Whole Dog Journal's Blog June 29, 2016

Pill Problems: Keep Your Dog Away from Those Meds

Posted at 11:58AM - Comments: (27)

Recently, I dog-sat two little dogs for a friend who went on vacation for just over a week. I like to think of myself as a competent dog owner and foster-care provider, but I experienced just about every sort of problem with medicating one of the dogs that a person can imagine. I have an excuse: I also have three of my own dogs, 12 foster dogs (mother Great Dane and her 11 puppies), and my son’s dog staying with me while he travels for his sport, so I was a TAD distracted, but even so.

Pill Problem 1

Aforesaid Great Dane got the pills down off a shelf in the kitchen that I thought was high enough, and managed to open one bottle, which contained a chewable form of medication, and ate them ALL. I have been through this once before; a few years ago, I fostered a Labrador who swiped a bottle of chewable medication off my kitchen counter and ate them all, costing me a pretty penny at the emergency vet clinic in the middle of the night. Given that the Great Dane foster has already scored butter, bread, and a few other things off my counter, I HAD put the pills on a high shelf – just not high enough.

Given that the Dane weighs 96 pounds, and the Chihuahua that the medication was prescribed for weighs less than 10 pounds, and because the dose was low and the bottle wasn’t full, no harm was done. Except that I had to call my friend’s vet and confess to my incompetence (because I had to buy more medication), which sucks because she’s MY vet, too.

Chewed Pill Bottle

Be especially careful with chewable meds; dogs will go to great lengths to get to them.

Pill Problem 2

My friend had left written instructions: twice a day, the little dog was to receive one of those pills, one of these other yellow pills, and of yet another pill which was white. One evening, in dim light, I couldn’t tell which ones where white and which were yellow, so I looked at the labels – which BOTH said, “Give pill twice daily.” I should have looked at the labels when my friend had given them to me! It took me a day to reach my friend, who was easily able to clarify that the vet had increased the dose of that one medication recently, though my friend still had some of the bottle whose label indicated the old dose. Moral of that story: Make sure any medications you receive are clearly and accurately labeled, or re-labeled!

Pill Problem 3

I was to give the pills to the Chihuahua in a small piece of thick bologna. Every once in a while, the Chihuahua chewed into a pill and spit it out. I watched carefully and was able to re-administer the pill in another piece of bologna. Except for the time that she spit out the chewable pill and my friend’s OTHER little dog dove for it and swallowed it. I saw the pill hit the floor and saw the other dog dive, but even though I let out a yell and grabbed for him quickly, he was quicker. Moral: Don’t allow any other dogs to stand around looking to mooch a piece of bologna, lest they grab a pill!

I’m not going to be hanging out my shingle for boarding other people’s dogs any time soon. That was nerve-wracking. But apparently, not enough to prevent one further error.

Pill Problem 4

I’ve been keeping the mother Great Dane I’ve been fostering apart from her puppies for the past 10 days or so. She needs to be spayed so she can get adopted, and her milk needs to be all dried up before she can get spayed. The puppies don’t need it anymore, though they still try to grab ahold of her any chance they get. They also jump up at her face, and she – SUCH a good mom that she is – she always obliges by regurgitating any food she happens to have recently consumed. And the puppies dive into the pile of wet food. Yum! It’s a completely natural, instinctive thing – it’s how mama dogs bring food home from the hunt for their babies – and of course, gross by our standards.

It has developed that the mom and the puppies were infested with worms (round worms and tape worms), but even after deworming, they have had persistent but intermittent diarrhea, and have not been gaining weight as nicely as they ought. The vet tech at the shelter asked me to bring in some fecal samples, and it was discovered that they all had coccidia, too. (This is a protozoal parasite that can be transmitted via the fecal-oral route . . . say mom has it and the puppies step in her poop and lick their feet.) We treated the whole family for that, but the diarrhea persisted . . . and so we tested for giardia (another protozoal parasite that can be transmitted via the fecal-oral route), and they all had that, too. So I am currently giving all of them meds twice a day for five days.

