When it comes to giving medication to a pet, knowing how to keep a pet from wriggling when giving medicine is of utmost importance. After all, you don’t want to waste any medicine or worse, hurt or stress your pet while giving oral or topical treatments.

If you have a pet, chances are you either have had to give medicine to them before, or you will have to give medicine to them at some point in the future. When you return home from a veterinary visit where your pet was prescribed medicine, you may begin to wonder how you are supposed to get the prescribed medicine into (or onto) your pet. 

In this article we will provide some tips and tricks on how to give medicine to your pet without your pet wiggling. Of course, there will probably still be some struggle on the part of both you and your pet, but hopefully with these suggestions life will be a little easier for the both of you as your pet heals.

Giving Medication to a Pet: Types of Oral Medications (Meds Given by Mouth)

boy with pets

Oral medications may come in a few different forms, such as tablets/pills, capsules, or liquid. Depending on the personality of your pet, giving liquid medications may be easier or giving pill medications may be easier. Make sure you discuss what you feel would be easier with your vet so they can see if there is an alternative prescription available. There is no point in prescribing medications if you are physically unable to comply with the directions, and your vet should understand this.

Tablets, Pills, and Capsules

If your pet has a favorite food or treat, you can hide tablets, pills, or capsules in it and give to your pet. Try to not give any indication to them that you are hiding something in their favorite food, so do not let them see you put the medicine in it. Bread, meatballs, lunch meat, peanut butter, or cheese are great options for hiding pills in. You can also hide them in mushy, wet, canned food that is super tasty.

If your pet is one that always spits out a pill hidden in food, you could try using a mortar and pestle to mash up the pill or tablet. Then, mix the mashed up pill into their food or a special treat for them to eat. It would be best to mix it in with something that has a lot of flavor, just in case the mashed up pill has a bitter taste. For capsules, you can just open up the capsule and sprinkle the contents of it into their food or treat

Finally, if none of these work you will have to give the medication directly by mouth. Do this by following these steps:

  • Hold the pill in one hand, typically in your dominant hand
  • Use your other hand to open your pet’s mouth by pulling up on their upper jaw
  • Gently, but firmly, push the pill into their mouth and insert it as far back on their tongue as you can
  • Quickly closer their mouth and hold it shut with both of your hands around their muzzle
  • Quickly blow gusts of air at their nose and mouth gently 3-5 times to get them to swallow
  • You can also rub their throat gently to try to get them to swallow
  • Let them drink water to make sure the medication gets all the way down their esophagus and into their stomach. You can also use a syringe to slowly and gently instill a small amount of water into their mouth for them to swallow.

**If your pet gets “mouthy” or gives any indication they may try to bite you if you force something in their mouth, DO NOT attempt to give them medicine directly into their mouth. Call your veterinarian and see if there are any other alternative treatments available. The most important thing when medicating pets aside from them getting healthy, is your relationship with them and preventing bites.

Liquid Medications

If you are giving liquid medication, it is usually easier if you sit behind your pet and pull them in towards you with their back pressing against your front-side. You will both be facing the same direction. Hold the medication syringe in your dominant hand. Use your other hand to lift their upper lip up on the side of their mouth. 

Quickly, but gently, push your syringe into the side of their mouth in between their upper and lower arcade of teeth, and push the plunger, instilling the medicine into their mouth. This can oftentimes get messy, as I’m sure you have already experienced. The farther back in their mouth on their tongue you are able to administer the liquid medicine, the less chance you have of your pet just spitting it back out.

As mentioned above, if your pet acts like they may bite, DO NOT try the above mentioned approach. An alternative is mixing in the liquid medication with their favorite treat or food. Canned food works really well for this. You need to make sure your pet eats up all of the food that the liquid medicine is mixed in with, though. 

Ophthalmic Medications (Meds Given into the Eyes)

Giving eye medications can be quite a doozy sometimes, especially if your pet is extra wiggly. Eye drops are usually easier to give than eye ointments, because the drops can come out quicker and are easier to aim. Ointments are more difficult since your pet needs to sit very still with their eye open for you to be able to squeeze it out and aim it onto their eye effectively. 

When applying eye medication to your pet, it is best if you have someone who can help you. One person can restrain your pet, or keep their head still. And you can administer the eye drops. 

However, if you will be putting the medication in their eye by yourself, here is what you’ll need to do:

  • Try sitting behind them, pulling their back into the front-side of you. This will prevent them from moving backwards away from you, as they will have nowhere to go. 
  • Hold the eye medication in your dominant hand and use your other hand to hold their eye open. 
  • Use your thumb and index finger to separate their eyelids with your non-dominant hand.
  • Hold the eye medication bottle to within 1-2 inches of their eye.
  • Quickly squeeze the eye drop or ointment into their eye. 
  • Make sure to not touch their eye with the medication bottle. 
  • Even if the ointment just gets onto the tips of their eyelids, you can gently massage around their eye and eyelids to get it to move into their eye. 
  • Finally, and this is the most important step, give them praise and a yummy treat!!

