Frustration – Free Medication Administration

As veterinarians our job is not only to provide complete health care for our patients, but also to help cultivate the human-animal bond that forms between families and their beloved pets. Then we send home pills. And messy liquids. And transdermal gels. And pastes. Suddenly the bond is stretched thin by the battle over oral medications.

The pet feels threatened, the owner and pet are traumatized, and sometimes the owner may give up or find a pile of pills hidden behind the couch.

Luckily, there are methods and products that can help de-intensify the battle and keep the human-animal bond intact.

Luckily the options for medicating pets are almost endless. Many common medications now come in, or can be made, into many different forms:

If it looks like you will be medicating for more than a few days, my most important tip is to change the location where meds are given often. And never let them see you reach for the medicine cabinet or let them see you bringing medications and treat foods together. Giving a small piece of the soft treat food or “pill pocket” as a treat first can help. Couple days in a bedroom, couple days in the bathroom, couple days outside –mix it up.

Many medications may be found in flavored tablets, which pets may find palatable. Also medications can be made into flavored treats by a compounding pharmacy.

Some medications come as a liquid or can be made into a flavored liquid by a compounding pharmacy. Certain flavorings are better at masking bitter medication tastes. Vanilla butternut is one.

A few medications formulated into transdermal gels absorb well through the skin and can be applied to the skin as a gel or through a skin patch. Some are supplied this way while others can be made by a compounding pharmacy.

Some medications such as steroids, anti-nausea and vomiting medication, and a newer antibiotic in the cephalosporin family are available in long-lasting injections. Owners may be able to give injections such as insulin and joint relief therapies at home.

If your pet’s medication is supplied as an oral medicine (pills, capsules, liquids) and he/she won’t take it willingly, you can try hiding it in a treat such as a little canned food, low-fat peanut butter, cheese, meatball, ice cream, or a PillPocket (a soft treat with a hollow core you can hide medicine in).

If your pet is suspicious, try giving a few of the treats without medicine, then give the one with medicine, then a few more without. Suspicion is aroused when they see you reach for the cabinet where pet meds are stored, so move the meds to different locations such as bathroom or bedroom.

Some pills can be crushed, and some capsules opened to make it easier to hide the medicine.

However, some medications should not be altered — especially coated medicines, time-release medications, or any chemotherapy drugs.

If the medicine’s directions indicate it should be given on an empty stomach and your pet won’t take the medicine by itself, you may have no choice but to manually administer it. The medication must be placed beyond the base of the tongue to prevent them from spitting it out. It’s also helpful to elevate the nose after poking the pill as well.

In dogs, we generally enter from the side of the mouth, far in the back behind the last molars.

We also try to fold in a little cheek as well so if they bite down, they will bite their cheek before biting you.

With cats it is safer to go straight from the front between the canine teeth while stabilizing the head with your other hand.

Sometimes holding the head up at a 45 degree angle and rubbing the nose or massaging the throat can stimulate a swallow response to increase your odds of success.

If you find it hard to master this technique, a variety of “pill poppers” are available. They are generally a device with a soft end that grips the medication and a plunger to push and deposit it in the back of the throat. This can keep your fingers at a safe distance too.

Liquids generally come with a syringe or dropper to measure and deliver the medication. Holding the pet’s snout up and introducing the device between the back cheek teeth gets the medicine closer to the back of the throat. Continue holding their head up and steady until they swallow, otherwise they may shake or spit it out. Rubbing the pet’s nose can induce them to swallow.

If it is eye drops or ointment, tip the head back with your hand under the chin so the eyes are facing upward, plant the heel of your other hand on top of the head and drip the medication in from behind “over the top”. This works much better than poking at the eye from in front. You may have to hold the lids open with your little finger. If it is ear drops or ointment, hold up the ear flap between thumb and forefinger and drip the medication into the canal (or gently push the long nozzle down the ear canal), then massage the ear canal to disperse the medication.

It may take two people to medicate some pets. Often getting smaller pets up on a slick counter improves your control. Sometimes putting the animal’s rear up against something solid or wrapping the pet in a towel can help control them. Remember, some animals can become protective or aggressive if you are trying to medicate them. If it becomes dangerous for you to medicate your pet, contact your veterinarian to see if there are alternate treatments you can try.

If all else fails, our staff of qualified Vet Techs can help. They have a combined 250 years of experience and can help you find the best way to medicate your individual pet.


Many kennels and doggie day cares will be requiring Canine Flu vaccines by this summer. The two strains of Canine Flu in the US are novel viruses that ALL DOGS WHO CONTACT IT WILL CONTRACT.

Social dogs who frequently go to day care, dog parks, or kennels should be immunized twice the first year, then annually. Many of our local doggie daycares and kennels have imposed a time deadline by which your dog must be immunized. To assist our clients’ compliance, if your pet has had a wellness exam within the past six months and is not obviously ill, a technician visit can be scheduled for the initial immunization and boost 2-4 weeks later.

Call our receptionists to set up a flu vaccine appointment.

Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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