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My Dog Won't Swallow Pills

Written by Ella White


good doggo taking treat nicely

Nobody really likes taking their medications, but when it comes to getting your dog to take their pills it can feel like an uphill battle. You can’t reason with them, explain the benefits, and how it’s really not that bad… And in the end we can sometimes feel like giving up.

But don’t be disheartened! There are plenty of ways to get your dog to take their medication without fuss… Yes, even dogs that won’t swallow pills. Here’s how.

Before you opt for covert tactics and deceit, try giving your dog their pills the obvious way: by simply putting it in their mouth. If you’ve tried this and it just won’t work, you might want to skip ahead to save yourself some eye rolling and head shaking… But if you’ve not yet attempted to give your dog their medication, try this method first.

Lubricate the pill with something like gravy or wet food to make it easier to swallow. Hold your dog’s mouth open by grasping their muzzle so your thumb sits behind the teeth on one side of their upper jaw, and your fingers are on the other side. Note: only do this if you feel 100% certain that your dog will not bite or respond aggressively to this action.

Grip your dog’s muzzle gently but firmly and tilt their head back slightly to make the lower jaw open. Holding the pill in between your thumb and index finger on the other hand, use this hand to open your dog’s mouth a little wider, then drop the pill on their tongue ideally behind the hump at the back of the mouth without touching their tongue or inner mouth with your hand.

Return their head to a normal position and close your dog’s mouth, gently holding the jaws closed to make them swallow. Gently blowing on the nose can make them swallow if they’re not doing it naturally. You can usually tell if your dog has swallowed as they will lick their nose after.

If this method works, reward your dog with plenty of praise, play, and even a treat to create a positive association around taking their medication. If they resist and you’re unable to feed your dog their pills this way, read on…

If your dog is motivated by food and treats then hiding their medication within their meals is an easy way to get them to take it without fuss… Especially if they tend to wolf their dinner down so quickly they can barely taste it (this isn’t ideal but let’s deal with one problem at a time!).

Either bury your dog’s pill in their dinner or – for the more astute pet that will either pick it out or refuse their food upon noticing the trick – try hiding it within a treat. Wrapping the pill in unsweetened peanut butter (make sure it doesn’t contain xylitol), unseasoned meat, plain yogurt, or another dog-friendly snack and offering it as a quick treat will mean they gobble down the pill before they have time to notice what it is.

If your dog somehow manages to avoid swallowing their pill this way and ends up spitting it out, try this trick but with three pieces of the same treat. Feed them the first to bait them into believing it’s a true treat, then feed them the pill-enclosed treat, then finish with one more true treat that they should eat so quickly that it makes them finish eating all three – including their pill – without properly chewing them. 

Before trying these tactics, always wash your hands so the smell of medication is removed and won’t distract your dog from their treats, and don’t let them see you preparing their ‘treats’. You might even try getting your dog to perform a trick that they know gets them rewarded with treats to throw them off track and make them forget they’re being medicated.

After all this doggy deceit you might be starting to feel a bit guilty but remember: they need their medication and it’s all for their own good.

So you’ve tried everything and your dog just won’t swallow their pills. It’s time to enlist the help of someone else – ideally a professional. While it’s unrealistic to take your dog to the vet to have their medication fed to them everyday (and this would likely cause them more distress anyway) there are some other options available.

For example, some pharmacists and other animal medical experts are able to pulverize medications into liquid or powdered forms, and even add flavors to help the fussiest pets take their meds without complaint.

Though many cooperative dogs will happily swallow their medication with ease, hiding it in food and treats is often the recommended way of administering medication to animals. Holding your dog’s mouth open and tilting their head back can sometimes cause distress so, if you can’t say with 100% confidence that your dog won’t mind you doing this, then it’s best to avoid forcing their mouth open with your hands. 

If there are medical or dietary reasons why your dog can’t have their pills hidden in food or treats, look at options for feeding it to them in powder or liquid form. The process might cost more money, but will be worth it in the end if it’s the only feasible way you can get your pet to take the meds. Speak to your vet for advice on the best ways to feed your unique dog their specific medications and remember: don’t give up.