Learn How to Administer Medication to Your Pet

By Dr. Bobbie Mammato

An obvious but often overlooked truth about medication is that

it can't work if it isn't given and given correctly. This goes

for people and animals alike.

I've had years of practice to get good at giving pills and

other medications to pets, but the families of many of my

patients often do not know how to perform;or feel comfortable

performing;this critical task.

The family of Piko the cat is a case in point. Piko was

brought into my office because his cornea was scratched during

a fight with another feline. After examining and treating the

cat, I showed his family how to administer ointment to Piko's

injured eye. His owners assured me they understood how to

apply the medication properly, but apparently they didn't.

When they brought Piko back in one week later for his

follow-up exam, the cat's eye was red and runny;sure signs of

an infection.

I asked his family if they were having trouble applying the

ointment, and they admitted that they had given up three days

earlier because Piko just wouldn't sit still for the

treatment. I told them they should have called me when they

began having trouble, and proceeded to teach them how to keep

Piko still by wrapping him in a towel before administering the

eye medicine.

The following is additional advice I give my clients who must

administer oral, eye, and ear medications to their cats and

dogs at home.


First, it is important that your pet is in a sitting position

whenever you administer any oral medication. Never give oral

medications to an animal who is lying down;she could choke.

Never give oral medication to any animal who is having a

seizure or is unconscious, vomiting, or behaving aggressively.

When giving your dog or cat a pill, use one hand to pull the

pet's snout up slightly toward the ceiling. This will force

the lower jaw to drop a bit. Next, using your free hand,

gently pull down on the front most part of the lower jaw and

put the tablet or capsule on your pet's tongue, placing it as

far back into the center of his mouth as possible. Then close

his mouth and hold onto his snout to keep his mouth closed

until he has shown evidence of having swallowed the pill. (You

will either see or feel him swallow or lick his nose.) Gently

stroking a pet's throat or blowing on his nose will sometimes

make him swallow the pill more quickly.

If your pet won't swallow the pill, or if you find it easier

to administer the medication this way, you can hide the pill

in food. But remember, you need to make sure your pet has not

figured out a way to eat the food and spit out the pill. Also,

if your pet is ill, her appetite may be off and she may not

eat all of her food. If the tablet or capsule becomes crushed

or opens, it may make the food taste bitter, causing your pet

to think better of eating it next time.

Be careful of the type of food you hide the pill in. A dog

with Pancreatitis shouldn't eat fatty foods, for example, so

you wouldn't want to give a dog with this condition a pill in

a piece of hot dog or cheese;two of the more common foods that

people tell me they hide pills in.

Some people use a pill gun; to administer medication to a pet

who is extremely resistant to taking pills. These are plastic

tubes that hold the pill and allow you to place it in the back

of the throat without putting your hands in the animal's


If you are trying to give a pill to a squirmy cat, you can

avoid getting scratched by wrapping him in a towel. Leave only

the cat's head exposed, and give the pill either with your

hand or with a pill gun. If your pet is too aggressive to

administer a pill to safely, you will need to let your vet

give the medication. It won't do anyone any good if you get

hurt in the process.


Liquid medications are commonly dispensed for pets, especially

for smaller animals (including puppies and kittens) because

the dose of medication these animals need is often too small

for pills. Some liquid medications need to be refrigerated,

and others should not be, so be sure to read the entire label.

Most liquid medications will need to be shaken before each


Again, your pet should be sitting when you administer liquid

medication. Carefully draw up the dose needed. (Study the

dropper or dose syringe that your vet provides before you

leave the clinic so that you are sure you know how to draw the

exact amount of medication needed.) Put the dropper or dose

syringe into the side of your pet's mouth, just behind the

canine teeth. Press the dropper or dose syringe slowly so that

your pet can easily swallow the medication.


Applying ointment to a pet's eye can be as tricky as giving an

animal oral medications. Remember Piko? His story is all too

common for several reasons. One is that people are often

squeamish when it comes to the eye; many of us don't want to

touch our own eye, let alone our pet's. Another is that it's a

natural reaction to shut your eye if you see something coming

at it, and this is what your pet will do when she sees an

approaching tube of medication. Finally, eye medications must

be administered frequently; often three to four times a day if

they are to work optimally. This is because blinking causes

the medication to wash out of the eye quickly.

If your pet needs eye medication, ask your vet to demonstrate

how to apply it before you leave her office. That way, if you

have any questions, they can be answered before you try to

wrestle with your pet at home. Never feel embarrassed to ask

for a second demonstration, to double-check a dosage, or to

try administering the medication yourself in front of your

vet. Don't forget: Medications that are administered

incorrectly will not work and could harm your pet.

Eye medications generally come in the form of drops or

ointments. The technique for administering either is basically

the same. For big dogs, the easiest way to administer eye

medication is to have the animal sit down, preferably in a

corner to prevent him from backing away. He can also be in a

lying position. For a cat or small dog, the method of wrapping

a towel around the pet can help.

Rest the hand that you are using to administer the medication

on the bone above your pet's upper eyelid. This will help

prevent poking the medication tube or bottle into the eye if

you are jostled. Using your other hand, tilt the animal's head

back slightly and gently pull down on the lower eyelid with

the thumb of that hand.

If you are placing drops, squeeze the appropriate amount into

the eye; if you are using ointment, place a small stripe of

medication right on the eye. Make sure that the tube or bottle

does not touch your pet's eye as you do this.

At first, you may find it easier to have two people perform

this task; one person to hold your pet and one to administer

the medication. If you have any doubts about your pet's

temperament, it is best to put a tight-fitting muzzle on her

while administering the medication.


Ear infections are a common ailment in dogs and cats. Some

breeds are particularly susceptible, including the Cocker

Spaniel. Ear medications come in cream, ointment, and liquid

forms. Some of the liquid medications need to be refrigerated,

so be sure to check your bottle for the correct storage


To administer medication to your pet's ear, stand on the same

side of your pet's body as the ear that you are treating. If

your dog's ear is floppy, lift the ear, and place the

medication in the middle of the ear opening. Next, rub the

base of the ear; this will draw the medication down into the

deeper parts of the ear.

If the medication you are using needs to be refrigerated, it

may feel cold to your pet. So drop the medication in slowly to

allow him to get used to it. If your pet is in a lot of pain

(severely infected ears can be very painful), or if he is

behaving even slightly aggressively, I strongly recommend that

you use a tight-fitting muzzle on the pet. Again, sometimes

this process is easier with two people.

As with any procedure you do with your pet, your safety must

come first. So make sure that you not only know the proper

techniques for administering the medication but that you also

will not get injured in the process.


The information provided here is for educational and

entertainment purposes only. All content is only general pet health information. It is not

specific to your pet and is intended only to facilitate communication between you and your veterinarian. Always consult your own vet for specific advice concerning your own

pet or animal.

©Isabelle Francais

First Class Pet Care
Professional Pet Sitting in your Home

Ashland, Oregon

(541) 488-0608

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