Tricks for giving medicine to cats and dogs

medicine to cats and dogs

When it comes to giving supplements or medicine to cats or dogs, it can either be easy or difficult. Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of both ways, so I thought I’d share the methods I use and other helpful recommendations I’ve run across to help others.  I also wanted to warn cat owners of some disturbing information I ran across that I wanted to pass along.

Giving medicine to cats

In my household, I’ve found the cats to be a little less cooperative in the medicating department.  Depending on if I’m trying to give them a pill or a liquid, there a few different ways I handle it.  Since my cats are raw fed, I’m usually able to just cut a slit into a thumb-sized piece of raw meat and poke the pill inside.  The more voracious eaters have no problem with that method.

When that method doesn’t work, I’ve also had good luck wrapping the pill up in the middle of a piece of sliced cheese.  As a rule, cats don’t chew their food that well, so as long as the meat or ball of cheese isn’t too large, but large enough to completely cover the pill, you may be able to sneak the medication into them that way.

Like dogs, cats have a very good sense of smell, so be careful not to get any of the medication on the outside of the food you are trying to sneak the pill into.  If the cat tastes or smells the medication, they will most likely avoid it.   That’s one reason why I absolutely LOVE colloidal silver.

Colloidal silver has no real smell or taste to deter cats (or dogs) and works as an amazing antibiotic you can use both internally and externally.  If you have never heard of it, you owe it to yourself and your pet to read the post I wrote about it here,

Using smelly and favorite foods to disguise medicine

If your cat cannot be tricked with those methods, another method is to put the powder (or liquid) in something your cat REALLY loves, that is smelly and will disguise any medication taste or smell, like sardines or salmon (in water). I always mush the fish up, then mix the powder in, with plenty of juice to disguise it. I also make sure I don’t give them too much food, as I want them to eat it up in its entirety before I give them more of the non-medicated food.

When trying to get a cat to eat, no matter what it is you’re trying to feed them, petting them will often help.  I’ve found that even when my cats are being finicky about their regular food, petting them helps encourage them to go ahead and eat.  This is a little trick you can use anytime you switch food, have a picky cat, etc., and need some extra help.

While I’m not a fan of most canned commercial cat foods because of their ingredients, I have found that every one of my six cats loves Friskies in the chicken and cheese gravy version and also the turkey and giblets flavor.  They love it so much and get it so infrequently that when I do offer it, they act like they haven’t eaten in weeks as every cat within earshot of a can being opened comes running to check out what the special treat being opened is.  Enthusiasm like that allows me to occasionally sneak in some wormer or supplement that I need to administer.

Manually administering medicine to a cat or dog

If those methods don’t work or aren’t feasible for your situation, the last method is manual medication.  Will and I usually work as a team with this method and I always resort to it as my final option because I feel so awful doing it.  Unfortunately, sometimes it is necessary.

For this method, one person picks the cat up by the scruff of their neck and gently cradles them in the crook of their arm.  When a cat is picked up this way, they instinctually tend to curl up with their mouth usually slightly open.

While one person holds the cat by its scruff, resting it in a slightly upright position, the other person gently opens the cat’s mouth wide enough to drop in the pill or put the liquid in.  Never shoot the liquid down their throat as that can cause the cat to choke and suck the liquid into their lungs.

I find using a dropper instead of a syringe is easier to control the output.  If I have to give a lot of liquid at once, I’ll break it into a couple of attempts instead of trying to put it all in at once and risking the cat spitting most of it out.

When dispensing the liquid, aim for the back of the tongue or along the back of their cheek, then close their mouth and gently hold it shut.   Do not cover their nose.  You can blow gently in their face or massage their neck to get them to swallow.  Do all of this while the other person continues to cradle the cat while holding them by the scruff of their neck, which will help keep control of the cat.

Once you see the cat has swallowed, let go of their mouth and if it is empty, gently put them down.  This method can also be used on dogs, if necessary.  With them, I have them sit or lie down and then gently open their mouth and follow the same guidelines I use for giving medicine to the cats.

Using a pill popper and a word of caution about them

I have read on forums and in other places people using what is known as a ‘pill popper’ to shoot the pill into the cat’s mouth.  If you read the reviews on Amazon about them, you’ll find the reviews are pretty poor and mixed about how well they work. I also read some awful stories about a particular brand that several buyers reported came apart and shot a piece of the popper down their cat’s throat, in some instances requiring an emergency vet visit and sometimes surgery.

If you decide to go the pill popper route, make sure you read the negative reviews and order accordingly.  Even if you are using it on a dog, you still don’t want pieces of the popper being swallowed.  Here’s one that seemed to get the best reviews and not have parts that could come loose,

Giving medicine to dogs

Fortunately, dogs seem to be easier to sneak medications or supplements into.  With most of my dogs, I’ve been able to just drop the pill or put the powder/liquid in/on their food and they eat it right up.  There have, however, been the times when I’ve had to be creative, like when needing to give medication between meals.

