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How to Give a Dog a Pill Without Food: 5 Tips & Tricks

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

pet owner giving pill medication to dog

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Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg

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Giving your dog pills can be a tricky process. While hiding pills in food can be an easy way to get your dog to swallow medication, it’s not a method that guarantees that your dog will eat its pills. Pills can be left behind in food bowls or spat out, and some medication can’t be crushed or mixed with food and needs to be given on an empty stomach.

So, if you cannot use food to get your dog to take its medicine, here are five other methods you can try.

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Before You Begin

Your first shot will be the easiest and the best chance for success. Once your dog catches on that you’re trying to feed it an unpalatable pill, they will resist even more. This can make it unsafe or impossible for your dog to swallow the pill.

So, make sure to prepare everything before you try to insert a pill into your dog’s mouth. The pill should already be out of the packaging and ready to go. If you get approval from your veterinarian quickly swirl the pill in some gravy, make sure that you’ve already done this with the pill. If you’re using a tool, like a pill pusher, have the pill inserted into the tool before getting your dog.

Also, find a quiet space with minimal distractions so that your dog remains as calm as possible. It’s important for you to stay calm throughout the entire process as well. If your dog senses any tension or strong emotions from you, it can end up feeling anxious and restless.

Dog sleeping comfortably on big soft pillow
Image Credit: 632imagine, Shutterstock

Top 5 Tips to Give Dogs Pills Without Food:

1. Insert the Pill Directly into the Mouth

This method is often used by veterinarians to quickly feed dogs pills. Keep in mind that it only works on dogs that completely trust you and won’t try to bite you.

Have the pill ready in your hand. Then, gently place one hand on the top of your dog’s snout and the other hand on the bottom. Swiftly open your dog’s mouth and slip the pill as far down your dog’s tongue as possible. Then, quickly shut your dog’s mouth and gently hold your dog’s mouth shut. Never tightly clamp your fingers around your dog’s snout.

Guide your dog to tilt its head back to help the pill go down. You can also blow lightly on your dog’s nose or rub its throat to help your dog swallow the pill a little more easily.

Keep in mind that this method should be done gently and swiftly. Use a soothing tone and encourage your dog so that it knows it’s not in a dangerous situation. If your dog is absolutely resistant, move on to a different method.

Dog Pill Mouth
Image Credit: Jeanette Virginia Goh, Shutterstock

2. Use a Pill Pusher

A pill pusher or pill gun is a great tool to use for smaller dogs. It’s also a great way to keep your hand out of your dog’s mouth, and it can get the pill to the back of your dog’s mouth with greater precision.

You’ll use the pill pusher with the same steps as before, except instead of using your own fingers to place the pill in your dog’s mouth, you’ll have the pill pusher.

3. Look for a Different Version of the Pill

Some medications come in various forms. So, if you can’t get your dog to eat the pill, try asking for a flavored version. Some pills also come in liquid form or can be crushed into a powder. If you can crush the pills into a fine powder, try coating your dog’s mouth with the powder. Your dog can end up taking the medication as it tries to clear out the taste with its tongue.

person giving medicine to a dog
Image Credit: Olya Maximenko, Shutterstock

4. Use a Gelatin Pill Capsule

Sometimes, dogs won’t eat a pill because they don’t like the smell. Encasing the pill in a gelatin pill capsule can help mask the smell and get your dog more open to swallowing it. Pill capsules are also great because they don’t significantly increase the size of the pill. So, your dog will still be able to swallow the pill pretty easily.

5. Work With a Friend or Veterinarian

If your dog is particularly antsy, try working with a trusted friend so that you can focus on one task. One person can help restrain your dog and keep its mouth open, while the other can insert the pill in your dog’s mouth.

If you’ve exhausted all your resources, you can take your dog to the vet. Your vet and technicians will have more equipment to safely administer your dog’s oral medication.

veterinarian examines the bernese mountain dog
Image Credit: Freeograph, Shutterstock

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Giving a dog a pill is a challenging and frustrating process for many dog owners. Using food and other tricks can help you get your dog to swallow a pill, and you might have to try several different methods before you find one that works.

Giving your dog treats, pets, and praise after it swallows a pill can help create a positive association to pills and gradually make the process easier for you. If all else fails, get in touch with your veterinarian to see if there are any other options that can help your dog take its medication.

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Featured Image Credit: Jus_Ol, Shutterstock

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