BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Get a Dog to Swallow a Pill: 7 Surefire Tips to Get That Pill All the Way Down

Image showing a dog laying down and some pills next to him
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

One thing that is common to both human children and dogs is their hate of medicines. It’s easier with human children since you can convince them to swallow the bitter pill because it will make their discomforts go away, but there is no way to communicate that to a dog. If your dog is sick and you’re starting to fear that they will never get better because you can’t get them to take their medicine, don’t worry because we are going to teach you the most effective solution on how to get a dog to swallow a pill.

If you’ve ever taken your dog to the vet, you may have been impressed by how easily those professionals can get your dog to take their meds. They know how to work a dog’s throat to make them swallow without a fuss. We are going to introduce this trick to you, but even if this one seems too difficult, don’t worry because we’ve got other methods in our repertoire.

Image showing a woman trying to get a dog to swallow a pill

In today’s discussion, we will show you how to achieve a better percentage of success when trying to get your dog to down their medicine like a champ. After a number of trials, failures, and successes, we have put together one of the best guides to ensuring that pill nestles safely at the bottom of your dog’s stomach. Skipping any and all unnecessary formalities, let’s get to the business of the day.

Tips for Getting Your Dog to Swallow a Pill

We assume that you have consulted your vet before bringing that pill into play from the first place. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, it is time to get Fido to swallow it. Dab off the perspiration and watch how easy you can make things for yourself with a few simple tricks:

Trick 1: Use Your Hands

As promised, we are going to let you in on that magic-like trick that vets use to get dogs to swallow. All you need is your hands. Get the dog’s head in one hand, and the pill in another. If it’s a pill you’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to give the dog before, you might not want your dog to see it on the other hand. Tilt the dog’s head to the back ever so slightly. You should take care not to tilt the dog’s head back too much. Your dog will be uncomfortable in this position.

Image showing a person using the Pill Push Method

Drop the pill into their waiting mouth, but don’t attempt to open your dog’s mouth too wide. You’re trying to fit a pill in there, not a soccer ball. Make sure to keep your dog’s mouth closed by placing a hand on their snout. Then, go on to massage the throat/neck to aid swallowing. Once you have felt a swallowing motion around the throat, it means you have succeeded. Simple as that. Although, you have to take great care to avoid choking your dog.

If your dog coughs out harshly or if the long-awaited swallowing motion just doesn’t come, the pill might have gotten stuck. Try to get the dog to drink some water or take them to the vet immediately.

Trick 2: Get a Pill Dropper

If the first method seems too risky or difficult, don’t worry because we’ve got another solution for you. You can use a pill dropper. For those who do not know, a pill dropper looks like a regular syringe which has been modified to hold pills instead. Use this piece of equipment to hold the pill you want to give to the dog. Slightly tilt their heads backward and drop the pill into the dog’s mouth.

Image showing pill-gun-for-pets

Of course, Fido would want to spit out the bad-tasting thing that you just put into his mouth. But you can avoid this by rubbing the neck gently, like in the first trick. Before you know it, the pill is finding its way through your dog’s alimentary canal.

An important thing to take note of when using a pill dropper is where the pill drops. If you’re not careful, you might drop the pill too far down the throat. Not only could that cause them to gag, the pill will not go down, and you would have left a bad taste in your dog’s mouth—literally.

Trick 3: Disguise the Pill as Food

If you’d prefer it if your dog could swallow the pill on their own, this method may be the one for you. However, for this method to be considered at all, check with the vet first to see if the medicine can be used with food. Once you have been given the green light, carefully mix the medicine into your dog’s food.

Of course, make sure the pill concentration in the food is not significant enough for it to be easily noticed. Likewise, this method works the best when your pet is very hungry. Even though they may pick up the scent of the pill in the food, they would be too hungry to mind anyway.

Image showing a woman giving her dog a pill with food

Choose a kind of food that is soft so that the pill can easily mold into it. Make sure the choice of food has a strong, sweet scent on its own. We want to mask as much of the medicine odor as possible to make the dog feel comfortable.

You can also slip the pill into snacks, or coat it with cheese/peanut butter. That would make the pill even more appealing to your dog and also, reduce the poor taste of medicine that we all know. Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work. Some dogs would just be so turned off by the pill that they don’t take the food at all. Some other dogs may even be clever enough to eat the food around the pill. If that happens, don’t lose hope just yet.

