How to Give a Dog a Pill

Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
A dog being given a pill

There may be times in your dog’s life – after surgery or when he has been diagnosed with a condition that requires medicine – when you will have to give your dog a pill, capsule, or liquid oral medication.

Learning how to get a dog to take a pill is an essential part of being a pet parent. In this article, we provide tips for how to get dogs to take pills and easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions for giving your dog a pill or a liquid medication.

Why Vets Prescribe Medications or Recommend Supplements

Your dog’s health is at the heart of everything your vet does. To help your dog feel his best, your vet may prescribe medicines that treat a specific condition or recommend supplements that support your dog’s health. Whether it’s medicine, like an antibiotic, or a supplement, it’s important that you follow through with your vet’s recommended treatments.

Medicine is defined as a compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease. Pharmaceutical drugs are chemical compounds that have been developed to treat, prevent, or manage a physical ailment, or ease the symptoms associated with an ailment or condition. 

Over-the-counter medicines are drugs that are available without a prescription. Prescription medicines are drugs that require a prescription from a doctor or a vet. They get filled by a pharmacist or, in the case of some animal medicines, by your veterinarian.

Generally, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals do not taste very good, and are often quite bitter. While people can swallow a bitter pill with a glass of water and not taste it, pet parents must work a little harder to get dogs to take pills.

Dogs and people may take similar drugs for certain conditions, such as pain relief, but the formulations and dosages are usually different. Never give your dog or any pet a drug made for humans without first checking with your vet. What works for people may be toxic to dogs.

How do you give supplements to dogs? Unlike medicinal drugs, dog supplements are usually formulated in a flavor – like liver, cheese, or peanut butter – that dogs find appealing. If your vet recommends supplements formulated just for dogs, chances are you won’t have any difficulty getting your dog to take it. Remember, although they are tasty to dogs, supplements are not treats. You should not give your dog more than the dosage recommended for your dog’s weight.

In addition to medicine and supplements, your vet may recommend veterinary-formula dog food to help support your dog’s condition.

Types and Forms of Medication or Supplements

Supplements for dogs come in a variety of forms including: 

  • Liquid supplements for dogs 
  • Chewable tablets  
  • Soft chews 
  • Probiotic powders than can be added to or sprinkled on top of your dog’s food

Medications for dogs are also available in several forms, depending on the medication, such as: 

  • Pills or tablets 
  • Capsules 
  • Dissolvable tablets 
  • Liquids 
  • Injections 
  • Transdermal – where pets absorb the medicine through the skin

Some medicines are available in multiple forms. If you find it easier to give you dog liquid medicine than giving your dog a capsule, ask your vet if the medicine comes in a form suited to your dog.

Transdermal medications get rubbed into your dog’s skin where there is less fur, and that’s usually the ear flaps. If you’re giving your dog a transdermal medicine, use gloves or wash your hands immediately after applying. You don’t want to absorb your dog’s medicine through your skin.

How to Give a Dog a Capsule, Pill or Tablet

Most medicines are not going to taste very good to your dog. That’s changing as more and more common pet medications are being formulated in dosages for dogs and in flavors that dogs will take more readily.

If your vet prescribes a medicine, ask if it comes in a pet-friendly formula with a flavor your dog will like. Additionally, some vets, as well as neighborhood independent compounding pharmacies and online pet pharmacies, may be able to prepare flavored or transdermal formulations of the medicine your dog needs. Be aware, these compounded versions will usually cost more than the regular drug and will take more time for your vet or pharmacist to prepare. 

It’s probably best to try the pill or capsule form first unless you know for certain your dog does not like taking medicine. Below are a few tips for getting your dog to take a pill.

Hide the Pill in Food

The easiest way to get your dog to take a pill is to hide it in something he loves to eat. The best foods to hide dog pills in are the foods your dog really likes. This might include mini marshmallows, meat, cheese, or deli meats. Just be sure the food you’re using to hide the pill doesn’t contain garlic or onions. Check with your vet to make sure the medicine you are giving your dog is compatible with the treat you’re hiding it in. For example, some medicines shouldn’t be taken with cheese or dairy products.

Treat pockets or wraps are also a good way to hide a pill. If you don’t want to buy commercial dog pill wraps, or if your dog has grown accustomed to their taste, you can make your own. There are recipes online for homemade pill wraps or pockets that are made with peanut butter, ground oats, and water. If you’re using peanut butter, choose a brand that does not have the sweetener Xylitol listed in the ingredients because it is toxic to dogs.

Ideally, the treat with the hidden pill should be small enough that your dog will wolf it down without really chewing it. If your dog likes to really chew his food, disguising a pill in treats, meat, or cheese might not be the best solution.

