Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Why Is It so Difficult to Give Pills to Dogs?
So you need to give your dog a pill and you are looking for some tricks of the trade. No worries, you are not alone! Many, many dog owners have the same problem! Indeed, when I worked for an animal hospital, we often had appointments just for this purpose.
Yes, dogs and cats were coming to see us just to get their pills! The dog owners were so desperate, they were willing to pay a fee just so we could administer pills to their finicky dogs and cats!
This wasn't a bad idea, after all. Many dogs and cats may and will put up a fight when they don't want to ingest pills. Cornering the dog to give it pills can be an easy way to get bit. Cats, at times, can be even more dangerous than dogs. I have seen some nasty injuries from fractious kitties. On the contrary, many dogs will take pills with no issue. But why will a dog refuse a pill in the first place?
Pills Are Too Bitter for Rover's Taste
Well, for starters, some pills just simply taste awful. You can't just tell a dog to take the pill in his mouth and wash it down with a big gulp of water. If you don't know how to give pills to your dog, most likely you are making him taste it—which will cause him to categorically spit it out. Once your dog discovers you are trying to give him a pill, he will likely give you distance increasing signals and disappear in thin air.
Forcing Dogs to Take Pills May Lead to Bites
Hunting him down with a pill in your hand is a daunting and unnerving task. It leads to problems. Your dog may become defensive, and this can lead to a bite. Often this happens when your dog is in a corner with no way out or under a bed as his flight option (ability to flee) is taken away.
Trying to pull him out from under a bed is unsafe and so is chasing him down and cornering him. Of course, this doesn't apply to all dogs—many dogs have higher bite thresholds than others—but keep in a corner of your mind that any dog (yes, even the angelic ones with halos over their heads) will bite in certain circumstances.
There's no denial over the fact that fighting your dog to get him to ingest his pills is not a pleasant task. It could also affect your future interactions with your dog. If you forcefully open your dog's mouth to push that pill down his throat, a time may come where he won't allow you to touch his mouth area any more.
He'll likely say "Hasta la vista, baby!" and turn his head the other way. This may translate into difficult future veterinary exams when his mouth needs to be checked.
So how can you make giving pills a more pleasant task? There are several tricks of the trade. We will see several options in the next paragraph, along with some tricks and options to muffle that awful taste.
6 Ways to Hide Dog Pills
So your veterinarian prescribed pills for your dog. Just as with human medication, animal pills come in different shapes and sizes. You may be lucky and have tiny pills, or you may be unlucky and be stuck with horse-sized pills. Regardless, most likely the pills are not flavored, so giving them may be an arduous task. No worries! There are several tricks of the trade, and I will also share some ideas I have come up with when pilling my dogs. Here are several:
1. Cheese Balls
Does your dog love cheese? If so, your dog will love this trick. In this case, you'll roll up your dog's pills in slices of American cheese and close the edges so the pill is undetected. This works well with most dogs, but at times, the cheese may unroll in their mouth and your dog will detect the pill. Afterward, they may get finicky and will not even want the cheese anymore because they associate it with the bitter taste.
As a better option, try making cheese balls. I just came up with this the other day, as I was about to pill a dog I was boarding and sent him out briefly to potty with the cheese in my pocket. Being almost 100 degrees as it often turns out to be in sunny Arizona, the cheese softened to such a degree that it was the consistency of play-dough. I placed the pill in the middle and made a tight ball.
We then did a bit of training exercises, and he was rewarded with the cheese balls, which he readily ate. So if you want to try cheese balls, leave the cheese out of the fridge for some time, and warm it up keeping the sealed slices between your hands. That should do the trick to make it as soft as play-dough.
Note: There are some medications that shouldn't be taken with any dairy products such as cheese. This info may be on the label or accompanying medical leaflet, but not always. Ask your vet before trying this trick.
2. Hot Dogs
Most dogs won't turn down hot dogs. In this case, you'll need a big enough chunk to hide the pill. Remember: Should the dog to detect the pill, he may lose trust and then become suspicious of any future tricks you may try. We will look at how to remedy this, should this happen, in the next paragraph.
So back to hot dogs: This works well for dogs who will just gulp down the hot dog, no question asked. However, the disadvantage is that often parts of the pill may stick out the hot dog, which will be readily detected. You can't make hot dog balls like with the cheese, so hot dogs may or may not work out.
You can make your pooch some fun-to-eat meatballs. In this case, you can soak some dry kibble in water and then grind it up until you can make some "meatballs" you can hide the pill in. If you feed raw, just make a meatball with ground meat.