Trick 4: The Distraction Technique

Distracting your dog is a good way to get them to take their pills. This produces one of the best results because the dog is calm, relaxed, and almost eager to take the pill. Don’t worry, we’ll tell you how now:

  • Take some very delicious treat (could be chicken or any other really juicy piece of meat) and put the pill into it.
  • Set the treat with the pill aside then feed the dog two pieces of the same treat.
  • While the dog gobbles those up, he will come back to you for even more. On the third try, toss the dog the treat that has the pill in it.
  • Being none the wiser, the dog may eat it up and faster this time because he wants to get ready for the next one.
  • Don’t disappoint. Give the next one to make the dog feel better about the strange taste in their mouth.

This way, you’re happy and the dog is happy too. It’s a win-win for everyone. But if the dog is smart enough to avoid that one treat that has the pill, take a look at some of our other options.

Trick 5: Create a Contest

This works best if there is another dog in the family, but a willing person can act as the competition too. Using a treat that can be eaten by a human too, go ahead and place the pill in one chunk of the treat and set it aside.

Homemade-Pill-Pockets

Give one piece of the treat to the dog, and let him see you give about two others to the competition. This will make the dog want to take as much of the treat as they can before the stock runs out.

See where we’re going with this? When your dog is already very excited about eating the next one, give him the treat with the pill. If your dog is still too smart to take the bait, however, try the next trick.

Trick 6: Use Gel Caps

There are some pills that your dog is bound to reject time and again. Tramadol is one example. We won’t blame them, given the foul taste and smell that linger around the pill. However, you can mask the smell and taste by buying a gel cap.

Premium Clear Empty Gelatin Capsu

The gel cap, which can be obtained at most drug stores, would be used to encapsulate the pill before you give it to your dog. Again, we would advise that you check with your vet, but these gel caps are usually safe because they dissolve into harmless substance in the body of your pet. You can then combine this step with any one of the tips above if your dog is apprehensive about the strange thing you’re giving them. If even gel caps fail, however, you’ve still got one last option.

Trick 7: Ask for Other Pill Options

Pets are notorious for not wanting to take their medicines; therefore, you are not the only one facing this kind of problem. That is why some pharmacies have made special provisions, and all you need do is ask.

Close-up image of pills on a wooden table

Compounding pharmacies can help mix some special flavors (meat, beef, chicken, fish, etc.) into your dog’s pill. That would make the dog want to take the pill. Without masking the pill or disguising it in any way, you would be surprised that all you need to do is drop the pill where the dog can smell it.

And we are at the end of the list. With seven methods, all of which have been properly vetted (all pun intended) for a good percentage of success, it seems like one can simply not go wrong, right? Well, it’s still better to have a Plan B.

What to Do When All Else Fails

Each dog is an individual, and you may have ended up with one that would defy all of the methods above. When that happens, there is still hope left.

Let Them Know You Mean Business

Dogs can smell you, and in the same vein, read your body language. If your dog is not taking the pills, it might be because they have noticed something off about your body language. In the time leading up to giving your dog the pill, make sure you are relaxed. When talking to the dog, assume the same calm and soothing voice you would typically use to bond with him at any other time.

Image showing a little dog scared

If you want to use the pill dropper or hand method, chasing after your dog and/or getting him cornered is surely going to be counterproductive. Essentially, what we’re saying is that you want the dog to be in the best state of mind before you give them anything.

Make the Pill Easier to Swallow

Have the pill coated in something that would help it slide easier down your dog’s throat. Here, some butter or cheese would be very appropriate. Introduce the pill into the dog’s mouth and squirt a little bit of water (or meat broth) into the side of the dog’s mouth. That would improve their rate of swallowing and ensure that the pill doesn’t stick on the way to the bottom.

Give the Dog a Treat

At the end of it all, make sure you reward the dog with a treat. Even if they proved to be most stubborn, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a treat. After all, you just put them through one of the most unpleasant experiences of their life.

Image showing a person giving a treat to a dog

The trick here is that when your dog starts to associate the after-pill time with treats, a walk, or some other fun game that allows you both to bond, he might be less apprehensive the next time you come up with a pill in your hand.

Wrap Up

So, there you have it. To be frank with you, what you are about to do is no easy task. For one, your dog can’t simply be commanded to chew the pill like you would do to your kid. But no worries because with enough care and patience—and of course, by using one of our tricks—you’ll emerge victorious in the end.

Image showing little dog looking nervous at the camera

See how easy it can be to get your dog to take their pill now? Go on and try any one of our tricks the next time your vet feels Fido needs medicine. Let us know the result in the comments section below. For those that have been giving their dogs pills for a while, we want to hear your thoughts and methods too.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

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