Training

13 Tricks To Get Your Uncooperative Dog To Take A Pill

Last Updated: March 15, 2024 | 14 min read | 6 Comments

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Small chihuahua being given a medicine pill by hand

Getting your dog to take his pill can be one heck of a battle. One that you may find yourself losing.

Most dogs hate swallowing pills.

This is something that has always puzzled me. I mean, my dog will happily eat cat poop. But a pill? Nope. Apparently, that’s where she draws the line.

So…

How do you give your dog a pill?

Surely there has to be an easier way…

There is.

Our favorite method is to use Greenies Pill Pockets.

Greenies Pill Pockets dog treats to hide medication inside

Greenies Pill Pockets: The perfect treat for hiding pills

Your dog will never guess that there is a nasty pill hiding inside this delicious dog treat. Simply insert your pill and seal it inside!

Not feeling pill pockets? That’s cool…

Keep reading to learn the best tricks for getting your uncooperative dog to take his pills…

1. Speak to your Vet

Veterinarian showing girl how to give a big pill to a small puppy by hand

Before you try any methods on this list, you should speak to your Vet.

You see, the exact type of medication will determine the methods you can and can’t use to get your dog to take his pill.[1]

A few methods rely on breaking the pill into smaller pieces of crushing it into a fine powder. However, this can reduce the effectiveness of certain types of medication…

For example, Keppra, a seizure medication, should not be broken into pieces.

Similarly, Antibiotics like amoxicillin and clindamycin should never be crushed into a powder.

Your Vet will be able to advise the best way to get your dog to take his specific medication.

In some instances, there may even be a flavored alternative. Meds like Carpofen (for arthritis) or fluoxetine (for separation anxiety) have tasty flavored options that dogs will eat on their own – no tricks necessary.

Your Vet may also be able to swap you over to an alternate medication that is easier to administer, say in liquid or powdered form.

As you can see, when attempting to get your dog to take his pill, your Vet should be the starting point.

Need to book an affordable vet in a hurry? Check out Vetster, an online platform that allows you to speak to a veterinarian via video, chat, or voice any time – day or night.

2. Open the pill bottle away from your dog

Two Maltese terrier dogs watching owner open up pill bottle in kitchen

Have you ever noticed that when you rattle the kibble container, your dog will come running from the other side of your home?

This is because your dog associates the sound of the kibble with mealtime.

While this is an example of a good association, your dog can also make bad associations…

Such as the sight and sound of you popping the foil on a pill packet or opening the pill bottle. Your dog will associate this noise with the pill he hates so much.

The pattern becomes especially apparent if you medicate daily.

When this happens, your smart dog knows that there is a pill somewhere. He will be suspicious of anything that follows and try to figure out where you have hidden – and frustratingly find it.

Dogs who hate their medicine may even run and hide once they hear the sound of the pill container.

By preparing the pill away from your dog, you will be much more likely to experience success.

3. Wash your hands

Husky dog smelling residue from medicine pill on woman's hands

Did you know that your dog’s sense of smell is around 10,000 times better than yours?[2]

This allows your dog to smell odors that a human nose cannot detect. That’s precisely why police use sniffer dogs to track down drugs or explosives.

But do you know what else these super sniffers can detect?

Yep, their medicine.

Your dog’s sensitive snout can smell the pill on your hands. Once he has the scent, your clever pup is more likely to figure out where you have hidden it.

So, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling your dog’s medication. A soapy rinse under warm running water will do it!

4. Mix it in with your dog’s meal

Pug eating kibble with a pill hidden inside his dog bowl

Okay, so this is the most obvious one. Your dog already gets a square meal each day. Hide his pill in that.

Do you kibble feed? Since the pill sits loose among the kibble, it’s easy for clever dogs to spot the pill, avoiding it altogether.

Mixing in a can of dog food can make all the difference. Pushing the pill into a chunk of canned dog food will mask the taste of the pill – my dog will wolf down any pill stuffed in SmartBlend Canned Food.

Does your dog use a slow-feed dog bowl to slow down his mealtime? Then, you might want to swap over to a traditional dog bowl. By allowing your dog to gulp, he will be less likely to notice the pill hidden inside his food.

Warning: Do you have multiple dogs? You’ll want to make sure that the right dog gets his medicine. Separate feeding will ensure none of your other pups steal your dog’s medicated meal.

While serving a pill with dinner is the easiest solution, many dogs are smart enough to eat around it. They will lick up every last piece of food and leave the pill behind. Frustrating, right?