One way I’ve found to medicate my dogs easily is to use the ‘Catch it’ command.  All of my dogs, with the exception of Ruby, the Jack Russell Terrier, have ALWAYS loved this game.  Not really being food motivated, Ruby will just sit there and let the treat hit her in the face before delicately eating it off the ground.

If your dog is like Ruby, this way may not be a helpful method.  For all my other dogs, I like it not only for administering medications but also because they love it and it’s one way that helps me monitor their vision, hearing, and reflexes.

Using the ‘Catch it’ command on dogs 

Teaching the ‘Catch it’ command to your dog is simple.  You simply let your dog see and smell the food/treat and then make sure they are watching as you move back 5-6 ft. and toss the food/treat to them.

I usually start out doing this in relatively slow motion until they understand the game, which normally doesn’t take long.  As you toss it, give the ‘Catch it!’ command to your dog.  When first starting out, don’t toss the food directly at them, but instead arch your toss to give the dog a better chance at seeing it coming and being able to catch it.

Once your dog learns this fun new trick, toss them food/treats, including slipping in the piece with the medication.  My experience is that the dogs are so excited to catch the food, they quickly swallow it in anticipation of the next toss.  If you have multiple dogs, as I do, call their name as you go around/between them so they know whose turn it is.  This will help avoid any altercations or the wrong dog getting the medication.

A bit of liquid helps the medicine go down

If you give your dog numerous supplements at once, like I do for my lab, Abby, who is 10 and needs some added things to help with her arthritis and allergies/immune system, there are a couple of other options.  Since she will avoid undissolved caplets or tablets, I open the pills and sprinkle them over her food or cut a slit in one of the pieces of meat and stick a pill inside.

Unless the pill falls out, Abby has no problem taking her various supplements that way.  Adding a liquid like colloidal silver or bone broth makes it easier for her to get every last bit of all the powdered additives.

Besides being very beneficial from a health perspective, when giving medications, bone broth can help disguise any weird taste the medicine might have.  Thanks to all the bones I have from raw feeding, I have a pot of broth going non-stop.

Even if you don’t need it as an enticement to get your dog to eat medication or supplements, bone broth is still a great and easy additive to your dog’s food.  You can pick up bones pretty cheap at the grocery store or use the leftover bones from your own meal to make broth.

Alternatives to pill pockets

I know a lot of people like the pill pockets, but for a couple of reasons, I’m not a fan.  The first reason is that they are expensive and another is that I don’t like the ingredients in them.  I much prefer to sneak the pill into a piece of my pets’ food or use one piece of sliced cheese for 2-3 animals, then buy something with no nutritional value and questionable ingredients.

The next time you have a piece of cheese of any kind, offer a little bit of it to your pet and see how they respond.  If they love it and are eager for more, you know you probably have a winner with that method.  And now a cheese addict.

If you have a pickier pet that has to have daily medication or supplements and you don’t like the idea of cheese or your pet has a dairy allergy, I’ve read where people make up little balls of hamburger that they keep in the fridge and just insert a pill into.

Just remember to keep the food small enough that it is easily swallowed and not chewed up, revealing your trickery.  If you aren’t comfortable with raw meat, you can lightly brown it in a skillet, but not too much, as the meat will break in half when you try to put the pill inside.  A little piece of hot dog can also be used.

Using the excitement of a ‘Treat!’ 

If you have a dog that resists tampered with food and isn’t interested in the catch game, I’ve found they will usually respond when you offer it as a ‘Treat’.  You can increase their excitement and your chances of success by asking if they ‘Want a treat!?’ in an upbeat way before giving it to them.  If they are REALLY suspicious, make sure you also randomly offer them un-pilled treats in the same form, just to establish your credibility.

If your pet is wary of your past deception, you can do the pill hiding while they are in the other room or out on a potty break, so as not to give them warning of what you are up to.  Hearing pills rattling out of the bottle or smelling the medicine beforehand is a sure way to get them on edge of what is going on.  Once you have the pill(s) hidden, wash your hands well to get rid of the smell and then act like normal for a few minutes before offering the treat to them.

A final thought

Lastly, one thing I’d like to add is that if you are trying to give a hard to medicate animal medication, always try to stay calm and gentle.  Animals are very in-tune with our emotions and if you are mad or frustrated, your pet will pick up on it and that will only stress them out more.  The less force and restraint you use will also make the experience go smoother.

Making the experience traumatic will only make it harder the next time you have to administer anything to them.  I know it can be frustrating and I’ve wasted my share of medications over the years, but being calm and gentle will make the whole process easier for everyone.

I hope you found these tips helpful.  If you have any others you’d like to share, feel free to leave your recommendation in the comments below.



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