Everything you need to know about administering your pet’s medication at home
By Steven May, CVJ
What parents know, or quickly learn, is that an unavoidable duty that comes with the gift of a baby is dealing with aromatic presents left in diapers. At first, new parents might be clumsy and babies may scream but, eventually, changing time gets easier. As a matter of fact, it can turn in to a happy bonding moment with our giggling baby responding to our soothing tone, soft touch, and praise for a “job well done.”
What pet parents know, other than possibly dealing with a similar present left on the floor, is that our dogs will probably need medication at some point in their lives. And just as babies can’t change their own diapers, our dogs can’t administer their own medication or treatments.
In both cases, how we approach the situation will help dictate the outcome. Dogs have an uncanny ability to sense our emotions so if we freak out when it’s time to give a pill or a shot, the odds are they will too. But if we approach the situation with confidence, consistency, and a lot of praise, our dogs will respond in kind.
Each medication administration requires technique, with some being relatively easy and others demanding some practice. In any case, your veterinarian or veterinary technician will explain the administration process in detail. If something isn’t clear don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Remember, you’re on the same team when it comes to your dog’s health.
So let’s look at the most common forms of medications and delivery methods.
Oral medication, which includes pills, capsules, tablets and liquids, are the most common form of in-home administration. Prior to medicine time, spend some time with your dog and create a positive and relaxed atmosphere. Throughout the process use a soothing voice and deliver a lot of praise.
When giving a dog a pill, slip your thumb into the space behind one of the canine teeth and press upward on the roof of the mouth. As the mouth begins to open, press down on the lower jaw with the opposite thumb. Alternatively, press in on both lips from above the muzzle. As the skin pushes in behind the canines, the larger teeth, the dog will drop their jaw and open its mouth.
Insert the pill well to the back of the tongue in the middle of the mouth. If you place the pill too far forward or to the side of the tongue your dog will probably spit it out. After you’ve positioned the pill, close your dog’s mouth and massage or rub its throat gently until swallowing occurs. If your dog licks its nose, the pill has most likely been swallowed. If you’re not sure, try a syringe full of water or a small treat until the pill goes down.
Some pills can be given in food. This can be done by making up small “meatballs” using your dog’s regular wet food. The best method is to give your dog one or two clean meatballs and then, after they’ve been eaten, one with the pill pushed deep into the center. Follow up with a “clean” meatball so your dog will continue to take the treats even if it gets a small taste of the medicine.
You may also consider using “pill pockets.” These are meat-flavored treats with a hollow center that allows you to place the pill inside and feed to your dog. Some oral solutions can be mixed in to store-bought gravies that are added to your dog’s meals. Consult with your veterinarian to see if this is a possibility.
What you never want to do is break the pill up into a powder, unless instructed to by your veterinarian. Powders have an unpleasant taste that dogs don’t typically accept. Also, some pills have a protective coating that’s important for the delayed release of the medication. Crushing the pill will destroy the coating.
Oral Liquid Medication
Liquid medications, including antibiotics, electrolytes, and water solutions, are best administered into the cheek pouch located between the molars and the cheek. The typical method of delivery is with a medicine bottle, dropper, or plastic syringe.
You will want to gently tilt your dog’s chin upwards before placing the oral medication into their mouth, which should be swallowed naturally. Be careful not to dispense the liquid too fast as your dog may gag, spit, or cough up the medication. Use praise throughout the process and give a little treat upon completion.
Eyes and Ears
Administering medicated ear and eye drops can be very simple…except when it’s difficult. Factors such as the medical condition you’re treating, any pain your pet is experiencing, and if you have a calm or stressed patient on your hands can come in to play.
For the eyes, it’s best to stroke your pet’s head to promote calmness, tilt their head back, and slowly place the required drop(s) into the eye. From there, gently run your hand on the top of the head and back of the ears while heaping on the praise.
For the ears, there’s a good chance your dog is experiencing some pain, so being gentle is key. Slowly lift the Pinna (ear flap) and drop or place the medication in the opening of the canal. Make sure not to stick the medication tube deep into the canal—let gravity take its course. More than likely your dog will shake his head after receiving the medication. To slow this down, place the palm of your hand on top of your dog’s head until the shaking stops. Then proceed to the other ear if required.
For many of us, injections are the Big Kahuna of medication delivery; perhaps as much for the aversion some of us have to needles as anything else. Safely and effectively administering an injection, which most dogs handle surprisingly well, comes down to technique and confidence.
If you’re hesitant, it may be best to have your veterinarian or veterinary technician assist you with injections. However, if your dog requires daily shots and you can’t make it to the vet’s office every day, you’ll need to learn the appropriate skills.
As this is a “hands-on” exercise, your veterinarian will be your best teacher. She’ll teach you how to properly prepare the medicine, inform you of any safety considerations, show you the areas of the body most suitable for injections, and fill you in on how to deliver the medication.
What you already know how to do is create a positive atmosphere and encourage your dog throughout the process.
Rules Are Rules
Medications are created, following years of testing, to provide the exact properties and dosages that address certain conditions. This means no diluting, modifying, or adding medications unless on the orders of your veterinarian. In other words, two drops in the eye twice a day doesn’t mean four drops once a day.
If you have two or more medications that need to be administered, and want to deliver them at the same time to make the process easier, check with your veterinarian first to make sure there is no risk of side effects.
– Not sure if your dog swallowed its medication? Err on the side of caution and don’t provide a second dose. Missing one administration is much preferable to giving too much, however always check with your veterinarian as certain medication cannot be skipped especially when treating heart, kidney, or liver conditions.
– Is your dog not cooperating at medicine time? Don’t lose your cool. Reprimanding your dog for not behaving like you want will only make a bad situation worse for both of you. The goal is to make medicine time a positive experience. So take a breath, let things calm down, create a positive environment, and let your dog know that he’s pleasing you by administering praise along with the medicine.
– Can’t quite get a grasp on the package insert regarding dosages or terms that came with your dog’s medication? Don’t guess. A good veterinarian and their staff are never too busy to answer questions about something as important as properly administering medication.
Being a good pet parent is more than just an occasional trip to the dog park and a belly rub. Our pets rely on us for food, water, shelter, safety, exercise, guidance, and sometimes medication. A big responsibility? You bet. Bigger rewards? I think most of us know the answer to that question.
Veterinarians prescribe medication for a reason. They, like you, want your dog to be happy and healthy. Do dogs enjoy a syringe of liquid being squeezed in their mouth or an injection in the loose skin around their neck or back? Would you? But what can happen, with consistency and kindness, is that your dog will associate medicine time with another chance to make you happy. Your job is to let them know when they do.
Steven May, CVJ has provided his highly respected pet advice to both the veterinary industry and the general public for 38 years. The former editor of Vetz Magazine, May heads the popular Facebook pet parent channel The Daily Growl which currently counts more than 540,000 followers. He is the co-author of What About Wally: Co-Parenting A Pet With Your Ex—the first book that looks in to the issue of the divorce, separation, and the breaking up of pet parents, as well as the legal and dog behavioral issues that come with it. Read “Battle of the Pet Parents–How Divorce Affects Your Pet” to learn more.