Great Dane Litter

Waiting their turn to be seen by the shelter's vet

The other evening, I had mom in the living room, where I gave her the meds. Then I let the puppies into the kitchen from the backyard, stepped over the baby gate, and put mom out into the backyard via a side door. Then I gave the puppies their meds, one at a time, putting each one over the baby gate from the kitchen into the living room as I administered their medicine. Only, I had one dose of medicine left over. I counted puppies again, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,6, 7, 8 9, 10 . . . Where is puppy 11? I look out the window, and there is the mom and puppy 11 . . . eating the food – and meds – that mommy just obligingly regurgitated for him onto the ground. When I let the puppies in, I hadn’t counted carefully enough, and one was still outside. I ran out there, and made the mom and the pup back away from the pile of vomitus, and poked through it myself – fun! but it was too late to see or know. Had she vomited the pills? Eaten them again herself? Did the puppy get them instead? Without making them both vomit, there was no way to know. Shamefully, I had to call the vet tech at the shelter and confess to yet one MORE person that I had screwed up – and what should I do now?

She assured me that there is a LARGE margin of safety with that particular medicine, and that even though the mom’s dose was much higher than the puppy’s, even if the puppy ate all the mom’s meds, he would be fine; but we should add another dose to the end of the mom’s protocol.

So – whew – I somehow skated again, not killing anyone, and not having to go to the emergency vet, but I’m sure not proud. I hope, at least, you can learn from my mistakes. I hope to do so!

What sort of medicine administration errors can you help other dog owners avoid?

Comments (27)

My 80 pound male Collie takes thyroid medication. I also take thyroid medication. Medication must be taken on empty stomach. So first thing in the morning, as soon as I get out of bed, I take my thyroid pill. I also give my dog his thyroid pill. His pill is blue (supposedly for canines only). My pill is white. You probably know where this is going. Yes, in my half awake stupor, I took "my" pill; turned around and looked for the blue pill to give the dog and realized I had taken it. Called poison control and they said I should be OK although it was a higher dose. Told me to watch for any nervousness or anxiety and they'd check on my later (and they did). The dog got his blue pill, but now he's one pill short. I watched myself all day for any signs of the urge to bark or lift my leg. LOL

Posted by: JoySueJ | August 27, 2016 3:07 PM    Report this comment

I have a Great Dane, too, and she is the pickiest eater and pill hater. She does love her Heartworm, though, and I giver her those as "treats" after getting her flea/tick meds.

But she won't TAKE pills. I've tried lunch meats, cheese, honey, sour cream (hates anything sour including yogurt,) Braunschweiger/Liverwurst and Pill Pockets. Nothing works. I have to forcefully open her mouth (not easy on a GD) and place it far back on her tongue and hold her mouth closed until I see her tongue...usually a good sign she swallowed. She gets a treat afterward but sometimes I feel like I'M the one who needs a treat. (sigh) WDJ, you have my heartfelt sympathy. I couldn't handle a houseful of pets who all need pills.

Posted by: Pommette | July 3, 2016 2:17 PM    Report this comment

Yep, pills & pills in bottles belong in drawers, locked cabinets or in something like the fridge (provided the dog has NOT learned to open it). We find putting pills in raw hamburger or cooked sweet potato pieces, works for us.

I will almost not bother to mention how one Weimaraner foster home, keeps much of their counter stuff (like bread) in their microwave. Forget the stove! We've already HAD a two-some (working in tandem) pull OUT a cooking turkey breast (in a baking bag) from an operating oven. The foster parent had gone to vote & left it cooking.

We assume the dogs jumped ON the stove & the door came down, under their weight. We also "assume" they grabbed the bag & pulled the turkey & its pan, OUT of the oven (without burning themselves). The pan was found on the kitchen floor. They took the turkey breast to the front door's, Oriental RUG => to have their picnic.

Do NOT under-estimate foster dogs, or HUNGRY mother dogs, esp if you are cutting BACK on their FOOD, to dry their milk UP or to take excess weight OFF. Try adding green beans or green veggies (pureed or formerly frozen collards or kale) in place of the kibble.

