How to get a dog to take a pill

If your vet has prescribed your dog pills, it’s certainly for their benefit. However, it’s not uncommon to hear that a dog won’t take pills. The way you choose to give your dog a pill depends on your dog and how willing they are to eat things they don’t want. There are a number of different options available and some will work better for some dogs than others.

My dog won’t take pills from me but he will from my vet, what am I doing wrong?

If you imagine the situation at the vets, everything is designed to maximise the vet’s chance of success:

  • Your dog can’t escape as they are shut in a consulting room.
  • If your dog is small, they are placed on the table so they are easy to reach and handle properly.
  • There is little drama in preparation, usually, the vet will be talking to you and then just pop in the tablet when everyone (dog included) is distracted.
  • If things are slightly more tense, they will get an extra pair of hands to help.

These little, but probably unnoticed points, are a major part of the reason your vet seems so successful.

image of a dog being given a treat for vets now article on dog won't take pills and how to give a dog a pill
It can be frustrating when your dog won't take pills

My dog won’t take pills, what can I do?

There are a number of tricks for giving dogs pills. Try to make sure the end result is always something positive – be that more treats, a walk or some play. Whichever route you choose to use, bear in mind that successfully getting your dog to take a pill takes practice. If you are unsure about how to give a dog a pill, here are a few options:

How to give a dog a pill if they will eat

1. Ask for a pleasant-tasting tablet
There are now an increasing number of ‘palatable’ tablets available – more so for dogs than cats – and if your dog isn’t particularly fussy about their food, this can be the most painless and hassle-free way of medicating them. N.B. The whole point of these tablets is they are ‘tasty’ so it is very important not to leave these within your pet’s reach.

2. Use food to hide dog pills in
Some dogs, especially the very food motivated ones, can be tempted to eat their pills in some form of treats. There are now special, strongly flavoured, dog pill pocket treats on the market specifically to allow you to pop the pill in the treat and then into your dog. If using a homemade alternative, the best foods to hide dog pills in should generally be a bit ‘sticky’ so that they cling to the tablet and mask the flavour well. Things such as butter, cucumber or lumps of ham are commonly used tactics. It is best to start out with a few empty treats before you load them up.

How to get a dog to take a pill when he won’t eat

1. Use a pill pusher
Widely available from the vets, these often work best for small dogs. The idea behind them is you can push the tablet to the back of the pet’s throat without losing your fingers. It does require practice and is not infallible, however once mastered, it can be effective.

2. Do as the vets do
If your dog won’t take pills, do it like the vets do. Once mastered, this technique is very simple and effective:

  • Either restrain your pet yourself or get an ‘assistant’ to help
  • Quietly but confidently take hold of your pets upper jaw and gently tilt your pet’s nose towards the sky
  • Once looking directly at the ceiling you will probably notice that the lower jaw is slightly open. At this point there are 2 options:
  • With the fingers of the hand holding upper jaw open you can slide them just behind the canines and this will usually cause them to open their mouth, pressure on the palate will help keep it open. Then with your other hand, put the pill as far into the mouth as you can.
  • Or, you can use the free hand (with the pill in it) to place a finger into the crack between the teeth and pull the lower jaw down, then roll you hand further into the mouth and push the pill in as far as you can.
  • Quickly close the jaw and gently rub their throat.

The trick of this is that you are trying to get the tablet over the ‘hill’ at the back of the tongue, once there they will swallow the pill. If they haven’t swallowed, you can squirt a small amount of water into the corner of their mouth with a syringe to encourage them to gulp.