Another option is to use some canned food to make the meatball or some meat-based baby food with no onion or garlic in it mixed with some ground kibble to make it more dense. You can get creative here and use anything your dog likes, grind it up and then add the ground kibble to get the right consistency. For a special touch, roll the meat balls in the ground kibble.
4. Creamy Textures
Foods with a creamy texture can also help camouflage a pill and transform it into a tasty treat. In this case, we're talking about things like peanut butter, plain pumpkin and cream cheese. Veterinarian Karen Becker also suggests using coconut oil to hide pills.
These work well because they are sticky, so it's hard for the dog to separate the pills from the creamy texture. Most likely, the dog will just take it all together and gulp the whole concoction down.
Note: If you use peanut butter, make sure to avoid the sugar-free versions made with xylitol. Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs!
5. Savory Sprinkles
If you want to try this option, make sure you read the medication's label and instructions carefully, and if in doubt, ask your vet. Some medications should not be crushed, and capsules should not be opened as they can do harm this way.
If your vet gives you the OK to crush the pill or open the capsule, you can sprinkle it on your dog's kibble in hopes he just eats it all. However, consider that you may lose a pill this way if your dog refuses to eat his food and that he may leave some food behind and this will prevent him from having the full dose he needs.
A better option is to mix the powdered pill with the dog's canned food. Most dogs love canned food and since the canned food is sticky, it will be difficult for him to separate any pill particles from the food.
6. Pill Pockets
Alternatively, if you don't like to feed people food and are looking for a healthier option, you can try pill pockets. These are sold at the vet's office or at your favorite pet store. They consist of hollow treats in different flavors that can be filled with the pill and then closed.
There are pill pockets made for capsules and pill pockets made for tablets. Flavors to choose from consist of Chicken, Peanut Butter, or Hickory Smoke.
What if your dog doesn't have an appetite? What if you're tired of hiding pills? What if these treats don't work as your dog learns there's a pill inside? There are further solutions for these problems. Let's look at some troubleshooting ideas.
Using Cheese Balls to Train a Fun Recall
How to Give Your Dog a Pill Without Food
Troubleshooting How to Give Pills to a Dog
So you are upset because you have already tried hiding the pill and it just didn't work for your dog. Or it could be your dog has a lack of appetite, but he still needs to take his pills. These are some ideas for those difficult and a bit challenging cases.
Your Dog Discovers You're Hiding Something
So your dog was always great in taking his pills well hidden in some cheese, and now, suddenly, he casually discovered that there's a pill inside. If so, he may start getting all suspicious carefully sniffing the cheese as if he lost trust.
To help him overcome the problem, give him several pieces of cheese in a row WITHOUT the pill. Start with small pieces that your dog can visibly see there's nothing inside. Then make them bigger and bigger, and then shape them as if the pill was inside. Once he's taking these, then casually add the piece of cheese with the pill inside, immediately followed by one without it.
Giving a piece of cheese immediately after the one with the pill, will help him gulp the pill down in his eagerness to get the next piece of cheese. It doesn't hurt to do this exercise sometimes if you have a dog who gets suspicious every now and then.
Give like five treats in a row, and then randomly mixed in give one with the pill followed by one without it. If your dog is used to you tossing treats as a game, toss his pill hidden in food as well. Many dogs are so eager to catch the food that they'll just swallow quickly in hopes of continuing the game.
Your Dog Is Sick and Won't Eat
This is when things get difficult. Your dog is sick, has lost his appetite, but it's very important that he has his pill as his medicine should help him get better so his appetite comes back. Or your dog has allergies and is on strict diet and you can't give the pill in a treat.
In this case, you have several options, but your dog won't likely love them. See video on the side on how to accomplish this without food.
The first option is just that, forcing the pill down. In this case, you'll kneel down at your dog's level and hold his muzzle with one hand upwards facing the ceiling. With the other hand, you'll pry the mouth open and push the pill as back as possible.
Afterwards, massage the dog's throat to encourage swallowing. Praise and pet your dog to reward him. It's very important to check if your dog actually swallowed the pill. Some dogs are artists in this and will hide the pill in their mouth and spit it out later when you're not looking.
Alternatively, you can employ a pill popper. This tool is simply a sort of syringe that will deliver the pill without the need to stick your hands in your dog's mouth. To see how to use a pill popper, watch the video below, starting at 0:41.
You're Tired of Making Treats
Don't have the time or will to crush, hide or sprinkle pills on your dog's food? Not looking forward to feeding your dog people food? Then you may may want to contact an apothecary. What's an apothecary? It's a compounding pharmacy that formulates and dispenses pharmaceutical products.
When we had clients at our vet's office with finicky dogs and cats, we referred them to a pet apothecary. Some had many lip smacking options. For instance, Pleasant Hills Apothecary offers over 100 flavors just dedicated to animals!
