How do I medicate my pet?

Just about every family gives medication to their pet at some point.  Most dogs receive monthly oral heartworm preventive. Cats should receive monthly Revolution application for heartworm and parasite control. And despite all of our best efforts, many pets get sick or injured during their lives. While some pets take medications easily, and some medications like oral heartworm preventives are designed to be tasty and easy to give, a question we’re asked all the time is “How am I going to get my pet to take this?” This is an important question for veterinarians to answer, because if we can’t get medicine into our patients, we can’t treat them as effectively as possible. Here are a few techniques that have worked for us:


Most people who are faced with medicating their pet have tried this one.  The principal behind camouflage is to find a food that tastes irresistible, smells great, and easily hides a pill or capsule. Greenies Pill Pockets are a very effective way to hide medicines for many dogs and cats, since they are very tasty little hollowed out balls of flavor that can actually be molded around a pill. There are different sizes and flavors, some for cats and some for dogs.  Start with giving your pet one or two Pill Pockets with nothing in them, so your pet views the Pill Pocket as a treat instead of a source of medicine. If your pet loves the treat, add the pill.  Because some dogs and many cats are very sensitive to the scent/taste of a pill, and some pills smell/taste worse than others, you may have to be sneaky. Before you touch the pill, place the Pill Pocket on the counter with the hole up. Next, carefully place the pill in the pocket using one hand without touching the outside of the tasty morsel. Using the hand that has not touched the pill, pick up and squeeze the Pill Pocket to mold it around the pill.  You can also make your own pill pockets. Mix 1 part milk, 1 part chunky peanut butter, and 2 parts flour into a paste and create a pocket. To make about 30 of these pockets, use 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1 cup flour. Homemade pill pockets need to be kept refrigerated and can be frozen.

While Pill Pockets are appealing to most dogs and cats, there may be other good camouflage food options in your home.  You may have seen us use squeeze cheese, since it’s tasty and doesn’t require refrigeration. Regular cheese, peanut butter, cream cheese, lunch meat, butter, liverwurst, hot dogs, bread and little meat balls have all been suggested and used by our clients as ways to hide a pill.  If your pet has any dietary restrictions, be sure to ask your veterinarian if a particular goodie is safe for pill hiding.

Sometimes a bad-tasting pill can be placed into a flavorless gel capsule first.  These gel capsules can be purchased, or we can put the tablets into gel capsules for a small fee.

Liquid instead of pills

If you feel that your pet would take a liquid medicine better than a pill, please be sure to ask us if a liquid alternative is available.  Some medicines are available in both liquid and pill form. Sometimes the volume of the available liquid form required for certain patients makes it hard to use the liquid form. For example, a large dog would require an excessive amount, or the amount needed for a tiny kitten is too small to measure. For our large, tiny, or really picky patients, we may be able to have medication compounded into a tasty liquid form in the correct strength for the patient through a compounding  pharmacy. Compounding pharmacies are specially licensed to be able to take nearly any medicine and dispense it in a custom form and dose.  Some of the flavors available include fish, tuna, beef, liver, chicken, or even “kid” flavors like cherry or bubble gum! Flavored medicine can then be mixed with a similarly flavored food or can be squirted into the mouth as a treat.  There are several local compounding pharmacies, as well as mail-order veterinary compounding pharmacies who specialize in making medicines easier to give.

Alternative forms

Sometimes we encounter situations in which oral medicines are not practical, regardless of whether they’re liquid or pills.  For example, animals who have had major dental surgery or mouth injuries are difficult to give any oral medicines to.  Drug companies have responded by producing longer-lasting antibiotic injections and narcotic pain injections, which allow us to treat pain and infection for a longer period of time with a single injection.

Another alternative delivery form is transdermal. The medicine is absorbed through the skin rather than being given by mouth.  This form is not often used in veterinary medicine because the rate and amount of medicine that is absorbed can vary between patients, and some drugs are not absorbed very well. However, in certain cases such as hyperthyroid cats who have stomach upset with oral medication, transdermal treatment can be an effective option.

Just do it

Finally, sometimes you just have to give the pill if all else fails.  From the ASPCA website, here is how to give a dog a pill:

  1. Hold the pill in the fingers of one hand. Place that hand on your dog’s lower jaw and the other hand on his upper jaw. Lift his head up toward the ceiling.
  2. Open your dog’s mouth and twist your hand around so you can insert the pill. Place the pill to the side of your dog’s tongue as far back as you can reach, and then quickly withdraw your hand as you close your dog’s jaws. (The action is similar to feeding a baby bird small wads of moistened bread.)
  3. Continue to hold your dog’s jaws closed with one hand while keeping his nose pointed up at the ceiling, and gently stroke his throat downward with the other to encourage him to swallow.
  4. As soon as you think your dog has swallowed the pill, offer him the tasty treat so that he takes it and swallows again when he takes the treat.

Right after pilling your dog, keep an eye on him for a minute or two. Some dogs learn to hold the pill in their mouth and then spit it out when you’re not paying attention.

Cornell University has an excellent video that shows step-by-step how to give a cat a pill here:  To watch the video, look at the left side of the screen and choose which video you would like to view under 'menu'.

Your veterinarian and the Animal Hospital of North Asheville staff want your pet to receive the best treatment with the least amount of stress possible.  If you are having trouble medicating your pet, speak up!  We’re all pet owners too, we understand what you may be going through, and we want to help you help your pet to get and stay healthy.


Our soft-coated wheaton terrier, Kacey, takes her pills like a human. We just hold the pill in front of her, say "Say, Ahh!", she opens wide and we pop in the pill. Not sure how we got her to do that, but that's what happens. It's 95% successful.

What a great story! You are very lucky that Kacey takes her pills so easily.