Posted by: Betsy | July 3, 2016 12:41 PM    Report this comment

ah, sorry, WDJ has addressed the need for MDR1 testing, in Dec. 2012 issue, "Dogs With a Drug Problem."

Posted by: Jency | July 2, 2016 10:56 AM    Report this comment

sorry, just as a "p.s.," I hope WDJ will write an article about MDR1 soon, and the importance of testing all herding breeds (and mixes). I'm amazed how many dog guardians I meet, who are going so far above and beyond for their dogs, yet haven't done this test. Even guardians of pure-bred herding breeds. The few times I've asked, the owners often say that, no, they haven't done the test, because their dog hasn't had an adverse reaction to Heartgard (or some other ivermectin-containing preventative), so they "assume" she doesn't have the gene. Please know that, even homozygous MDR1 dogs, and certainly heterozygous dogs, might not react negatively to the low dosages in Heartgard. The lack of an adverse response to heart worm preventatives doesn't mean the dog lacks the gene. On the long list of drugs that can trigger an adverse reaction, some are the types of drugs you'd want to administer quickly, and you might not have time to wait around for the MDR1 test results (which in my experience, took almost two weeks to receive -- WSU is awesome, very professional and thorough, but the test simply takes some time). I hope folks will consider giving themselves, and their vets, some peace of mind, by having this test result in their dog's medical file.

Posted by: Jency | July 2, 2016 10:41 AM    Report this comment

just a comment, on another's excellent comment:

>One thing that Australian Shepherd owners as well as some other herding breed >owners need to be aware of is that they may not be able to have ivermectin. That >ingredient is in Heartgard wormer for dogs. Some herd dog breeds cannot >metabolize that medication. Our Aussie happens to be one that can't have it. We >found out the hard way after our vet said it was probably OK to give it to her.

This is such an important word of warning, related to medication errors in herding breeds.

Rather than learning the hard way (bad response to a common drug, such as ivermectin), PLEASE have your herding breed dog (or mixed breed, if you think part of the mix is herding breed) tested for the MDR1 gene. Please see site below [## symbols entered because links not allowed in comments. hopefully the moderator will allow this. Just DELETE ## symbols before entering into your browser.]


In addition to ivermectin, there are many other drugs that are dangerous for dogs with this gene (chemotherapy agents, etc). Also, while being homozygous for MDR1 causes more extreme outcomes, even being heterozygous for this gene can cause problems. I think dogs who are heterozygous might be able to tolerate ivermectin, but that's no guarantee they can tolerate the other drugs in question.

I had both of my rescue BC mixes tested, for peace of mind. The test is very simple and inexpensive, compared to the alternative, of unknowingly giving drugs to a dog who can't metabolize those drugs.

Posted by: Jency | July 2, 2016 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Have tried numerous methods for pilling over the years. Eventually, most dogs got smart and would not take pills no matter what I put them in. The solution for me was to coat the pill in honey and place it on the back of the dog's tongue. My 2 Chihuahuas love this method and run to me whenever they see the pills and honey coming out. It's a quick and painless method.

Posted by: Kosmom | July 1, 2016 6:39 AM    Report this comment

...Those Dane puppies are adorable, I admittedly have major Dane Desire!

...Drugs and Dogs, keeping the humility in humans for centuries.

Posted by: K9srule | June 30, 2016 10:34 PM    Report this comment

Also, everybody should know that you should always check whether your meds have foods that they don't work well with. I was using the antibiotic Doxycycline - on a post-surgical wound hospital infection. The bottle said give with food. The bacteria culture analysis said it should work and it was the only safe antibiotic that would, but it just wasn't working. Turns out that calcium binds doxycycline. To really do its job you have to give it separately from any dairy, or raw bones, and from what I see on the labels, even regular dog food would probably interfere somewhat. Luckily while we were discussing alternatives, the vet clued in and asked if I had been administering it with cheese. (Actually I hadn't but when he mentioned this I asked why and he told me about the Calcium binding.) - Lots of things beyond cheese have calcium and once I spaced the medication away from meal time, the infection cleared up quickly.

Posted by: Leannelf | June 30, 2016 9:02 PM    Report this comment

So nice to hear that even you, Nancy, run into these ridiculous situations!

