Most pet medication tutorials lie.

OK, they may not lie, but they do not tell the entire story. The truth is, medicating pets is not always as easy as it looks, and sometimes there is no quick fix, because a pet is scared or stressed. If you struggle to give your pet medicine, first give yourself some credit—pets not only have a mind of their own, but also sharp claws and strong jaws. Next, check out Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital’s guide to rethinking your pet medication strategy.

DON’T: Tell the veterinarian you have no questions about your pet’s medication

DO: Express your concerns about medicating your pet

If you are worried your pet may injure themselves, or you, please let us know. A different formulation may be available that is easier to give. Veterinary compounding pharmacies can make many medications in the form of pet-friendly, meat-flavored liquids or chewy treats. 

Our team is happy to demonstrate proper medication techniques during your appointment. This can be immensely helpful, and you can record the lesson on your phone to refer to at home. 

DON’T: Use threatening body language and accidentally intimidate your pet

DO: Respect your pet’s space

Dogs and cats communicate through body language and physical proximity, and humans often send the wrong signals. Some common frightening gestures, and their less-threatening alternatives include:

  • Approaching your pet head-on — Approach them from the side or at a slight angle, or let the pet come to you
  • Leaning over your pet — Place small pets on a couch or bed, and sit to medicate large-breed dogs
  • Carrying something in your hand — Have all necessary tools on a nearby table or counter
  • Reaching over your pet — Touch their chest or shoulder first, and move gently upwards
  • Grabbing the pet’s leg or foot — Touch their chest or thigh first, and move down, to give the pet time to shift their weight, if necessary
  • Using a strong grip — Moderate your touchdon’t start at level 10
  • Cornering, crowding, or trapping your pet — Prevent your pet from backing up by luring them to the desired position with a treat, or letting them sit on a couch or chair

DON’T: Wait until your pet is sick to handle them

DO: Practice handling and examining your healthy pet

Pets who are handled only when they are ill or sick may develop negative associations with some types of contact. Pets who have sensitive areas (e.g., ears, feet, abdomen, and muzzle) should be handled before they have pain or discomfort, so they will be more accepting of treatment. Practice with these steps, always pairing small, irresistible treats with each touch. 

  • Begin with a neutral body part (e.g., shoulder or chest), to get the pattern right
  • Touch, and immediately follow with a treat
  • Touch progressively closer to the target, rewarding after each touch
  • Touch the target, and reward generously
  • Build the length of your touch, by beginning the steps again, but adding a few seconds to each touch
  • Reward every success

Move at your pet’s pace—if you see stress signs (e.g., lip licking, yawning, growling, or pulling away), end the session. Try again later from the beginning, but keep the session short.

DON’T: Use treats to bribe your pet

DO: Reward your pet frequently for maximum cooperation

Pet owners often use treats with the “carrot-on-a-stick” method, taking away the reward when the pet fails to do what they want. This is unfair to the pet—if your boss with-held your paycheck, you would not only be less motivated, but you also would not likely trust your boss. Pets are the same—bribing them without “payment” teaches them distrust. 

Make your pet’s treats and goals small, and reward them often. This may look like they are getting a treat every few seconds if your pet is overcoming old fears, but it’s OK—they will not need so many treats for long. Adjust your pet’s meals to prevent weight gain. 

DON’T: Hide your pet’s pill in a chunk of food

DO: Wrap your pet’s pills to be swallowed, not chewed

Commercial pet treats are great, but they are often too big to be effective. When you wrap your pet’s pills, use only enough food to conceal the medication. Your pet will need to chew a bulky treat, and will likely discover the medicine.

If your pet must take large capsules or tablets, try giving them a few treats quickly, with the pill treat sandwiched between regular treats. The speed and excitement may prevent your pet from thinking too hard.

Successfully medicating your pet requires combining proper technique, and protection of your pet’s sense of safety and self-confidence. Many excellent tutorials demonstrate proper medication techniques for dogs and cats. However, they rarely include discussion of your pet’s emotional state, which may be the true root of the problem.

To discuss medicating your pet, or to schedule an appointment for one-on-one coaching with our team, contact Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital.