How to Give Your Dog a Pill

Most experts suggest that you give your dog a pill in food. But what if you can’t use food? Here’s how to administer pills with or without hiding them in food.


Convincing a dog to swallow pills that smell suspicious, taste bitter, and feel unpleasant can be a challenge. Forcing a dog to swallow a pill can result in a bite or disrupt a human-canine relationship. What’s the best approach?

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  1. Hiding the medicine in food. Of course, you have to use the right food – and there are some tricks to hiding it convincingly.
  2. Use pill pockets. You can use the commercial products (such as these from Greenies), or you can make them from scratch yourself.
  3. Try a “pill gun” – a device that makes it easier to get the pill past your dog’s teeth and released into the very back of his mouth, where it will be more difficult to avoid swallowing it.
  4. Ask your veterinarian’s staff to demonstrate their technique, so you can give that a try.

Best Foods for Hiding Medications 

Some of the most effective pill-hiding foods are:

  • Soft cheese, goat cheese, or cream cheese
  • Raw or cooked ground beef or other meat
  • Hot dog pieces
  • Soft spreads like liverwurst
  • Nut butters
  • Pureed pumpkin
  • Mashed strongly flavored fish like sardines or mackerel

If using a prepared food, check its label to be sure it doesn’t contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs such as onions or xylitol.

How to Effectively Hide Pills in Food

  • Pack the cheese, meat, or other treat around the pill, but not while your dog is watching. Create a morsel large enough to surround the pill but small enough for your dog to swallow whole. Biting into a bitter-tasting pill can ruin your dog’s attachment to any treat, even a favorite.
  • Another strategy is to learn whether a pill can be crushed without harming its medicinal properties. If so, try crushing it in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or hammer, then mix the powdered bits into canned or pureed wet food.
  • Wash your hands after handling the medication. Dogs’ noses are so sensitive, your pup will recognize the medication’s fragrance if you don’t.

Tricks for Getting Your Dog to Eat the Hidden Medicines

  • Pretend to eat the medicated treat yourself. Everything you eat is of interest to your dog and he’ll want some, too.
  • If you have another dog, set up a rewards session and feed treats to both of them. Most dogs eat everything faster when there’s potential competition.
  • Give your dog five treats in quick succession with the treat that holds the pill somewhere in the middle. Your dog won’t have time to do anything but swallow the next treat.
  • If you use pill pockets, offer one from time to time that contains only a special treat with no pills. This will make pill pockets less suspicious.
  • Administer pills immediately before a fun activity like going for a walk, running in the yard, or playing an indoor game. Soon your dog will associate medication time with play time.

Try pill pockets

These hollow treats are designed to hold tablets or capsules. One popular brand is Greenies Pill Pockets, which come in four flavors (chicken, cheese, hickory smoke, and peanut butter).

For pockets with minimal ingredients, try making your own by mixing 1/4 cup water, milk, or bone broth with 1/4 cup peanut or almond butter (made without salt or sugar) and 1/2 cup wheat or gluten-free flour. Roll 1/2 teaspoon dough into balls and use the round tip of a wooden spoon or chopstick to form a pill-sized indentation in each ball. Refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months.

Pill Poppers or Pill Guns

To give your dog a pill without food, try a pill popper or pill gun. Available from vet clinics and pet supply stores, this syringe-like tool drops a tablet or capsule through a tube into your dog’s mouth. See the Lxnoap Pet Pill Gun at Amazon and other suppliers. Load it with a pill, gently open your dog’s mouth, and drop the pill at the back of the throat. Follow with a small amount of water and massage your dog’s throat to encourage her swallowing reflex. Then check her mouth to be sure it’s gone as some dogs are clever about hiding pills and then spitting them out when no one’s looking.

When All Else Fails…

If your dog is still resisting, ask your veterinarian for help. Vet techs are pilling experts and can give you a detailed demonstration, or your vet may be able to supply the medication in a different form, such as liquid or flavored, that is easier to administer.