How to Give Your Dog Oral Medication

Estimated Reading Time 4 minutes
How to Give Your Dog Oral Medication

Giving a dog his medicine is rarely easy, but knowing the proper procedure and what to expect can make the process more pleasant — for you and your dog. To start, prepare all the medications that you’re about to give before you call for your dog. Tablets and capsules should be individually set out and liquids drawn up into an oral syringe. Have treats readily available. Keep reading for more helpful tips!

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Positive Reinforcement

Make this a pleasant, rewarding experience for your dog so that he associates taking medicine with an opportunity for a reward. For liquid medications, introduce your dog to the syringe you’ll be using by first topping it with peanut butter or a squirt from an aerosol can of cheese for him to lick. He’ll associate the syringe with receiving treats. Always give a treat before and after administering pills. Make sure to give your pup lots of verbal praise!


You may need help keeping your dog still while you administer medicine. If you don’t have a helper handy, you may want to sit on the floor and hold the front of your dog’s body partially against your body or on your lap. If you have a large dog, you can stand behind your dog and have him sit back against your legs. Sometimes it helps to bring your dog into a corner of a room so that he cannot back away from you. Small dogs can be wrapped in a large towel and held against your body, leaving only the head free.

Pills or Capsules - Plain

  • Act assertively and calmly.
  • If you are right-handed, hold your dog's muzzle (or upper jaw) with your left hand - have your index finger on one side and your thumb on the other.
  • Tilt the head back and gently fold the upper lip over the dog's teeth as you open the mouth. This means if your dog panics and snaps its jaw shut, it will bite its lip and not your fingers.
  • Have the pill or capsule ready in your right hand between your thumb and index finger and position your middle finger over the dog's incisors (front teeth) to pull the lower jaw apart from the top jaw.
  • Quickly drop the medication as far back in the mouth as possible over the tongue. Close the dog's mouth and hold it closed while you massage its throat to encourage it to swallow. Blowing in its nose can also encourage it to swallow.
  • Follow up with a treat and praise!

Pills or Capsules - Hidden in a “Meatball”

If the tablet or capsule can be given with food, you may make a "meatball" by placing the medication in the center of a small ball of canned dog food, cheese, or a Pill Pocket. This technique tends to work best for food/treat motivated dogs. Always give a test "meatball" to your dog to make sure he is willing to eat it. You’ll also be able to see if he chews it or swallows it whole. If they do chew the "meatball" and spit out the pill, the tablet or capsule may partially dissolve and become very hard to handle, making it more challenging to administer on its own.

Liquid Medication

This technique differs from giving your dog a pill in that you do not tilt your dog’s head back as is done when ‘pilling’. Your dog’s mouth needs to be opened only a little because the syringe can be inserted into the side of his mouth and moved to the back. Squeeze the dropper or depress the syringe plunger to empty it. After your dog swallows the medicine, follow up with a treat and praise.

Still Having Trouble?

Pill applicators can be a useful and safe aid in administering plain pills or capsules. These are usually a plastic applicator with a tip that will loosely hold the pill. It is this applicator that is placed over the back of the dog's tongue instead of your hand. A trigger on the end of the applicator allows you to release the medication when it’s in position.

Another great option is compounded medication, such as a flavored liquid or a chewable “treat” tablet. This works well for dogs that don’t like to swallow their pills. However, these medications can be more expensive — depending on the drug — and your vet may caution against compounding certain drugs because it could impact their effectiveness. Also, medications are not always compounded at every pharmacy. Ask your vet if this may be an option for your pet.

It’s important that your dog gets all of the medication prescribed by your vet for the entire length of the treatment. If you continue to have difficulty getting medication into your dog, contact your vet for advice and assistance. Most clinics will offer a demonstration on proper technique if you are struggling.

Read more:

How to Give Your Cat Oral Medication

Giving Your Pet Eye Medication: Step-by-Step Instructions

How to Apply “Spot On” Medication to Your Dog or Cat

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