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Administering Medication To Dogs – Giving Intravenous, Topical & Oral Medications

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Administering medication to your dog at home is an important skill for pet parents to learn.
  • There are different types of medication for dogs, including IV, topical, and oral medications.
  • IV medications are typically administered by a vet and are used in emergency situations.
  • Topical medications, such as creams or ointments, are applied to the dog's skin and commonly used for flea and tick prevention.
  • Oral medications, including tablets and chewable tablets, are the most common form of medication for dogs and can be given by hiding them in treats or directly into the mouth.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Wednesday 28 April 2021
Last updated on
Wednesday 19 July 2023
administering medication
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Administering medication to your dog at home is a skill that all pet parents must learn. Whether it be a topical antibiotic or routine vaccination, your pooch will eventually require some form of veterinary treatment. By knowing how to give your pet their medication, you can aid their recovery and have peace of mind that your dog is receiving everything they need to get better.

Unlike people, dogs can’t take their tablets themselves. Not knowing how to help your dog to take their prescription can compromise their health and potentially put them at greater risk. As a dutiful pet parent, your role is to start administering dog medication correctly as soon as you receive it. Here, we discuss the best practices for giving your dog IV, topical, and oral medications.

Administering Medication

If your vet prescribes tablets for your furry friend, there’s no need to panic. With a little extra research, you can make the process as stress-free as possible for both you and your dog. So, what types of medication are available? And which ones can only be given by a vet? Each type of drug has a specific administration method and dosage to ensure its effectiveness. Let’s explore the different forms of medicine for dogs: IV, topical, and oral.

Intravenous (IV) Medication

When your vet administers medication through an IV, the drug is directly delivered into your dog’s vein using a needle or small tube. In most cases, you won’t need to give your dog IV medication at home; your vet will handle the administration.

IV medications are commonly used in emergency situations when quick drug delivery is necessary. Examples include treating poisoning, stroke, or heart attack. In such cases, taking pills orally may not be fast enough to get the medicine into your dog’s bloodstream. IV medicine, on the other hand, delivers the medicine directly into the bloodstream, bypassing the stomach and allowing for rapid effects.

What type of medications are given through IVs?

IV drugs are primarily used for emergency treatment, so they are specifically designed for such situations. Fluid therapy is a crucial component of emergency care for dogs. This is particularly important for conditions like parvovirus and poisoning.

Isotonic fluids are used to replenish the lost fluids in your dog’s body, ensuring proper rehydration. Commonly used isotonic fluids include lactated Ringer’s solution, acetated Ringer’s solution, and dextrose in saline. Whole blood and plasma are also valuable fluids that increase your dog’s circulating blood volume in cases of shock or chronic liver disease. Additionally, if your dog experiences nausea due to their condition, they may receive antiemetics alongside their other medicines.

Administering Medication Intravenously

Your vet will administer IV drugs to your dog. As such, you will not need to do this at home. However, learning how your vet administers IV drugs to your dog may give you peace of mind if your pooch needs veterinary help.

Your vet will likely place the catheter in the cephalic vein of your dog’s forelimb. However, your vet may use the lateral saphenous vein or of the hind limb if the front limb cannot be accessed. The area around the vein undergoes shaving to allow for easier access. Your vet will select the largest catheter that can be comfortably placed in the dog’s vein, which is usually a 20 or 22g. To hold the catheter in place, the vet may wrap the leg in orthopedic padding and a cohesive bandage.

intravenous medication
Learn how IV drugs are administered to dogs.

Topical Medications

Most often, a topical medication comes as a cream or ointment that is put on the dog’s skin. Creams are thicker than lotion and penetrate the outer layer of the skin wall. An ointment, on the other hand, is moisturizing and can be used on a variety of body surfaces. Other topical drugs include pastes, powders, tinctures, and topical solutions.

What type of medications are given through topical administration?

Perhaps the most common type of topical medication is flea and tick prevention. You may know these as “spot-on” medications. Spot-on medications work by depositing chemicals into the sebaceous glands of the skin, where the active ingredient of the medicine releases and moves into the glands that deposit oil into the skin. This drug tends to be fast-acting, getting to work within a day. It then continues to provide treatment for around one month or less. Check the label to find out how long the drug works for.

Topical steroids are another common type of topical drug. Hydrocortisone comes as a cream, shampoo, wipe, ointment, or solution. This is a low potency topical steroid that treats itchiness and inflammatory conditions in dogs. Prednisone is another common steroid for dogs that comes in a topical form as well as an oral form.

Administering Medication Topically

Topical medicines do not call for the same level of supervision and practice as IV medicine. However, you must pay close attention to the instructions provided with your pet’s medication. How many drops do the instructions advise to give? Do you need to clip the area before applying the medication? If in doubt about how exactly to apply your dog’s medication, always contact the manufacturer or ask your vet for a step-by-step guide.

To begin applying topical medication, gently hold your dog still, and identify where you need to apply the drops, cream, or ointment. After thoroughly reading the instructions, apply the indicated amount on the area using your hands. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling your pet’s medicine to avoid transferring it to yourself or other pets.

