Published: June 21, 2022  

Last updated: February 6, 2024  

There comes a time in every dog’s life when they will need to take a pill as a health supplement or for an illness. The tricky part is that most dogs don’t like to swallow a pill.

If you find yourself in a situation your dog needs to take his medicine in pill form, and your dog has no intention of swallowing that pill, don’t fret, I’ve got you covered.

Most recently, our dog Thunder was taking a liver support supplement after a routine blood test showed elevated ALT levels. I tried every trick in the book to get him to take those pills and let me tell you he’s a smarty pants. Half the time he’d spit the pill out, even if covered in peanut butter!

small black dog sniffing a pill

How to get a dog to take a pill

The easiest way to get a dog to take a pill is to smother in food that they can’t resist.

If you have a stubborn or smarty pants dog like ours, they may figure out how to eat the food surrounding the pill all while spitting out the pill.

If that is the case, try rotating the type of food, so the dog doesn’t anticipate a particular food, like peanut butter, equals pill time.

Keep reading for ideas on the best foods to hide your dog’s pills in.

Here are 9 tricks to get your stubborn dog to take their pills:

  1. Smelly foods – wrap the pill in irresistible foods (see list below). This depends on your dog, what food gets them excited? The smellier the food the better.
  2. Switch and bait – start with a few plain treats, then a treat with the pill, then end with another plain treat.
  3. Head position– Another trick I found success with our dog was to hold the treat/pill up so the dog needs to raise the head, then quickly follow up with a plain treat. The position of the head encourages swallowing, and the plain treat will keep the dog swallowing.
  4. Game of toss – if your dog enjoys catching his treats, make a game out of it and toss a few plain treats, then the pill/treat. Always end with the plain treat to ensure they swallow the pill.
  5. Training time – don’t make “medication time” a thing… keep it fun with a short training session. Just a few minutes of training a day goes a long way.
  6. Siblings – if you have other dogs in the house, give them both treats at the same time. Many times, they don’t want to drop that treat for fear of the other dog will eat it. Do not attempt with a resource aggressive dog.
  7. Pill gun – this little device may help get the pill into your dog’s mouth far enough he has to swallow.
  8. Ask your vet – check to see if a chewable or liquid form is available.
wet dog food can, peanut butter, pill pockets, banana, American cheese

Best foods to hide dog pills in

Soft and smelly are the best foods to hide your dog’s pill.

How to give a dog a pill with food

Hiding a pill in your dog’s food may be the easiest way to get them to take medication.

If your dog picks the pill out of his food or eats around it, try smothering the pill in smelly food like peanut butter, soft dog food, or canned tuna.

Our dogs get a little water mixed in their meals, along with a probiotic and sometimes pumpkin powder. So, I make sure the pill gets the flavoring of these tasty additions, which helps mask the pill.

With our dog, I found Pill Pockets to be the easiest and most convenient way to give him his pills every day. It was the least messy, and he loved the chicken and peanut butter flavors.

How to give a dog a pill with peanut butter

Smothering the pill in peanut butter is a quick way to get your dog to take a pill. I found this method a little messy, but our dog certainly loved it.

  1. Take a spoon full of peanut butter
  2. Coat the pill
  3. Stick it in your dog’s mouth
  4. Let your dog lick the spoon after giving them the pill to ensure they swallow the pill
  5. Supply fresh water to wash down that sticky peanut butter

How to give a dog a pill without food

If your dog’s medication requires them to take it on an empty stomach, or your dog won’t eat, then a food carrier may not be an option.

Check with your vet to see if it’s okay to use a pill pocket if an empty stomach is required.

If your dog allows you to, stick the pill as far back inside his mouth as you possibly can. Then while holding his mouth closed, massage the throat to encourage the swallow reflex.

You may also consider a pill gun to help get the pill far enough back in your dog’s mouth.

How to give a dog a pill without getting bit

Talk with your vet if your dog becomes aggressive while trying to give him a pill and you are worried about getting bit.

You may need to take a step back and assess the situation from your dog’s point of view. Watch the body language.

Is your dog afraid because you are attempting to force the pill in his mouth?

Are you leaning over your dog?

Is the dog being cornered or closed in a small room?

Fear is a strong emotion for a dog. Try to create a calm and force-free environment.

Try hiding the pill in something like the Pill Pockets™ or another soft food that your dog can’t resist.

As a last resort, you may consider using a pill gun.

group of pill gun syringes

Pet pill guns and how they work

Using a pill gun may help to get the pill down your dog’s throat, but again, I recommend force being the last option when all else fails.

Check to make sure the pills will fit inside the pill gun, as sizes vary.

You will still need to be able to open your dog’s mouth enough to insert the syringe of the pill gun toward the back of the mouth. So, if your dog will not allow you to open his mouth safely, a pill gun may not be the best option.

Steps to using a pill gun with your dog’s medication:

  1. Insert the pill into the pill gun
  2. Pull back on the plunger of the gun
  3. Open the dog’s mouth enough to insert the pill gun towards the back of the throat.
  4. Push the plunger and release the pill into the back of the dog’s throat.
  5. Hold the dog’s mouth closed.
  6. Massage the throat until the pill is swallowed.

Dogs and pills conclusion

We never want our dogs to be sick and need medication, but it happens. So don’t be afraid when your dog needs to take a pill, and hopefully one of our tips and tricks will help make it easier for both of you.

Always talk with your vet if your dog struggles with taking medication. They may have alternatives to the pill or other suggestions for you. Never skip doses, as that could cause more harm.

Remember to watch your dog’s body language, find their favorite smelly treat, relax and have fun with this. The more you stress, the more the dog will stress.

Please share your experiences in the comments below and share any additional tricks that work for you and your dog!

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About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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