Veterinary medications—whether administered orally or applied topically to the skin, eyes, or ears—help pets recover from illness, manage chronic disease, and prevent parasites. Each pet is an individual, and one may gladly accept medication while another may have a superpowered ability to find pills hidden in a treat, spit out a tablet, or evade capture.
Pet medication aversion can be built into a pet’s personality, or may stem from a previously bad smelling or tasting medication, or the stress experienced during medication administration. Trying to medicate a pet who has had a bad past medication experience can activate their emotional brain center and cause them to overreact without thinking (i.e., an amygdala hijack). If your veterinarian prescribes a medication for your pet to help prevent your furry pal from becoming ill or to help them recover from an illness, read our Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Mobile Services team’s tips to learn how to make the medicating experience easier on your pet—and you.
#1: Hide pet medication in something tasty
When your pet needs an oral medication, first try hiding the drug in something tasty. Commercially available pill pockets and wraps may work for dogs and cats. Xylitol-free peanut butter, cheese, cold cuts, and liver sausage are a few of dogs’ favorites. Cats appreciate canned food, Churu paste, or tuna. Ask your veterinarian if you can crush a tablet and mix the powder in your pet’s food, or if you can squirt liquid medication on the food. To maintain your pet’s interest, you may have to rotate through various foods.
#2: Condition a positive response to pet medications
If your pet runs away when they hear a pill bottle or see their eye or ear medication in your hand, they have a conditioned negative response to medication. Change this to a positive response by pairing the medication bottle or rattling pills’ sound with something your pet truly enjoys—treats, petting, brushing, or a specific toy. Start gradually by having the medication bottle nearby while you and your pet enjoy an activity. Then, hold the pill bottle in your hand while providing positive reinforcement. Next, open the bottle or shake the pills while reinforcing positively. Move slowly through this progression, practicing each step before moving on to the next until your pet comes running when they see the bottle. If you need help with this process, consult a professional trainer.
#3: Control your pet’s pain
Some conditions, notably ear infections, can be extremely uncomfortable for a pet. Painful pets are often extremely resistant to medication administration, developing a long-term negative association that persists after the pain is gone. Ask your veterinarian if they can administer pain or anti-inflammatory medication before your pet leaves the hospital to help them remain comfortable at home.
#4: Ask for long-acting pet medications
Your veterinarian may be able to administer a longer-acting medication while your pet is in the hospital, so you don’t have to struggle with daily medications once your furry pal is home. These long-acting medications are limited, so they cannot replace all necessary medications, but requesting them is worthwhile. The most commonly used long-acting formulations are injectable antibiotics, allergy medications, steroid anti-inflammatories, and a feline arthritis medication. Keep in mind that long-acting medication formulations may be more costly or associated with increased side effects.
#5: Ask for compounded pet medications
Compounded medications can be extremely helpful for difficult pets. A compounding pharmacy is licensed to use bulk medicines to create unique administration formulas and dosages. If your pet picks around pills, you can try the same medication in a liquid, chewable, dissolving, or transdermal (i.e., skin-absorbing) formulation. Not every medication can be compounded, and because of potential absorption variations, some veterinarians are wary about them. However compounded pet medications are an excellent alternative to no medication.
#6: Ask your veterinarian for a medicating demonstration
If your pet has a serious medical condition requiring immediate medication, you may not have time to work on positive associations. In this case, ask your veterinarian to show you low-stress handling techniques, such as towel wrapping, to make medicating your pet safer and easier at home. If you have never had to administer a pet’s medication, ask your veterinary team to demonstrate how to give eye, ear, or oral medications properly.
Administering medication to your pet can be a challenge if they become stressed or spit out pills. However, you do not have to suffer in silence if you’re having trouble medicating your pet at home. For a pet medicating demonstration or additional tips on administering your furry pal’s medications, contact our Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Mobile Services team.
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