How to Give Your Dog a Pill: Several Methods

Zani mainlining spray cheese
Zani mainlining spray cheese

Emergency Method: If you are currently in a struggle trying to administer a pill to a reluctant dog, try the multiple meatball method. The other techniques in this blog are specialized and probably won’t help in an emergency situation.

Link to the video on the multiple meatball method for email subscribers.

Longterm Training Method: If you are in the opposite situation and have the time to train your dog from scratch to take any kind of pill you need her to, without force or disguising the pill,  read my post on how I taught my dog to take a (plain) pill with positive reinforcement.  Also check out where I originally got the idea: Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s post “An Easy Pill to Swallow.”  In my opinion, this is the gold standard method.

Now that I’ve sent half of you away, is anybody still here? Following is the original inspiration for writing this post.

Administering Pills with Spray Cheese and Food Tubes

If your dogs already eat spray cheese sometimes, or will eat a moist mixture out of a food tube, this idea could save you some time and hassle. 

I realized a few months back that spray cheese extruding out of the can, as well as moist food exiting a squeeze tube, both make excellent “carriers” for pills.

Link to the video on giving pills with spray cheese and food tubes for e-mail subscribers.

My dog Summer takes a small thyroid pill twice a day, and having several options for administering it makes it easy. I often have a food tube with some leftovers from a training session in the refrigerator, and the spray cheese is a staple at my house. For Summer, it only takes a tiny bit.

We Can Train This

When I read Laura Baugh’s post on teaching a dog to take a pill, I was chagrined. Why had it never occurred to me that we could teach a dog to swallow pills just like we teach them other behaviors? Zoo and marine mammal trainers train this kind of thing all the time, so why not dogs? Most of the pill administration methods out there for dogs (including most of the ones linked in this post) depend on trying to disguise the pill. Older ones use plain old force to open the dog’s mouth and put the pill in, then hold the dog’s mouth closed. That’s unnecessary in this day and age.

So I really appreciate Laura’s post about training the behavior: An Easy Pill to Swallow. And I was delighted to find out how straightforward it was to train!

I haven’t had to put a bunch of energy into disguising pills over the years. My dogs have a huge reinforcement history for sucking cheese and other goodies out of gizmos and for eating gobs of peanut butter. They get these things daily whether they are taking pills or not. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal when there are pills present. Still, I’m glad that I finally got around to teaching Clara to take pills in a straightforward manner. It’s a useful behavior, whether I use it every time or not.

 More Good Tips

Donna Hill has a video with some great tips for giving pills: 4 Tips to Give Your Dog a Pill.

More inspiration for those of us teetering on the edge of training this behavior. See Michelle Chan shape her sheltie Juliet to take pills in one impressive, less than three minute session: Juliet Pops Pills.

And check out mymeowz blog: Here we have a cat getting trained to take pills. Can it get any better than that?

Kathy Sdao has a really nice article with information on all sorts of husbandry techniques: Husbandry Training for Dog Owners.

Nickala Squire points out that crunchy peanut butter disguises pills better than smooth. What a good observation! I’ve been using it ever since.

And Tegan Whalen suggests washing one’s hands between handling the pill and administering the treat. Another great idea.

Food Tube Info

Summer is ready for the food tube
Summer is ready for the food tube, pill or not!

I use food tubes for high value treats, both for Clara’s socialization sessions, where we do lots of counterconditioning, and in agility. I actually throw these tubes ahead of the running dog in agility, so they are tough. I’ve never had one come apart or have the lid or clamp pop off. I buy them online at REI. (Google “Coughlan squeeze tube” if that URL ever goes out of date.)

You don’t always have to use high calorie or high fat treats in them, either. I’ve made a mixture of pumpkin, low fat yogurt, and some peanut butter that my dogs really like. The trick is to get the right texture. If it’s too runny or not homogeneous, it will drip out of the tube and make a mess. If it’s too thick or has lumps, it won’t come out well. Experiment a little to find the Goldilocks point and you will be in business.

 Let me know if you try anything new, either from this post and the linked resources, or from something completely different. Especially if it works!

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

17 thoughts on “How to Give Your Dog a Pill: Several Methods

      1. Definitely! Greasy, too. But the calories aren’t bad and the duck flavour is the only flavour without corn syrup. Dilly (“There are no low value treats”) likes all the flavours, but Tulip only likes the duck. A blessing, since she doesn’t like canned cheese or peanut butter either.

  1. I admit I am lazy. My dog takes multiple pills twice a day (he has epilepsy, so it’s for life). I just open his mouth and put the pills in. Then I kiss him on the nose and give him a small treat.

    He hears me getting the pills ready and comes over on his own accord- so I guess it’s not too bad 😛

  2. My dogs eat their “regular” pills (glucosamine/chondroitin and an allergy med) right in their morning kibble, but if I have to give them anything unusual, I serve it as part of their afternoon raw meal – a chicken heart is like nature’s pill pocket, you can slide a couple pills right in one.

  3. I have been using the ‘rapid fire’ method with one disguised pill for years, and thought I was onto something special. Apparently not! However, I wash my hands in between putting the treat in the meat and feeding it to the dog. This has been worthwhile for rescues and when I worked in boarding kennels.

    For my own dogs, they will eat a pill just offered to them like any other treat. I think this is from developing food drive in them (they’re not fussy eaters), and by having a history of good things coming from my fingers (they’re willing to be scammed every now and then).

    1. That’s great, Tegan. I’m going to add your hint about washing hands in between handling the pill and giving the treat to the post. I think all these little things can really help in preventing the development of an overly pill-savvy dog. That’s great that your dogs will just eat a pill.

  4. I condition my dogs to like eating peanut butter and other things, such as yogurt, from a spoon. Then , all I have to do is tuck the pills down into some peanut butter and gently scrape the mixture off onto the back of my dogs’ incisors so that it ends up on the roof of their mouth. Nearly impossible for them to remove the pill from peanut butter so they swallow the whole thing and come back to lick the spoon.

  5. My favorite method is PROCESSED CHEESE SLICES. One slice will easily do 5-10 doses, just leave out to soften for a bit, peel open pkg, then fold cheese (the correct size to hide pill) over 1/4 to 1/2 inch and it will separate leaving a nice pliable strip. Place pill on strip and roll, pinch ends and voila, a cheap, tiny, cheese pocket that the dogs adore and (according to my vet) complies with meds that must be given on an empty stomach.

    Then close the film back up, refrigerate until next dose, and repeat.

    My 15 yr old rescue Pin needs 3 heart meds on an empty stomach. 0ne capsule twice daily, one quartered pill twice daily and one round pill once daily. I use the same tiny strip for all her meds each time she gets dosed; the capsule at one end and roll, the others at the other end and roll towards capsule, this end I pinch just to be sure nothing escapes.

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