Don’t worry. We have plenty of ways to trick your dog into taking his medicine…

5. Put the pill inside another pill (Pill-ception)

Bulldog spitting out bitter medicine tablet on kitchen floor

Dogs don’t like sour-tasting foods. Try and feed your dog a piece of lemon, and you’ll see what I mean.

This is why it puzzles me that lots of pills are surrounded by a bitter-tasting coating. It’s almost like they are deliberately trying to make your dog hate swallowing pills.

Metronidazole (antibiotic) and Tramadol (pain relief) are two commonly prescribed dog pills that have a sour taste – dogs love to spit these pills out.

But it’s not just the taste. Texture plays a role, too. For example, a chalky tablet may feel like a rock when it touches the tongue, causing your dog to reject it.

Texture and taste problems are quickly resolved by putting your dog’s pill inside another pill. I’m talking about gelatine capsules…

A single empty gelatine capsule that can be filled with dog medicine

Gel Caps: An edible pill container

A hollow pill that can be used to mask the taste and texture of pills that your dog keeps spitting out

These hollow pills can be filled with whatever medication you want. Best of all, they don’t have any flavor.

Open the capsule up, place your dog’s foul-tasting pill inside, and press the two halves back together. You now have a pill-in-a-pill that your dog won’t be able to taste – the bad flavor is locked inside.

Now, some pills may need to be cut in half or smooshed in, but with a steady hand, you should be able to squeeze your dog’s medication inside.

Want to know the main reason I love gelatine capsules? You can use them to give your dog more than one pill at a time.

By filling the capsule up with more than one tablet, you can give your dog his daily medication in one pill. It’s easier to get your uncooperative dog to swallow a single pill than multiple!

6. Hide the pill in a treat (The trojan horse)

Border Collie waiting for dog treat which has medicine hidden inside it

What do all dogs love? Treats!

And when it comes to the battle of the pill, you can use treats to sneak a pill inside your dog.

Using food is a great way to give a pill to a dog that bites. You can throw the treat and have him catch it in his mouth. Your fingers don’t have to go near those snapping jaws.

The success of this method relies on your ability to seal the pill inside the treat. If your dog feels or tastes the pill inside the food, he will reject it.

Typically, the smellier and tastier the food, the more likely your dog will be to take the pill.

Here are 8 of the best foods that you can hide a pill in.

1. Peanut butter

Perhaps one of the most common methods for hiding pills. Spoon out a dollop of peanut butter, ball it up, and push a pill into the middle of it. For best results, use crunchy peanut butter – the chunks of peanuts will hide the hard pill inside.

For more info, check out our guide on the best peanut butter for dogs – we tested and reviewed 50 different types!

2. Plain Yogurt

Slightly messier but the same idea as peanut butter. Spoon out a dollop of yogurt and hide the pill inside. Thick yogurt works best – it’s more likely to conceal the pill as it is gulped down.

3. Pill pockets

Greenies Pill Pockets dog treats to hide medication inside

Greenies Pill Pockets: The perfect treat for hiding pills

Your dog will never guess that there is a nasty pill hiding inside this delicious dog treat. Simply insert your pill and seal it inside!

Arguably, the most hassle-free method of hiding your dog’s pills. These dog treats have been designed to mask the smell and flavor of even the most bitter pills.

Load the empty cavity up with a large pill (or multiple small ones) and pinch the picket closed. Just like that, your pill is encased in a delicious treat that’s too good for your pup to pass up.

Pill pockets go further than you think. Because the treat is like play dough, you can break it into chunks and use a single pill pocket on up to 6 pills.

4. Marshmallows

Cut a marshmallow in half and place the pill inside. Squeeze the two halves back together before giving the marshmallow pill to your dog. Just make sure they don’t contain the ingredient xylitol, which can be fatal to dogs.

5. Hot Dog Pieces

Cut your hotdog into pieces slightly longer than your pill. Push the pill into the filling and give it to your dog. Can’t get the pill inside without breaking the hotdog? Use a chopstick to make an indent.

6. Liver Pate

Essentially, it is a thick paste that is made up of ground meat. Dogs love the flavor, and it can effortlessly be shaped around a pill. Alternatively, you could use liverwurst, a sausage that can also be easily molded around pills.

7. Chicken Hearts

Is your dog on a raw food diet? Then, you might already have natural pill pockets on hand. I’m talking about chicken hearts. Slide a pill inside the hole and give it to your dog. If your pup is on the larger side, or you are working with multiple pills, use turkey hearts instead – these are bigger than chicken hearts.

