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Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center

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How to medicate your dog

When your veterinarian prescribes a medication, it is crucial to give it as prescribed to ensure your dog’s health. Some dogs may never have issues taking their medication. Others may prove more difficult, especially if they have reinforced negative associations with them, like biting into a bitter tasting pill. Whether your dog is on short-term or long-term medication, you can simplify medicating them to create a positive interaction for all involved.

Hide the medicine in a treat

If your dog thinks they are getting a special treat, medications will go down much easier. When picking food to hide medication, consider malleable foods easily broken into small pieces. There are many commercial products, such as Pill Pockets, which are soft and moldable dog treats available in various flavors.

Some dog-favorite foods to try hiding medication include peanut butter, cheese, liverwurst, hot dogs, deli-sliced turkey, baby food meats, canned chicken, cream cheese, yogurt, whipped cream and cooked sweet potato.

  • Only use enough treat to cover the pill. If you use too much treat to hide the pill, your dog can chew around it instead. They may also get too many calories from a food not meant to be part of their primary diet.
  • Use one hand to hide the pill in a food treat and your other hand to seal the treat inside and offer it to your dog so they do not smell the medication on your hand or outside the treat.
  • Watch to ensure your dog completely swallows the treat and medication. Some dogs may initially chew the treat but then spit out the pill.
  • To help avoid your dog developing an aversion to certain foods or treats that they associate with a bitter-tasting pill, try to offer the selected food or treat at other times throughout the day besides when they get their medication so they continue to see it as a reward.
  • If you are unsure if the type of treat you want to use is appropriate, or if your dog has dietary restrictions due to a health condition being treated, consult with your veterinarian first.

Make the experience a game

If your dog is particularly suspicious of medication, or will need medications longer term, you can train your dog to get excited and anticipate medication time by pairing it with a game of treats.

  • First, pick your food treat and offer multiple small, plain pieces without the medication. Small portions mean you can give them at a higher frequency.
  • Follow the next plain treat with the treat-covered pill, and then immediately provide another plain treat. You can either do this by hand delivering them quickly or placing a bunch on the floor with only one containing the medication.
  • Give a different number of plain treats before the medicated one, or change the order to keep it exciting for your dog. The goal is to make devouring the treats fun and exciting, so they eat them quickly and don't have time to lick or chew them.
  • Do not hide more than one medication per treat. Having multiple “blank” treats without the medication increases the dog's odds in their favor.       

Directly medicate

If necessary, you may directly administer the medication to your dog’s mouth if your dog has food aversions or persistently spits out the medicine.

Capsules or tablets

  • To pill your dog directly, gently place your non-dominant hand on their muzzle behind their pointed canine teeth. Often, they will start to open their mouth when you gently squeeze here, or you can use your other hand to gently pull down their lower jaw before placing the pill to the back of their mouth with your dominant hand.
  • Once you drop in the pill, close their mouth and gently hold it closed until you see them swallow by watching their throat or they lick their nose.
  • Alternatively, a “pilling gun” can be used to give the pill. This device has a rubber tip that holds the pill, and a plunger to deliver the pill near the back of your dog's throat, which allows you to avoid putting any hands or fingers into your pet's mouth. It also makes getting the pill farther back in their mouth easier, making them more likely to swallow instead of spitting it out.


  • While some individuals may find giving liquid easier than a pill, some dogs may oppose liquid medication if they don’t like their face being handled. If using a liquid medication, lift your dog's lip and place the syringe into your dog's mouth behind the canine teeth, aiming towards the back of the mouth.
  • Slowly push down on the syringe plunger to give your dog time to swallow. If you squeeze in the liquid too quickly, they may cough, gag, or inhale the medication. 

If you have difficulties medicating your dog, check in with your veterinarian. They may have alternatives, including providing a pill instead of a liquid, or ordering the medication specially formulated through a compounding pharmacy to make it more palatable with flavorings.

Remember to reward your dog with verbal praise, petting, treats, or toys after medicating them!