How to Give a Dog a Pill

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How to Give a Dog a Pill / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman /

I have three things to say before I begin:

  1. I am not a vet.
  2. I am not a vet.
  3. Did I mention that I am not a vet?
Katie and Cooper

I have no medical authority, whatsoever. But I do have the most wonderful 8 1/2 year old epileptic dog, who needs to take 12 pills a day, 15 if you count the fact that the big ones have to be broken in half, which is fair, since it is essentially 15 times that a pill has to get into my dog’s mouth ad down his throat.

I have three more things to say:

  1. I love my dog.
  2. I love my dog.
  3. I really, really love my dog.

Anyone who knows me knows that I became a reluctant dog owner under the intense urging of my husband and sons, and then I became that classic The-Person-Who-Least-Wanted-the-Dog-Fell-in-Love-with-Him-the-Hardest.


Anyway, when Cooper was about 3 he developed epilepsy. And a thyroid condition. And some blood pressure issue. The have also been bouts of Lyme and pancreatitis, and other misc. illnesses, but we’ll leave those alone for now.

If anyone is about to write me and explain that there are holistic cures for such things, I will stop you by saying I appreciate the thought, but unless you’ve watched a dog have 5 seizures in 24 hours after missing just one dose of pills, it’s hard to imagine transitioning him off his meds.

Some dogs happily gobble up pills in a little smear of peanut butter, or one of those Pill Pockets that are manufactured and sold with this sole purpose. Not ours. Following you will find a list of the foods we have used with success to camouflage all of those pills, and get them down his little furry throat. Then there are a few other tricks and tips, if your pup is just not falling for any of this.

But first, some important advice from our vet (well one, of our vets), Eveline Han. “If you use peanut butter or certain other human foods, be sure they do not contain the artificial sweetener xylitol as this is very toxic to dog’s livers.”

Also, if your dog has any dietary issues—like blood pressure or cholesterol problems—or is overweight, not all of the things that work for us might be appropriate for you. No matter, what, consult with your vet before taking any advice from I’m-Not-a-Doctor me. The ASPCA website also lists not-okay-for-pets foods.


Dr. Han adds, “there are some dogs that can get pancreatitis after eating something fatty,” so be cautious with meats, cheeses, and other fatty foods, and keep these to a minimum.

Now, on with the show! I readily acknowledge not everyone has this array of food in their fridge on a regular basis—clearly my food writer livelihood has come into play. But you only need one or two of these little tricks to make pill taking time for your pup—and you—easier.

Here is how Cooper takes his pills:

Before we get into the foods, this is my most important piece of advice: The Chaser.

Cooper eating treat

Whatever food you use, in one hand you will hold the pill wrapped in a small amount of one of the below foods. In the other hand, another small morsel of food, without a pill. Make sure your dog sees you have food in both hands, and place the food-encased pill near his mouth first, while holding the second piece of food in his eyesight, so he understands that the goal is to eat the first piece of food, and get to the second as soon as possible.

Do this with every pill. If you have to give your dogs a lot of pills, as we do, try to use as little food as you can to wrap the pill, so that the dog stays excited about pill #5, and you don’t overstuff the dog.

Here are several ways to camouflage a pill and make a food “pill pocket”. These are some of the foods that over the years our dog has most consistently slurped down, not knowing, or not caring, that there was a pill inside.

  1. Prosciutto. Expensive, absolutely, but a very tiny piece of thinly sliced prosciutto drapes so nicely around pills – other very thinly sliced cold cuts can also work, but paper thin prosciutto’s consistency is the best.
  2. Soft braised meat.   Meat that has been slow cooked, whether, chicken, pork or beef—soft enough to press around a pill, and best if kind of wet and juicy—is a pretty surefire winner. Again, stick with chicken or leaner meats if possible.
  3. Scrambled eggs. Make sure to scramble an egg so that you have big curds, large enough to tuck a pill inside.
  4. Chinese food. It seems like a light soy-sauce based glaze is as appealing to dogs as it is to people. Thinly sliced chicken or beef from a stir fry can be wrapped and pinched around a pill, and this is a fan favorite for Cooper. Obviously don’t do this if sodium is an issue for your pup.
  5. Meatballs. When you are making meatballs, make a bunch of very tiny plain ones and cook them on the side. Chicken or turkey meatballs a plus. Absolutely perfect for pill-popping.
  6. Tubular pasta. If you have leftover cooked pasta such as rigatoni or ziti you can slide a pill right into the middle of the tube and kind of pinch the edges shut so that the pills is squirreled away inside. This is especially appealing if it is coated in a meat sauce of some kind.
  7. Cheese. Any semi soft cheese that can be molded around a pill is fair game, but the easiest, cheapest, and most easily stored is good old American cheese. Again, avoid if cholesterol is an issue.
How to Give a Dog a Pill / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman /

Some notes:

• The thing that worked yesterday may not work today.

• The thing that didn’t work yesterday may work tomorrow.

• The thing that worked for three weeks may stop working for two weeks, then work again for one week, then not for three weeks.

• Mornings are usually the toughest—and can you blame him? I wouldn’t want to take 6 pills as soon as I woke up either.

• I’m not suggesting you make these foods just so your dog will take a pill—only a crazy person would do that (who has two thumbs and is a crazy person—this guy). Just know to make a little extra and save the leftovers for pill-disguising.

• If you can warm up the food slightly, it makes a huge difference.

Finally, there are some days where this all is just a no-go. Then here’s what our vet showed us how to do (easier to do with two people but possible to do with one, especially with practice).

How to Give a Dog a Pill / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman /

Hold your dog’s mouth open, tilt his head up, and with your fingers decisively place the pill all the way at the back of his tongue, in the throat area. Immediately close his mouth and make sure his jaws are lifted so that the neck is elongated. Hold the mouth closed firmly until he swallows—you can give his throat a stroke or two to encourage this, if he wouldn’t mind.

Han says, “Also another tip when you end up having to manually ‘pill’ a dog is blowing on their nose when their mouth is held shut. It sometimes makes them swallow.”

How to Give a Dog a Pill / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman /

“Also certain pills get stuck in the esophagus so if you are ‘pilling’ your dog manually we recommend they be given a little wet food after or a small syringe of water.”

And that’s the story of How to Give a Dog a Pill in our house. I would love to know what works for you, so please write to me and share your tips and wisdom! But please don’t write to me and tell me that I am over-medicating my dog.

So, there you have it. And that’s how it all goes down in our house.

Cooper in bed

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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1 Comment

  1. newsland says:

    nice post, youve made my day