8. Sardine

Perhaps the stinkiest option. Push your pill into the mushy flesh, and the strong smell and flavor will mask the pill from even the pickiest pill swallower.

9. DIY Pill Pockets

Make your own pill pockets with this easy do-it-yourself recipe with just three ingredients: rolled oats, water, and peanut butter. Mix all three together until there’s a dough-like consistency (you might need to grind up the oats in a food processor first) and roll into balls. Use the end of a wooden spoon to create an opening and keep them refrigerated so they stay mushy and don’t dry up.

Homemade pill pockets lined up on a plastic storage container

Next, let’s look at delivery…

7. Treat, treat, pill, treat…

Brown labrador catching dog treats in his mouth unaware that one of them is hiding a pill

By giving your dog multiple treats without a pill, he will be more likely to ignore the food with a pill in it.

I have found the best way to do this is by playing a game of catch.

Prepare 5 or 6 balls of food and place your pill inside one of them. Toss them one at a time so your dog catches and swallows them. Start with the food that doesn’t have the pill.

Keep throwing your dog treats at a constant speed. Treat, treat, pill, treat, treat…

you get the idea.

As soon as your dog catches one, throw the next one. This way, he will swallow quickly as all the focus is on making sure he grabs the next treat – Your dog will eat the hidden pill so that he can keep up the pace.

For best results, keep the treat the same. For example, if you are using pill pockets to hide the pill, then the other treats you throw at your dog should be pill pockets, too.

The treats should be small enough that your dog can easily swallow them in a single gulp. If your dog can’t, he may pause to chew, which may reveal the pill hidden inside. If you have a small dog, you will need a small treat.

Also, you don’t have to throw with the force of a starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. Slow-paced lobs are the name of the game.

Make it simple for your dog to catch and move your hand closer to your dog’s mouth if you need to. But not too close if your dog is a biter.

8. Combine pill time with your daily walk

Owner hand feeding puppy on a leash his medicine pills while on a walk

Have you ever noticed how distracted your dog is when on a walk? With so many different sights, smells, and sounds, it’s difficult for your pup to know where to focus…

And that’s exactly what makes this the perfect time to give your dog a hidden pill – he will be much less suspicious while he is distracted by his surroundings.

Of course, this means you will need to bring your treats with you on a walk. But having one extra thing to carry is worth it if your dog takes his medication.

If it’s going to be some time before you give your dog a pill, don’t pre-prepare it. You don’t want that pill hidden inside peanut butter to start dissolving before you get a chance to give it to your dog – which may reduce the effectiveness of the medication.

So, when do you give your dog the pill? It entirely depends on your walking route. You want it to be at a time when your dog is most distracted, say at the dog park.

I personally do the moment we step outside the front door. At this time, my dog is all excited about his walk and can’t decide what to focus on.

9. Work for it

Woman hiding medicine pill behind her back while she gets her two cavalier King Charles Spaniels to perform dog tricks

Your dog is more likely to take his medicine if he feels he has earned it…

Do you know how each time your dog performs a trick, he gets a reward? Well, that reward is going to be a medicated dog treat.

Have your dog perform his trick as usual. When the time comes to offer him his treat, give him the treat with the hidden pill inside.

Because your dog has earned the treat, rather than having it forced on him, he will be much more likely to accept it.

Your dog doesn’t know any tricks, you say?

Not a problem. Despite the saying, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Grab a good dog clicker or whistle, and get to work! The focus is less on getting your dog to perform a trick and more on getting him used to a reward for doing it. It doesn’t need to be a difficult trick. It could be as simple as “shaking hands.”

10. Pretend to eat it

Brown Weimaraner begging at table for food that has medication pill hidden inside

What is the tastiest thing in the world for dogs?

Whatever you are eating.

Those big puppy dog eyes are fixated on whatever it is you are eating. It can be difficult to resist sharing with them!

You can use your dog’s obsession with human food to your advantage.

All you need to do is “pretend” to nibble on the pill with the hidden treat.

Ideally, you want to replicate the situation where your dog would stare at you. If that’s on the couch while you are eating a bag of Doritos, then replicate that.

Using this example, you would prepare your dog’s medication in his treat, grab a bag of Doritos, and pretend that’s where the treat came from.

Now, dogs are not silly. To convince your dog to take his pill, you will need to put on a performance. So, raise that medicated treat to your mouth and pretend to take a big bite – don’t forget to fake chew!

