the pill toward the back of your dog’s throat.

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At the beginning of this article, you may have been skeptical that you’d ever get your uncooperative dog to eat their pill. Hopefully, we’ve helped you find a method to successfully give your dog its medication without unnecessary frustration and stress.

In the end, when thinking about how to get a dog to take a pill, make sure you reward your dog for taking it by offering an extra treat, along with plenty of love and affection. By rewarding your dog, this process can stop being a power struggle and may even become a habit in which your dog eagerly cooperates.

Featured Image Credit: Jus_Ol, Shutterstock

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