Otic Medications (Meds Given into the Ears)

dogs need medication

If your pet’s ears are painful, giving ear medication can also be quite a hassle. They may even run from you and hide if they see the ear medication bottle in your hand. If your pet is food motivated, try offering them a really great treat or something that is of high value to them when you administer their ear medication. 

A good thing that works for dogs, for instance, is peanut butter smeared on the dishwasher or in a cup to lick out. The idea is that this will distract them long enough for you to be able to sneak in their ear medication without them putting up a fight. It also provides a source of positive reinforcement so they see the ear medication as not totally a bad thing.

If this doesn’t work, having someone to help you is the next best option. While someone else holds your pet still, you can flip each ear flap back and squeeze the correct amount of ear medication into each ear canal. Then, gently rub the outer aspect of your pet’s ear near the base to help the medication move down into the canal and break up any gunk in your pet’s ears. They probably will lean into this and appreciate the massage.

If you are putting the ear medication in by yourself, and your pet is not easily distracted by good tasting food, follow these steps:

  • As mentioned before, sit behind your pet and pull them in towards you with their back pressed firmly upon your front-side so they cannot wiggle away.
  • Then, with your non-dominant hand hold their ear flap up if they have floppy ears, or just hold their head in place. 
  • With your dominant hand, quickly squeeze the proper amount of ear medication into the ear canal, then massage the base of their ear externally.
  • Repeat for their other ear, if necessary.
  • And don’t forget- give them praise and a tasty treat!!

Injectable Medications (Meds Given by Shot)

Some pets will need to be given injectable medications. If you feel comfortable giving shots, your vet may send you home with antibiotics, vitamin B12, allergy shots, or other medications to give by injection at home. Sometimes these are for short-term needs, while some may require long-term administration. For instance, if your pet was recently diagnosed with diabetes, they may need you to give them injections of insulin for the rest of their life.

Most of these shots will need to be given subcutaneously, which means under the skin. The best place to give an injection under the skin is where the skin is the most loose. For many pets, this is the area in between their shoulder blades, on their back, just behind their neck.

The needle used to give the injection should be very small, so your pet should not feel too much discomfort. Don’t worry, you will not hurt your pet with this small needle, either. If you do feel uncomfortable with this task, talk to your veterinarian about it. They will understand and can work with you to come up with ways to be successful. 

As with the giving the other medications mentioned above, offering your pet a tasty treat or yummy food that they only get at the time of their medication is a good way to get them excited about getting their medicine. It can also work as a great distraction. While they are distracted eating or licking something yummy up, follow these steps:

  • Hold the syringe and needle apparatus in your dominant hand.
  • Use your non-dominant hand to life their skin up where it is most loose.
  • Inject the needle at a 45-degree angle.
  • Pull back on the plunger very slightly to make sure you do not see blood.
  • Then, push the plunger to inject the medication.
  • Give your pet praise, praise, praise!! Hopefully they will be excited about the next time this happens.

If your pet is not distracted by food, you may need someone to help you hold your pet while you give the injection. For cats, you may have to hold them by the scruff to keep them still while you give the injection. Do not worry, this does not hurt them. It merely keeps them still and actually gives them a slight release of endorphins so they feel somewhat secure. 

Giving Medication to a Pet: When to See a Vet

girl with pets

Again, if any of this makes you uncomfortable, or you pet gives any indication of biting, call your veterinarian to discuss alternative options. Do not feel that you have to power through, as the most important thing through all of this is the relationship you have with your pet. 

One more tip:

Choking and poisoning should be the first line of protection for pets taking medication, and your veterinarian’s instructions should be followed to the letter. Pet caregivers should take precaution to avoid pet choking by administering pills when the pet is in a sternal or standing position, never while lying down

Patty Hug, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

Talking to a vet about easier ways to administer medication is a smart choice, especially if your pet is showing other signs related to stress, like lethargy or shaking, whenever you try to give him medication. Your vet might have other tips you can follow to give medication in a pain-free, stress-free way.

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Leslie Brooks graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation she did a one-year intensive rotating clinical internship, with rotations in various specialties. She has been working in small animal clinical medicine ever since and ran her own house call practice for three years. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, son, and cat named Callie. She spends much of her free time volunteering in the community, from Meals on Wheels to working with pets of the homeless and vulnerable. She also loves to travel and read.

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