It is possible to teach most pets to tolerate or even enjoy taking a medication in the form of a tablet, capsule or liquid. This is particularly a great skill to teach young puppies and kittens so they are comfortable when they need medication later on but even an adult dog or cat can be taught to receive medication well. By taking extra time to desensitise them to this process, you’ll ensure future administrations of medications are stress-free for you and your pet.
Before attempting to directly administer medication to your pet, try one of these options first:
- Hide it! Many pets will consume a capsule or tablet hidden in food such as cream cheese, peanut butter, frankfurts or cheese.
- Ask us if you can crush it. Some medications can be crushed and mixed with tinned tuna or wet food.
- Try the 1,2,3,4 trick! Prepare a few meatballs of your pet’s yummiest flavour and feed them by hand in quick succession with the 3rd meatball containing the medication.
- Rethink strong odours or bitter tastes. Some medications such as antibiotics taste terrible and it might be worth speaking to us about disguising the smell or taste such as placing it in a gelatin capsule or compounding it into a flavoured solution. Use caution when hiding some of these strong medications in food as they may teach your pet to avoid the food in the future.
Still struggling? Then it might be time to consider desensitising your pet to direct administration of a medication. Follow these steps:
- Setup a comfortable quiet treatment area with a nonslip surface. This might be a rug, table or even your lap.
- Ensure the pet is comfortable going to this area. Give them a special treat in that spot frequently before even giving any medications to ensure they have a positive association with that spot.
- Once the pet is comfortable going to the treatment area practice approaching their face frequently giving rewards when they respond positively.
- If the pet is showing no avoidance or fear, progress to touching their face over the muzzle and forehead with a finger either side of their mouth. Continue the frequent rewards when they accept this handling.
- Begin to touch their face and guide their head back. As above, continue the rewards!
- Once they are comfortable with this repeat but use the hand not holding their head to touch the front of their lower jaw. Continue rewards.
- Repeat step six but as you touch the lower jaw, open their mouth slightly and place the treat in their mouth.
- Continue to practice this with treats, opening their mouth wider and holding the position for longer each time. Your pet should then be relaxed in this position for medicating.
- For medicating, repeat these steps but instead of placing the treat in the mouth, place the medication. For tablets or capsules ensure they are placed as far back in the oral cavity as possible to encourage swallowing. Following placement of the medication, continue to hold the mouth closed for a few more seconds to encourage swallowing instead of spitting out. Rubbing their throat gently may also encourage swallowing.
- Where possible follow medicating with a treat.
Topical treatments are often required such as preventative flea or tick products, cleaning or medicating ears, administering eye drops or ointments of even giving injections. These should be approached in the same way as any other medication that is with the goal of your pet being not bothered by the process or even enjoying it! Here are some extra pointers:
- Distract! Food is the best distraction. Smear some peanut butter, cream cheese or tuna juice on a wall or table and whilst they lick it off apply the treatment. Use a second person to hand feed these treats if it’s easier for example whilst applying eye ointments.
- Consider pain. If the process is painful for your pet speak to us. Pain is not going to make the experience fear-free and should be dealt with.
- For desensitising to ear cleaning or preventatives, follow the same approach as above for handling faces for medicating i.e. use plenty of positive reinforcement and a gradual build up to the actual event once the pet is comfortable.