Got your dog’s attention? Good. But you don’t want to give him the hidden pill just yet…

The trick is to not give in to your dog too early. Make him really want it. Fortunately for a dog, a minute feels like an eternity.

After this time, if you offer your dog his treat, your dog will think he has won the doggie lottery. He will excitedly gulp it down without a second thought.

A variation of this method involves eating dinner and then “accidentally” dropping your dog’s medicated treat on the ground. Your dog will think he has scored and grab it before you get a chance to stop him…

Jokes on him. He medicated himself!

11. Bring in a friend

Two chihuahuas competing with each other to eat pills out of owner's hand

Okay, this one’s a little mean. But if you want to give your dog a pill, and he’s refusing, then you don’t have a choice.

Why’s it so mean? Well, you are going to make your dog feel like he is missing out.

First, you’ll need some company. If you have multiple dogs, then you are good to go. But if you live in a single-dog home, you’ll need to bring in a friend.

Now, what you are going to do is show the dogs a treat. Once they are all focused on the treat, then comes the mean part…

You are going to feed all the dogs treats except your dog.

You’ll notice your dog getting more and more anxious that these other dogs are getting fed and he isn’t.

When you feel he is as excited as he will get, give him his special treat (the one with a pill inside.)

After watching the other dogs eat their treats without any issues, your dog will eat his special treat without any questions.

As a bonus, dogs generally eat quicker when around other dogs – adding to the likelihood that your dog swallows his pill.

What if you only have a single dog? Well, you’ll need to phone a friend. Ask the family, your neighbor, or even a stranger at the dog park!

Obviously, this method isn’t suitable if you have a resource guarder. If that’s your pup, try one of the other tricks on this list.

Important: Be very careful that you give the pill to the right dog.

12. Crush it up

Beagle looking at medicine pill that has been crushed into a fine powder

Did your Vet give you the all-clear to crush your dog’s medication? Awesome. Crushed pills can be easier to hide than a solid tablet.

First, you need to crush your dog’s pill into a fine powder.

While you can use a mortar and pestle, rolling pin, or even a hammer, those of you who medicate your dog daily may find using a dedicated pill crusher easier…

Ezy dose ezy crush pill crusher in blue color

Ezy Crusher: Crush pills and tablets

The effortless, mess free way to grind your dog’s pills into a fine powder for easy hiding.

So, now that you have crushed your dog’s pill, how do you give it to him?

Well, you can mix it into your dog’s food. Because the powder is so fine, your dog will not be able to eat around it. You could also fill up an empty capsule with the powder.

But my favorite way to administer a crushed pill is by taking advantage of your dog’s pet peeve…

You see, most dogs have a strong dislike for anything that covers their paws. If you have ever tried and failed to get your dog to wear boots, you’ll be all too familiar with this concept.

We are going to take advantage of this…

First, you’ll need a smearable treat. Creamed cheese, peanut butter, apple sauce or anything else that is sticky and mushy will work.

Take your pill powder and work it through the treat using a spoon, working it until the powder is unnoticeable. You are now left with a medicated paste.

So, take a dollop of the medicated paste and smear it over the top of your dog’s paw. Your dog will lick food off his paw – medicating himself.

Note: Crushing your dog’s pill into a powder may not work on particularly bitter pills. Your dog may reject the entire meal if it’s too bitter.

13. Use your hand to administer

You may have noticed that most of the pill-swallowing tricks we listed rely on food.

But what happens if your dog refuses to eat? Well, you are going to have to force the pill down your dog’s throat.

Don’t worry. It’s easier than it sounds and won’t harm your dog. This is the trick that many Vets use to get dogs to take their medicine while in their practice.

Success all comes down to technique. So here is how Dr. Uri Burstyn demonstrates how the process works…

As you can see, this is the perfect trick to get your dog to take his medication, even if he is refusing to eat.

If your dog is a wiggler, you may need to bring in a second pair of hands to help keep your pup still while you place the pill at the back of the throat.

Many dog owners find a pill gun a useful tool when it comes to force-feeding a pill.

Think of it as a syringe for a pill, allowing you to place the pill at the back of the mouth. Pill guns are especially effective for gripping tiny pills that are prescribed for small dogs, like Yorkies.

Small chihuahua being given a medicine pill by owner

Medicine Feeder: Grip and release tablets

This pill gun expands to fit pills of all different sizes.

When you are done, don’t forget to reward your dog after taking his pill! You want to encourage him to swallow his medication, not fight it.

Got a tip to share? Let me know how you trick your dog into taking his pills in the comments below!

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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