Oral Medications

Oral medication is a drug that is given by mouth. So, oral medicines can be buccal, meaning that they dissolve inside the cheek, or enteral, meaning that they enter the digestive system. Oral medicines are very popular and are among the most common forms of dog medicine that your vet will recommend.

oral dog medication
Some dog medications are taken orally.

What type of medications are given through oral administration?

Many different types of dog drugs are given orally. These include liquids, tablets, capsules, and chewable tablets. This wide variety makes oral medication one of the most common ways to deliver medicine to dogs.

One such example of an oral drug is Amoxicillin, which can come as a tablet in the product SYNULOX™, or as an oral suspension. Amoxicillin treats infections such as respiratory, bladder, skin, and tooth infections. It also fights bacteria like E. coli. Another common oral drug is heartworm medication. HEARTGARD Plus comes as a chewable beef flavor tablet. When given once a month it protects your pooch from heartworm infections.

Administering Medication Orally

As with any medication, always pay close attention to the instructions given along with your dog’s oral medication. If in doubt about how to give your pet their prescription, always contact your vet or the medicine’s manufacturer for advice.

There are several ways to give tablets and capsules to dogs. Many owners hide their pets’ pills inside a tasty treat to entice them to take them. Other owners have more difficulty in convincing their pooch to take their medicine. These dogs often need to have their tablets or capsules deposited directly into the mouth. You must be confident and firm as you do this, but do not stress your dog or use excessive force. It also helps to be aware of the signs of choking in dogs just in case if the administration goes wrong.

To begin, make sure that you and your dog are calm as you gently restrain your dog’s movement. Then, grasp your pup’s upper jaw and muzzle and confidently open their mouth. Place the pill as far back as you can, close the mouth, and then provide water if needed to encourage them to swallow the tablet.

Administering Medication To Your Dog – FAQ

Have any more questions or concerns about administering medication to your furry friend? Feel free to browse our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice!

How will I know how much medicine I should administer to my dog?

The correct dose will either be explained in the instructions that came with your pet’s medicine or will be explained to you by your vet. In the first instance, be sure to thoroughly read the instructions before administering any medication to your pet. There may be different doses depending on your dog’s weight and condition. In the latter instance, you may consider calling your vet to ask for instructions if you need a refresher. Your vet can talk you through the dose that has been prescribed to your pet as well as how to give the correct dose, where to give it, and how many times to give it. Never guess at your dog’s dose, as the margin of safety for several drugs is different for dogs compared to humans.

What is the difference between IV and SQ administration?

While IV medication is given through a needle into a vein, subcutaneous (SQ) is given through a needle under the skin. During an intravenous injection, your vet inserts a tube into your dog’s vein to give drugs quickly or at a gradual rate. In a subcutaneous injection, the needle is inserted between the skin and the muscle into the subcutaneous tissue at about a 30 to 45-degree angle. Most subcutaneous injections are given in the dog’s scruff region between the shoulder blades. This is where your puppy will likely receive their first vaccinations.

Which is better for tick and flea treatment: Oral or Topical?

Oral and topical tick and flea treatments are very similar, and your choice may be down to a simple matter of preference. Oral medications tend to be less messy compared to topical medications, but may be more expensive and more difficult to administer. On the other hand, a topical medication is often cheaper and may be easier to apply than an oral medication.

Is it safe to use my hands as an applier?

Whether it is safe to use your hands to apply medication or not depends on the medication. It may be risky to get some medicines on your hands, such as tick and flea medications. Tick and flea sprays may contain pyrethroids which can cause an allergic-type reaction if sprayed on the face or ingested. Other medications like lotions and creams may be safer to apply by hand, and your vet may direct you to use your hands to apply the drug directly to your pet’s skin. However, make sure that you sanitize your hands thoroughly before and after handling your pet’s medicine even if it is safe for you. If you do not sanitize before touching your dog’s skin, you risk transferring bacteria to their wounds.

My dog won’t open his mouth no matter how hard I try. What should I do?

If your dog refuses to open their mouth, do not force them. Using force only makes future interactions more difficult as your dog may not trust you. They may also associate their medication with being forced to do something that they do not like. Try again at a later time, or use another method to encourage your dog to take their medicine. Do not put yourself at risk of a dog bite if your dog refuses to cooperate.

If you cannot entice your dog to take their medication at all, contact your vet for advice. Your vet can give your pooch a different type of medicine that suits them better. For example, your vet may be able to switch your dog from taking an oral drug to a topical drug in some cases. They may also recommend a tastier version of the drug to encourage your dog to take it.

Administering dog medication is an essential part of being a pet parent. At some point in your pup’s life, they will receive vaccines, preventative care, and other types of vet care to stay happy and healthy. To recap, among the most common methods of medication administration are IV, topical, and oral methods. While your vet will give your pet IV drugs for you, you may need to learn how to give your pet drugs orally and topically at home.

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