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Giving oral medications to your dog

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Giving a dog oral medication isn’t always the easiest task, but by remaining calm and following the guidance below, you can make sure your pet gets the medications it needs.

Your veterinarian will tell you if your dog’s medication can be given with food or an empty stomach. If the tablet or capsule can be given with food, you may place the medication in the center of a small ball of canned dog food or cheese. Always give a test ball to your dog to make sure it is willing to eat it and also to see if it chews it or gulps it whole. Dogs are more likely to gulp the ball without chewing, but if they chew the meatball and spit out the pill, the tablet or capsule will partially dissolve and become difficult to handle. If the dog bites into the tablet or capsule, it will leave a bad taste in its mouth and make a second attempt difficult.

The following instructions will help you give medications if a canned dog food or cheese ball doesn’t work for your dog. Use caution to avoid being bitten. A dog’s mouth contains many bacteria and bites can result in deep punctures. If bitten, clean the wound thoroughly and seek medical attention.

Medications for oral administration may be in pill, capsule, or liquid form.

Giving a dog pills or capsules

Hold the dog’s head from the top using your left hand if you are right-handed. If the dog has a long nose, hold the upper jaw between your thumb and index finger. If the dog has a short nose, hold the head like you would a cat (see giving oral medications to a cat).

Tilt the dog’s head back. Dogs have strong jaw muscles, and the lower jaw does not usually drop open far enough to place the pill or capsule over the base of the tongue.

Gently fold the upper lip over the teeth as you open the mouth. If the dog bites down with your hand in its mouth, it will bite her lip and will not bite your hand. Place your thumb on the roof of the dog’s mouth. You do not have to fold the dog’s lip over their teeth, but this does reduce the chance of you being bit.

Hold the pill or capsule in your right hand between your thumb and index finger. Use the middle finger of your right hand to pull open the lower jaw. Keep your middle finger over the small incisor teeth, not the sharp fangs (canine teeth).

Drop the pill or capsule as far back over the tongue as possible, then immediately close the mouth and blow on the dog’s nose to encourage it to swallow.

If you are unable to get the pill far enough over the base of the tongue, the dog will spit it out. You may need to use your index finger and thumb to push the pill over the back of the tongue. Your fingers will be inside the dog’s mouth, and you must work rapidly to avoid getting bit.

Close the mouth and stroke the dog’s neck or blow sharply on its nose to encourage swallowing.

There are several styles of pilling devices that can used to place a pill or capsule over the base of the tongue, so you do not have to place your fingers in the dog’s mouth.

Giving a dog liquid medications

Liquid medications are given in a pouch between the teeth and cheek.

Quickly squirt the medication into this pouch, hold the mouth closed, and stroke the dog’s neck or sharply blow on its nose to encourage swallowing.

Liquids are more likely to accidentally enter the windpipe compared to pills or capsules. To avoid the dog inhaling liquid into the windpipe, do not tilt the dog’s head backward.

If you find it difficult to give your dog a pill or capsule, speak to your veterinarian about suspending the pill or capsule in a liquid. Some medications can be suspended in liquid while others lose their effectiveness when placed in a suspension. Always talk to your veterinarian before altering the medication.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.