Have a special trick to share? Post it in the comment section below!
Methods for Giving Your Dog a Pill
Share your favorite pilling method you use with your dog!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Have a special trick to get your dog to take his pills? Share it here!
cacarr on January 20, 2020:
Braunschweiger (liverwurst-type stuff) is the pill delivery substance par excellence. No dog can resist its spreadable organ meat stinkiness. It's tastes so good to them that they just swallow it immediately.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 25, 2019:
Renee, for my dog when she got cancer, the only thing that worked was opening the capsules, mixing with meat-based baby food (with no garlic or onion as ingredients) and smearing it on her gums. Make sure though that your capsules can be opened or crushed if it's a pill. Ask your vet if not sure.
renee hennes on November 25, 2019:
my dog is very sick. doesnt eat but a few bites of chicken. can not hide the pill he finds it everytime. i tried shoving it in his throat but he still spits it out and then gets very upset. any other ideas?
Barbara Miller on November 10, 2019:
I hide it in braunschweiger. Strong smell covers pill taste, easy to roll pill into, doesn't constipate senior dog, and he loves this treat. I give it in the late morning when he is very hungry. It works for a dog who likes braunschweiger.
Alfred Briffa on October 03, 2019:
I use two methods, one for tablets and one for syrups or like.
For a tablet: I use a hotdog which I have put it in microwave for few minutes. When its cool to handle, I cut a piece long enough to hide the tablet or capsule. Since my dog don't gulp food, I sort of cut as much of the hotdog to shape it almost like squarish. Then I mix it with home-made wet food. Thus , my dog wan't have time to sniff it or chew it but simply swallow it with the rest.
For syrups or mixtures: I use a disposable syringe, remove the needle and either cut the closed end and glue one of the know open sides into the tip of the syringe barrel or use a pice of rather hard plastic tubing and glue it or heat one end as above.
Keep the syringe for later use. The size depends on the amount of medicine you want to give to your dog.
Then, put on a muzzle and push the medicine content slowly on the side of his gums. Best dog's position is standing or sitting but not prone. In this way, you will be sure that the medicine is swallowed and you will be safe from any possible bite.
Having given the medicine, remove the muzzle and encourage your dog to drink fresh water.
I have been using this two methods with my dog for the last fourteen years!
Invest in a soft muzzle and put it on your dog whenever your dog looks suspicous, even when putting drops in the eyes, anti-flee drops or caring for some sore area.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 28, 2019:
When my dog had cancer and wouldn't eat anything I offered her and had to give her pills, I crushed the pills in powder and mixed with plain baby food (no onion or garlic, just meat baby food) and then smeared it on her gums and she always swallowed that.
PickyPantstootsie on May 23, 2019:
I have a 2 year old Yorkie who is sooo picky....she will not eat dog food at all. I have tried so many kinds with no luck!! Now she has to take a powder medicine and I have already wasted two doses because she will NOT eat anything! HELP!!! Any suggestions would greatly help.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 23, 2018:
Yes, heard many good things about liverwurst for hiding pills. I am not too fond of the ingredients in it though.
Stephen on September 21, 2018:
Liverwourts is the pill hating Golden Reterivers dream come true with taking her pills every day, so far that is!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 26, 2018:
Laura, I hear you. My dog has cancer and she is very picky and hates anything with pills. Like your dog, she learned to chew down on foods hiding pills so she can detect them and spit them out. Some foods she has associated with the pills and doesn't want to have anything to do with them anymore. The only thing that has worked for us lately is opening the capsule, mixing it with a generous amount of baby food and passing it gently on her gums with my finger when she's laying down. Because it's sticky and on her gums, she has a hard time spitting it out.
Laura on May 22, 2018:
I've tried everything including pill pockets (which made my dog sick), sticking it in food, putting some type of flavoring or other things like coconut oil that I normally put in his food, and I also tried sticky it in things like cheese, peanut butter, bananas, his frozen treats, other food items and even with his normal food. I've also tried giving him regular food without pill then one with. Nothing and I mean nothing works. I don't open the pills around him because he automatically becomes defensive but it's like he can sense that it's there and when its in something he picks everything else around and just leave the pill. I have watched him several times lick the peanut butter and push the pill out of his mouth and nibble at the food slices (cheese, hotdogs, treats) until he reaches the pill and walks away. Even when it's in the food he'll eat and when he comes across the pill he leaves it and the rest of the food in the bowl. I worked at a vets office so I know how to open his mouth and give him the pill but I don't like doing that because he'll close his mouth shut or if I get it open he'll keep a tiny opening and try to close his mouth as much as he can on my fingers but I do it anyway because for me it's the only way. I'm always in his mouth because I don't want his first instinct to be to bite someone when they might get close to his mouth especially since he's a pit and there's already stereotypes around him. He usually lets me but he can feel when the pill is around and his mouth is sealed. Nothing works other than my getting his mouth open and putting the pill in.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2018:
Kay, even better, train your dog to have her teeth brushed. I brush my dog's teeth everyday. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-brush-dog-teeth...
