Dogs and cats vs. pills
Dogs and cats are attracted to the smell and taste of many different things, but pill-flavored pet food isn’t one of them. A few, precious pets will voluntarily swallow a pill. Other dogs and cats are willing to ignore the pill if it’s masked in food. But at the end of the day, most pets don’t like being induced to take pills.
Read on to learn more about methods you may have tried, as well as a potential solution.
Follow the Directions
While some pet owners crush pills and mix them with food, this should never be attempted without first asking a veterinarian. Some formulations rely on the pill or capsule to remain intact to be effective and safe, while other medications are not to be given with food at all. Crushing a pill may also leave a medicinal smell in the room or on your hands that especially sensitive pets will notice.
Escape and Evasion
Treat or no treat, some dogs (and most cats) are having absolutely none of this pill business. At the first rattle of a foil pack, a 90-lb Labrador Retriever may run away and hide in a space where a cat couldn’t turn around. Then there’s the “safecracker,” who skillfully separates food from medicine and holds it for a minute before spitting it out. Pursuing or restraining a distressed pet will only escalate the problem.
Dogs and cats also pick up on their owners’ unsettling change in behavior when it’s time for a pill. When we reach for the pet medications, we often act sneaky, overly nice, unexpectedly bossy or even nervous.
The ASPCA recommends gradual conditioning for highly resistant pets, where the ratio of good experiences to bad experiences is high: “For every real pill you give him, he should receive a minimum of 20 ‘treat pills,'" although not all at one time.5
When the treat method fails, owners have to gird themselves for battle and put the pill directly in the pet’s mouth. (Wearing an old leather jacket is recommended for pilling cats, as well as swaddling the cat in a towel or small blanket.) Next, the most successful “pill pushers” hold the jaws closed with one hand while returning the head to a normal position and gently stroking the nose or throat downward to encourage swallowing. Gently blowing into the nostrils does not put the pet at ease, but this tactic has been known to induce a swallowing reflex.
When the dog or cat licks his nose, he has probably swallowed the pill. Now it’s time for a pill-free treat as a reward or peace offering—if your pet is still in the room.
End the pilling routine once and for all
The No-Pill Option
All of the above techniques, however, will not eliminate an underlying risk. Some medicines, such as antibiotics that treat common bacterial skin infections, may not work as effectively if doses are given sporadically or incompletely.
The antidote to this challenge requires no food tricks, furniture moving or undignified wrestling matches. Some veterinary medicines are formulated as chewable tablets, oral drops or even injections. Injections need to be administered in a clinic, but they may last longer than an oral dose. This is especially helpful for administering antibiotics during a brief period of treatment.
In any case, you should always let your veterinarian know if you have serious difficulty pilling your dog or cat.