Posted by: RhondaK | June 30, 2016 6:05 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, I had to laugh, not at you, but the circumstances. I would relate some horror story, but my current batch of dogs are so good at taking pills, I can just toss them like a treat and down they go. I usually wrap them in deli sliced lunch meat, but if I am out or in a hurry, they get a bare pill.

My wife had a problem of a dog taking an Ambien she dropped. Luckily, she breaks them in half, so only a half went down the hatch. We had to keep the dog awake for a few hours to make sure she was going to be okay. Since she weighs in around 35-40 pounds it wasn't an overdose situation.

Posted by: Randorita | June 30, 2016 5:47 PM    Report this comment

It is supplement city at my house - mostly for liver & joint issues. Because my dogs are raw fed, I mostly use turkey hearts. The are nature's pill pockets... if you don't have access to them, most grocery stores will order chicken hearts for you. They make great pill pockets too. The dogs just swallow them.

I also use the soft goat cheese I get at Costco. It's cheap & easier on the dogs system than cow cheese. & the dogs just swallow that too.

& I've learned to be very careful when medicating. I've accidently given a larger dog's monthly heartworm dose to a smaller dog. Turned out to be ok but now I do one dog at a time.

Love these stories!!!!!

Posted by: Scamp's mom | June 30, 2016 1:06 PM    Report this comment

I was cutting my own pills in half and accidentally bumped two halves onto the floor. Our 10 lb. Havanese was immediately on them. They disappeared. We panicked. Long story short, he ended up at the emergency vet, had a charcoal lavage, came home with dark charcoal all over his white face. He was fine. We moved furniture and looked thoroughly and found one pill half. Next day, I discovered the other half in the cuff of my pants. Moral of the story: keep human medication preparation, counting, pill boxing, etc., in an area safe from pets at all times! I am starting to do the same with unsafe foods. My husband likes trail mix with raisins. He drops bits as he eats. I am thinking about putting a moratorium on his trail mix at home.

Posted by: MiPups | June 30, 2016 12:40 PM    Report this comment

I know it's not "funny" in the sense of "ha ha," but I smiled while reading and appreciated the sharing of these incidents. I foster puppies and administering pills/meds was a hassle. Now, as part of their "training," the command "open" is taught. At first, it's just my hand over their muzzle with slight pulling pressure on the "lips," along with the command, and an immediate treat. It escalates in a few days to a 1-2 second "hold" open, and continues until they will "hold" as long as I want (within reason, of course, and not do that head jerking). It really pays off. As an aside, one of my Great Danes had a fox tail in his tonsil. We were able to keep his mouth open (without his fighting it), and the vet's long medical instrument got it out on the second try--it was slippery by then) and avoid tranquilizing him. Anyway, your story brought all this back. Thanks!

Posted by: Dane Lover 2 | June 30, 2016 12:25 PM    Report this comment

I use pill pockets no fighting she swallows them right up

Posted by: Dorecia | June 30, 2016 11:46 AM    Report this comment

I have really good luck putting pills in "Whipped" peanut butter. (Peter Pan brand). Something about the whipped peanut butter is extra sticky, and the pills go down and cannot be spit out. I also will crush up pills and mix them with sour cream, which my "cranky old man" Yorkie will always lick up. I actually have daily pill containers for my 3 Yorkies, as they each get medication twice a day. Now never forget who got what!! Thanks for all your great suggestions and experience.
I love WDJ!! PS - Any suggestions on how to go about putting Yorkies on a raw food diet? One of them is on a prescription diet for bladder stones. Thanks!!

Posted by: Barb911 | June 30, 2016 11:15 AM    Report this comment

Here's one for the horsey/dog crowd.....

I have an austrailian shepherd. We don't let her out around our horses too much but if we do let her out at the barn we closely watch her. One thing that Australian Shepherd owners as well as some other herding breed owners need to be aware of is that they may not be able to have ivermectin. That ingredient is in Heartgard wormer for dogs. Some herd dog breeds cannot metabolize that medication. Our Aussie happens to be one that can't have it. We found out the hard way after our vet said it was probably OK to give it to her.

