Giving a Dog Medicine – Orally, Liquid, Pills, Tablets, Ointments, Etc.

Giving a Dog Medicine – Orally, Liquid, Pills, Tablets, Ointments, Etc.

While some dogs happily take their medicine with no help, most dogs need extra encouragement. By knowing the best procedures and what to expect when giving a dog medicine, you can make the process more pleasant for you and your pooch.

Giving medicine to a dog takes patience, persistence, and skill. Many owners find that one type of medicine is easier than another. Here, we discuss the best ways to give medicine to your dog, as well as the different types of medicine that your vet may prescribe.

Types of Dog Medicine

Among the most common types of dog medicine are oral medications and topical medications. Depending on what your dog’s problem is, your vet may prescribe one or the other to address their condition.

Oral Medication

Oral medications can be bought over the counter or prescribed by your vet. There is a massive variety of oral medications that your dog can take, including tablets, capsules, liquid, and sprays. But which is best? And how are they different? Some medicines can be given with a little patience on your part, but others may benefit from being given through a pill gun.

Chewable Tablets

Many medications come in a chewable tablet form. These include dog multivitamins, joint supplements, flea tablets, and some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Like other types of tablets, chewable tablets are best for ingredients taken in smaller doses. They also benefit from having a long shelf life. Chewable tablets are often the best supplement for dogs who have problems swallowing whole tablets or capsules. However, chewable tablets have some cons.

Because chewable tablets should be chewed, any foul-tasting ingredients require masking with flavorings and sweeteners. This often means that chewable tablets contain sugar. Some chewable supplements like vitamins are missing essential ingredients like selenium and chromium as it is difficult to mask their flavors.


Capsules are highly effective at delivering medication. A capsule is a cylindrical shell with granules, pellets, or powdered medication inside. After the capsule is swallowed, it breaks and the drug is released into your dog’s system. Generally speaking, a capsule provides higher amounts of active ingredients than liquids and chewable tablets and has a longer shelf-life. So, many dog medications are given in capsule form. These include NSAIDs, omeprazole, and pancreatic enzymes.

Capsules can also hide bad tastes as the ingredients are concentrated inside the casing. On the downside, capsules are not the most effective option for large active ingredient doses and can be difficult to swallow. Tablets often come in a capsule form that can be difficult for your dog to tolerate. Also, you may need to thoroughly disguise your dog’s capsules in treats or meals, or directly give them by mouth.

capsules for dogs
A capsule provides higher amounts of active ingredients.

Liquid Medication

There are several liquid medications available for dogs. These include liquid Benadryl, oral worming suspension, and pain-relieving Metacam. Depending on your vet’s instructions, you may need to give these directly into your pet’s mouth or mix them with broth or food. Plus, liquid medications typically have a shorter shelf-life than capsules and tablets as they are already mixed. Also, they may contain other ingredients like emulsifiers, flavorings, and preservatives. This means that less active ingredients can be put into some liquid medicines. Even so, some liquid medications contain larger doses of active ingredients than other types of medication.

The most common sprays include pain-relieving drugs and allergy desensitizing products. Your vet may recommend a spray if your dog has problems swallowing medication or if they have malabsorption problems. The dog’s mouth has many capillaries that can quickly absorb medication into the bloodstream. On the downside, eating and drinking can affect how well the drug is absorbed. These forms are also ineffective for drugs that need to be processed slowly, such as extended-release drugs.

Topical Medication

Topical medications for dogs include creams, ointments, patches, and lotions. Your vet may prescribe a topical medication to treat a skin problem or to treat pain. Some examples of topical medications include Dermisol Cream for wound healing, Optimmune Ointment for chronic conjunctivitis, and Peticare Dog Lotion for eczema.

Topical medications are easy to apply and non-invasive for your dog but can be smelly and uncomfortable too. Also, certain topical medicines must be left to absorb into the skin and the dog must be stopped from licking it off. This is especially true for flea and tick medications, as ingestion of these medicines may cause twitches and tremors in your dog.

