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
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
The following is additional advice I give my clients who must
administer oral, eye, and ear medications to their cats and
dogs at home.
GIVING ORAL MEDICATIONS
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.
GIVING LIQUID MEDICATIONS
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.
ADMINSTERING EYE MEDICATIONS
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.
ADMINSTERING EAR MEDICATIONS
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.
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