Anyway, ivermectin is also used as a wormer for horses but obviously in much higher doses. Anyone who has horses and dogs knows how much dogs love to eat horse poop! They love it! After a horse is wormed with ivermectin it continues to be excreted in their poop for about 8 days. Of course, we never thought about our Aussie eating horse poop and getting ivermectin through it. thankfully, we caught on in time before damage was done. So, make sure if you worm your horses, your dogs don't get a huge dose of wormer by enjoying a snack on horse poop.

Posted by: Gracey | June 30, 2016 10:54 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing. You really had your hands full. The puppies are adorable. I have a Grate Dane. I will take your experience to heart. We are
Continuously learning!

Posted by: Colleen McCreagh | June 30, 2016 10:34 AM    Report this comment

I've used lunch meat to wrap pills, but they can eat around the pill and spit it out. Cream cheese seems to work best for me now.

Posted by: clangfor | June 30, 2016 10:27 AM    Report this comment

I have a lab/American bulldog mix who HATES pills and seems to be able to spot them in anything. If I try to manually pill her, I will usually find the pill on the floor later, as she seems to be able to regurgitate them even after I've assured myself that she's swallowed. I've found that if I have her sit and look up at me, then give her the pill in something that doesn't require much chewing (raw hamburger works best) then she will usually swallow without encountering the pill. I was also told by a vet tech to handle the pill as little as possible when putting it in the treat because they can smell the pill on the treat. I try to put the pill in the hamburger one-handed and use the other to give her the treat.

Posted by: MJC | June 30, 2016 10:25 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing - I'm sure that wasn't the easiest thing to do but it's really helpful so that some of us may avoid the same mistakes. You're a good mom!

Posted by: vboisen | June 30, 2016 10:23 AM    Report this comment

Reading your confessions brought a smile to my heart and a great deal of empathy for your situation. Thank goodness I have no tales to tell, but I know that having that many animals in ones care, like having children, takes a lot of emotional and mental strength--GOOD JOB! I just have one question: What do you do in your *spare* time? lol

Posted by: Doris Muller | June 30, 2016 10:00 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing to help the rest of us! I love Maya Angelou's quote: Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." Keep up all the good work you do!!

Posted by: Blue2Bones05 | June 30, 2016 9:34 AM    Report this comment

you are the nicest person in the world to care for all those dogs!!! thank God for people like you!

Posted by: Boss | June 30, 2016 9:17 AM    Report this comment

My mother-in-law's dog gets arthritis medicine daily in a spoonful of peanut butter. The medicine always makes the dog drowsy for whatever reason. Well, when my MIL was having eye surgery done, she insisted that she could take care of herself despite being mostly blind. When she went to administer the dog's medication one day, the pill dropped in the peanut butter. She simply got another pill and gave it to the dog. Forgetting this had happened, she later made herself a peanut butter sandwich. We never did find the pill, but she said she slept quite soundly that afternoon!

Posted by: Stephenie D | June 30, 2016 9:16 AM    Report this comment

oh my goodness, what an ordeal! A series of such truly honest mistakes! thanks for sharing, as it will help others avoid similar situations. If those were the only mistakes, it sounds like you're doing AMAZINGLY well, given how many dogs - all with different needs - that you're caring for. It's a lot to take on a friend's dogs as well, under those circumstances.

you asked about other errors... for supplements, I've learned it's crucial to read the back label -- the amount per pill. Often the amount on the front label (e.g., "200 mg") involves taking more than one pill (e.g., taking two pills, at 100 mg each). I gave my dog a supplement at 200 mg/day, used a brand where each pill had 200 mg, switched brands, new brand said 200 mg on the front, but each pill was just 100 mg. Why would they put 200 mg on the front?? Not a big deal, and noticed it after a few days (just happened to read the back).

Posted by: Jency | June 30, 2016 8:46 AM    Report this comment

No place is EVER high enough. Put pills in drawers or cabinets. After 12 years of ER work, I could tell stories for hours.

Posted by: Kitti | June 30, 2016 8:44 AM    Report this comment

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