Kay on February 14, 2018:
I've used pill pockets mostly and cheese and peanut butter at one time or another. Then I had my dog's teeth cleaned (for several hundred dollars) and in a very short time, her teeth looked terrible again. I realized that what had changed was that she was now on medication, and I was using sticky substances to give her a pill. So now I will start using something non-sticky, hot dogs maybe. Something to monitor if your pet gets pills on a regular basis.
Dre' on December 27, 2017:
Have cane corso pup. Had to give pill. First morning feed, tried covering with peanut butter & hid it halfway in bowl of dry dog food. Once detectected mid-feed, pup gulped whole, but went straight to water & WOULDN'T touch (trust) dish with half food left. Thought about it & made ball of dried food wrapped in room temp cream cheese, coconut oil & raw honey. Broke pieces off, hand fed some, then put coated rest in "untrusted" pill-free food dish. Needless to say "SUCCESS" same foodbowl retrustedly cleaned & begging for more. Hope this helps. Just creatively experiment as you would a child. Good luck!
Dave S on December 24, 2017:
Some drug stores sell empty capsules. Hide it inside so it can be tasted while your holding the dogs mouth closed.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 18, 2016:
Yes, this trick to give pills is the one that works best for my dogs as well!
Lilli's Pal on April 17, 2016:
This turned out to be the most effective trick in this article:
"To help him overcome the problem, give him several pieces of cheese in a row WITHOUT the pill. Start with small pieces that your dog can visibly see there's nothing inside. Then make them bigger and bigger, and then shape them as if the pill was inside. Once he's taking these, then casually add the piece of cheese with the pill inside, immediately followed by one without it."
Thank you so much for sharing this!
Lilli is a small dog so I form four small meatbals out of "paté" style canned dog food (Nature's Balance beef formula) and I put a pill in one. Then I hand feed her two of the unloaded meatballs to "prime the pump", give her the third 0ne (loaded with the pill), and immediately follow up with another unloaded one before she has a chance to discover the pill. She's a smart little thing and will probably figure out what's happening at some point, but so far so good.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 26, 2015:
Thanks for sharing your tricks to give your dog pills Lorinne!
Lorinne Anderson on November 17, 2015:
My favorite method is PROCESSED CHEESE SLICES. One slice will easily do 5-10 doses, just leave out to soften for a bit, peel open pkg, then fold cheese (the correct size to hide pill) over 1/4 to 1/2 inch and it will separate leaving a nice pliable strip. Place pill on strip and roll, pinch ends and voila, a cheap, tiny, cheese pocket that the dogs adore and (according to my vet) complies with meds that must be given on an empty stomach.
Then close the film back up, refrigerate until next dose, and repeat.
My 15 yr old rescue Pin needs 3 heart meds on an empty stomach. 0ne capsule twice daily, one quartered pill twice daily and one round pill once daily. I use the same tiny strip for all her meds each time she gets dosed; the capsule at one end and roll, the others at the other end and roll towards capsule, this end I pinch just to be sure nothing escapes.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 06, 2013:
Pushing pills out is quite a creative way to avoid those pills! Thanks for the votes up and share!
moonlake from America on June 06, 2013:
I have had dogs push the pills right out no matter what we did. We just adopted a new pup. We have not owned a puppy in a long time and have not to give him a pill yet. Interesting hub voted up and shared.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 04, 2013:
Aren't they!? My dogs outsmart me many times when it comes to giving pills. With Petra I had to come from plan A, to plan B, to plan C and plan D at times to get them to eat them. I had to get creative. Luckily now I found flavored tablets my girl loves so we don't have go through all of that again! Thanks for sharing your stories of Bella!
wetnosedogs from Alabama on June 04, 2013:
Bella got smart with the peanut butter. She can get the peanut butter and push the pill around. Cheese does work and the vet also suggested cottage cheese. I put it on a paper plate though and hold it down since it doesn't work putting it on a spoon. Cream cheese was also suggested. This was tips from the vet after Bella, hearing the word shot, got herself all worked up and was shaking like crazy, she was so scared. I don't give her any medicine when she is under the bed, she will slip it out and on the carpet, even with one of her favorites, cheese. These dogs are just too smart.