Ways of Giving Medicine to a Dog

There are many ways to get your dog to take their medicine. With any method, always make sure that the end result is positive – whether it be with treat rewards or play, your dog must associate the process with something good. Also, bear in mind that getting your dog to take their medicine takes practice too. If you are unsure of how to give your dog their medicine, it is best to ask your vet for advice.

Giving Oral Medication

Make sure to prepare all of your dog’s medicines before you call for them. Each tablet and capsule should be set out and wrapped in food if necessary. Once everything is ready, make sure to call your dog in a positive voice.

To begin, hold your dog’s head from the top using your non-dominant hand. Next, hold the upper jaw between your thumb and index finger. After this, tilt your pet’s head back and gently fold the upper lip over their teeth as you start opening the mouth. Then, place your thumb in the roof of your pet’s mouth too. This should help to prevent your dog from biting your hand. Hold the capsule or tablet in your other hand and use your middle finger to pull the lower jaw down. Now, drop the capsule or tablet as far back in your dog’s mouth as possible and then immediately close it. Washington State University provides a visual step-by-step guide for this process here.

Giving Liquid Medication

Liquid medications are easy to incorporate into moist dog food. However, they can be aversive if they do not have a tasty flavor. If your dog’s liquid medication cannot mix with food, you may have to administer it straight into your dog’s mouth. Liquid medications are usually given between the cheek and the teeth. For the best results, you must quickly squirt the medicine into this space in the mouth. Place the syringe or pouch into the side of your pet’s mouth, just past the lower teeth. If there is a lot of medicine to deliver, you must slowly squirt small amounts into the mouth and pause between squirts to prevent choking.

This method of delivery comes with a small risk. Unfortunately, liquids are more likely to enter your dog’s windpipe than a pill or a capsule. So, to avoid causing your dog to inhale liquid, never tilt their head backward during delivery.

How to Get an Uncooperative Dog to Take His Pills?

If your dog refuses to take their pills, you’re not alone. Many pet parents find themselves asking their vet for advice about getting their dogs to take their medicine, and oftentimes, owners must usually try several strategies before finding one that works. Fortunately, there are ways to make giving a dog medicine relatively stress-free and easy.

The Bribe

Does your dog appreciate food more than fuss? If so, the bribe technique may be right for you. You can simply hide your pet’s pills in chunky peanut butter, plain yogurt, boneless chicken breast, or hot dog pieces. Some owners prefer to use cheese or cream cheese to hide their pet’s pills, but these rich foods are known to trigger pancreatitis when given in excess. Pancreatitis is a painful inflammatory condition of the pancreas that causes vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain.

The Bait & Switch Method

Is your dog a food fanatic, but not so easily fooled by the bribe method? It’s time to consider the bait-and-switch. To begin, hide the pill in a treat as you normally would. Then, thoroughly wash your hands to disguise the smell of the medication. A dog’s sense of smell is much greater than a human’s, and they may pick up that you have been handling medicine before you offer any to them. Next, get more of the same treats that you use to hide the pills. For example, if you are using hot dog pieces to hide pills, prepare three hot dog pieces, and only place a pill in one. Give the first treat with no pill – the bait. Then, give the second treat with the pill inside – the switch. Lastly, give the third treat without the pill.

The Trick & Treat Method

If the bribe and bait-and-switch are not enough to fool your pooch, you may need to up the ante. Now, your goal is to make your dog feel that they have earned the treat and that there is nothing to suspect about the reward. To do this, have your dog perform a trick for which you would normally reward with a treat. As you reward your dog, make sure to praise them whilst building anticipation for the treat. This is important because some pills have a bitter taste, and you want your pooch to eat their treat quickly to avoid tasting it. Similarly, you can feed your dog their disguised medicine off of your own plate or placed on the floor – many dogs are tempted by the forbidden, and may gobble up this treat quickly in hopes that you won’t notice!

