Administering medication to dogs and cats can send a wave of dread over the most devoted pet owners—some dogs and cats possess a knack for finding every pill, escaping every hold, and dodging every eye drop. Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center understands that medicating your pet can require prescription-strength patience, so here is a handy list of tricks to help things go down smoothly.

Set a good example for your pet

Many pet owners get nervous when preparing to medicate. This is understandable, given the pressure of giving a pet medicine, because:

  • You love your pet and want them to get better.
  • You do not want to hurt your pet.
  • Medicine is expensive, so wasted or damaged doses are money lost.
  • You may feel that you have only one chance before your pet loses interest, or gets upset.

You must balance your desire to succeed with your pet’s apprehension. If you exude pressure or stress, your pet will suspect something bad is happening, but a calm voice and movements will be soothing and less likely to frighten your pet. Always allow yourself plenty of time to give your pet their medication. If you are rushed, your pet will perceive tension and a lack of patience. They will more likely remember your negative emotions, so take care to set your pet up for success.

I have a bad feeling about this—negative associations and your pet

If you have always medicated your pet in the same place, try relocating. Pets take contextual cues from their environment and past experiences, so simply being in the area of a previously bad memory can be enough to trigger stress.

Tasty treats pair well with pet medication

The success of medicating your pet depends greatly on the rewards. Providing well-timed positive reinforcement can help change a pet’s emotions about a previously negative experience. Here are a few keys to getting medicating right:

  • Don’t skimp Use an incredibly special food that you do not normally use. Get creative, but check first with your veterinarian, and ensure you use small quantities and the item is not on the toxic food list.
  • Small treats, high frequency Regular rewards throughout the process are more reinforcing than one big treat, and can help your pet stay focused and calm.
  • Reward the baby steps Reward your pet for small efforts, such as holding still for one second, or not ducking when the medication vial appears. If you withhold food and rewards until you are finished medicating, your pet will not improve, and the food becomes simply a bribe.

Menu options for pet medication

Avoid using any foods that may be associated with past negative experiences, to reduce the chance of aversion or suspicion. Spreadable foods can be smeared on a plate, or put inside a coffee cup or Kong, or on a lickable mat, to make the treat last longer. The best spreadable treats include:

  • Peanut butter
  • Cheese spread
  • Banana
  • Canned food
  • Yogurt

Treats that can be molded around pills and tablets include:

  • Cream cheese—you may need to add flour to reduce stickiness and form a dough
  • American cheese slices 
  • Commercial pet pill treats
  • Lunch meat, which has varying results, but works for some owners
  • White bread
  • Canned dog or cat food, pate formula

Medicating pets with the sandwich method

The sandwich method is a highly successful sleight-of-hand trick for oral medications.  

  • Make four to five pill treats of the same size and shape, hiding your pet’s medication in only one.
  • Get your pet excited about the treats, and then give them a freebie. 
  • Observe your pet’s response—they should swallow the treat. A chewed treat is too large, or not exciting enough. 
  • Offer a few treats in quick succession, then the medication treat, and then a few more treats. The goal is to always have another treat coming to your pet before they can finish the previous one, encouraging them to swallow quickly.
  • Celebrate!

Ear and eye medication

Your pet’s face is sensitive, especially when they have a medical condition. Consider your pet’s perspective to improve your medication technique. 

  • Ears are painful Your pet’s instinct is to protect their painful area. Ask your veterinarian if an anti-inflammatory would be helpful to reduce swelling and inflammation. Always be gentle with applicators, so you do not scratch the inflamed skin, and rest your hand against your pet’s head so their head does not slip or shake. 
  • Get on their level Leaning over your pet, especially their head, can be intimidating. Elevate small pets on a table or mattress and sit beside them. For large dogs, sit in a chair or on the couch, and position them sideways in front of you.
  • Approach from the side Position yourself beside your pet, rather than facing them head-on. For easiest application, the target ear or eye should be the one farthest from you. If your pet leans away from the bottle, they are more likely to lean toward you than away.
  • A little help makes a big difference — Another person who gently holds your pet’s head, or has a lickable treat ready, can be a great help.

Successful medicating takes time and practice, and each pet’s needs and preferences will differ. Try these tips, but do not hesitate to contact your family veterinarian for further help, especially if your pet shows excessive anxiety or aggression. For all of your pet emergency needs, contact the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center.