You might want to mix up the pill wraps so you’re hiding the pill in the cheese treat one day, then deli meat the next day, and so on. Mixing it up can keep your dog from associating the flavor of the treat with the pill.

Watch and make sure the pill gets swallowed by your dog, or he may spit it out later when you’re not looking.

Another option is to wait until just before mealtime and hide the pill in his wet food. Dogs that are hungry are less likely to refuse food. Mix the pill in 1 tablespoon of wet food and give it to your dog before he gets the rest of his meal. Make sure your dog eats all the food with the pill, and if not, pick up the bowl to avoid other household pets from eating it. 

Can you crush your dog’s pills? Not all pills are meant to be broken, so be sure to check with your vet first. If the medicine can be broken, crush the pill in a pill crusher and then add the powder to 1 tablespoon of wet food and give it to your dog before he gets the rest of his meal.

Use a Piller Device

Pet pillers or pet pill devices hold the pill at the end of a long tube with a plunger. Once you’ve placed the tube in your dog’s mouth, you depress the plunger, and the pill drops into your dog’s mouth. A trick for how to get a dog to swallow a pill: close your dog’s mouth, gently blow on his nose, or stroke his neck until he swallows.

Some people prefer to use pet pillers to give dogs pills and find it easier than using their fingers. The one advantage is if your dog bites down while you’re pilling him, he bites the tube, not your hand. Follow the instructions below, using the pet pill device rather than your fingers on step 7.

How to Give Your Dog a Pill

How do you give a dog a pill when he’s not eating? Or if he’s gotten wise to the pill hidden in the treat? If you’re wondering how to give a stubborn dog a pill, you need to learn how to give a dog a pill orally.

If you’ve never given your dog a pill, it might be a good idea to have your vet or vet tech demonstrate how to do it with your dog’s first dose. Once you’re home and doing it by yourself, follow these step-by-step instructions for how to give a dog a pill without food: 

  1. Relax and be calm. Your dog will pick up on your emotions. If you are nervous, your dog will become nervous.  
  2. You want to stay calm but remember that the quicker you can get through the process of giving medication, the easier it will be for the both of you. It usually gets less stressful with practice and experience.  
  3. Have all the medications that you are about to give prepared before you call your dog. Tablets and capsules should be individually set out or placed in pet pillers (see above).  
  4. When you are ready, call your dog using a happy, friendly tone to come to you. Bring your dog into a corner of the room, placing his rear end into the corner so that he cannot back away from you. A second person to hold your dog steady can be helpful, too.  
  5. With one hand, grasp your dog’s muzzle from above. Position your hand so that the tips of your fingers are at the corner of his mouth on one side, and your thumb at the corner of his mouth on the other side.  
  6. While gently tipping your dog’s head back so that the chin points upward, squeeze behind the upper canine teeth with your fingers. This should cause your dog’s lower jaw to open a little bit. With your other hand, gently push on the lower front teeth to open the jaw further. 
  7. Quickly place the medication as far back in the mouth as possible on the back of the tongue. Do not place your hand too far into the mouth, however, as this may cause your dog to choke and gag.  
  8. Gently lower your dog’s head and keep his mouth closed by wrapping your fingers around his muzzle. To get your dog to swallow a pill, gently stroke his throat or blow on his nose. You could squirt a very small amount of water in his mouth to encourage him to swallow the tablet, but not too much as this may cause him to choke. In some cases, it’s best to let him spit it out completely and start the process again.

How to Give a Dog Liquid Medicine

Use these instructions for giving your dog liquid medicine:  

  1. Follow steps 1 through 5 above, making sure the liquid medicine has been drawn up into an oral syringe before calling your dog.  
  2. Do NOT tilt your dog’s chin upward as you would for a pill.  
  3. Place the liquid-filled syringe into the side of the mouth, just past the lower teeth. 
  4. Slowly squirt a small amount into your dog’s mouth. 
  5. Pause between squirts to allow your dog to swallow the medication without gagging or choking. 

After giving your dog the medicine, give him plenty of praise, using a happy tone of voice and, if possible, a treat.

Remember, it is important that you follow your vet’s instructions, and you give your dog all the medication that was prescribed for the number of days indicated in the prescription.

If you continue to have difficulty giving your dog a pill, contact your veterinarian for advice and assistance. 

For more expert tips for the health of your dog, explore our other dog health articles.

Related articles

blonde doodle dog playing tug with person in grass
Can dogs get hay fever? Just like humans, dogs can get hay fever. Find out the symptoms & causes of hay fever in dogs and what treatment options are available.
person holding chin of chocolate lab
person petting brown dog on lap
MyPurina App - woman with dog

Reward Yourself with myPurina

Earn and redeem rewards for Purina products with the myPurina app.