The Empty Gel Caps

Empty gelatin capsules have helped many pets to take their medicine. These capsules can help to assist with giving medicine to your pet because they mask the bad odors and tastes caused by them as they are tasteless and odorless. Simply pull the cap and body apart and insert the medicine inside. Gelatin capsules can also be helpful for pets with specific dietary requirements, as there is less need to hide the capsule inside a treat.

The Don'ts of Giving a Dog Medicine

The goal of giving a dog medicine should be to deliver the medicine as quickly and as easily as possible. So, this means reducing stress for your dog and making the process positive for them.

Do not pull your dog’s head too high or far back when giving medication. Firstly, manipulating your dog’s head is not only stressful and uncomfortable for your pooch, but increases their risk of struggling, and consequently puts them at risk of choking. Also, do not open your pooch’s mouth too wide. Doing this puts you at a greater risk of being bitten, as your dog is more likely to struggle to pull away or close their mouth. Also, it can cause discomfort and pain to your dog if you put too much pressure on their jaw.

Always take measures to reduce stress for your dog and yourself. Although the process of giving medication can be daunting for you, you must start each interaction as positive as you can. Your dog may pick up on your stress and be less likely to cooperate. Similarly, keeping your dog calm will help them to cooperate, making the process smoother for both of you. If your dog is at risk of biting you, it is always best to ask for professional advice. Your vet can show you the best technique for your dog or deliver the medication to them for you.

giving a dog medicine quickly
Give the medicine quickly to your dog.

Giving a Dog Medicine – FAQ

Have any more questions or concerns about giving a dog medicine? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.

How do you give a dog liquid medicine orally?

Liquid medicine is best given between the cheek and the teeth. You must squirt the medicine into this space in your dog’s mouth. To do this, place the syringe or pouch into the side of your dog’s mouth and push slightly past the lower teeth. If the dose is large, it’s important that you slowly introduce the medicine into your dog’s mouth in small increments. Giving too large of a dose right away can cause choking.

Is it OK to crush pills for dogs?

It is acceptable to crush pills for dogs only if your vet tells you it is. Some tablets and capsules will not work properly if they are crushed or opened. This is because medicines made with an enteric coating are designed to slowly release medicine into your dog’s body over time, and crushing them could cause an overdose. The enteric coating is also important because it protects the stomach from the medicine or vice versa. Some medicines are made with a sugar or film coating to make them taste better. Crushing these medicines may cause them to taste very bitter. This will make it more difficult to mask the taste of your dog’s medicine in their food if you choose to hide it with their meal.

What can I mix my dog’s medicine with?

You must ask your vet before mixing your dog’s medicine with something else. This is because not all foods and liquids work well with dog medicines. Some common dog antibiotics, such as doxycycline or ciprofloxacin, bind with the calcium found in cheese and fail to absorb properly as a result. If your vet advises you to mix your dog’s medicine with food or liquid, make sure that you choose something safe for dogs. Many owners find that low-salt beef broth or chicken broth works well for mixing liquid medicines.

How do I get my stubborn dog to take pills?

The best way to entice your stubborn dog to take pills is to mask the pill with food. Whether it be in their meal or in a tasty treat, disguising a pill this way may be effective enough to get your pup the dose they need. If your dog is more difficult to fool, you may have to use this technique but in different ways. For example, you can ask your dog to perform a trick and deliver the disguised medicine with a treat that they would usually receive for good behavior. You may also try presenting your dog with more than one treat that they enjoy, and hiding the medicine inside just one of them.

How can I give medicine to my dog?

There are several ways to give medicine to your dog. These include tablets, capsules, liquid suspension, or topical treatments. Which form is best for your dog will depend on what is being treated. Your vet will prescribe the most appropriate form of medicine for your pooch. For example, if your dog has problems swallowing tablets, your vet may prescribe a liquid medicine instead where possible.

Giving medicine to a dog is no easy task. Luckily, there are many ways to entice a dog to take their medication, and it may be a matter of trial-and-error before you find which method works best.