Giving Oral Medications to Your Pet

oral medication

So you’ve brought your pet home from the vet along with the medicine that the vet prescribed and now you are wondering how you will actually get the medicine down your animal’s throat.

This is a common quandary of many pet owners – one that may not have been covered in the consulting room when you were agreeing to give your pet a pill or liquid three times a day.

Many owners have administered a pill to their pet only to watch them spit it out in multiple saliva-covered fragments a few seconds later. Here are a few tips for getting the job done right:

Administering Oral Tablets/Pills

If your veterinarian says that the pills or tablets can be given with food, this will make your job easier. Simply placing the pill in the middle of a bit of cheese or meat may be a sufficient enough incentive to make your pet swallow the pill. However, if your pet bites into the pill and tastes something bitter, it may spit the pill out.

If giving the tablet in food is no longer an option, or if your veterinarian insists that the tablet be given without food, then the tablet can be given in the following way:

1. Seal off all exits – close any windows and doors. If your animal escapes while you are try to medicate it, it may not be in a hurry to return.

2. If your cat or dog is particularly hyper, wriggly, rambunctious, etc., ask someone to help you restrain it. Trying to give a pill by yourself while your pet is trying to make a run for the door is a recipe for disaster.

3. Place one hand over the top of your pet’s muzzle, with the thumb and forefinger safely placed behind the upper canine teeth. Do not actually place these fingers in the mouth, as you may get bitten.

4. Tilt the animal’s head back while applying gentle pressure with the thumb and forefinger to the sides of the upper jaw. This should have the effect of causing your pet to open its mouth.

5. Holding the pill or capsule with the thumb and forefinger of your free hand, gently pull down the lower jaw with your middle finger. Your middle finger should be placed on the smaller central incisors, not the sharp canine teeth.

6. Place (or pop) the pill as far back on the center of the tongue as possible using your fingers or a pill popper (pill poppers are useful instruments for avoiding getting bitten – they can be purchased from your veterinarian).

7. Close the pet’s mouth immediately and blow on its nose or gently stroke its throat to stimulate swallowing. Once you have seen a swallowing motion, you can release your pet.

8. Pets are cunning! Never underestimate your pet’s ability to secrete the pill in its mouth for some time. Keep an eye on your pet for a minute of two to make sure it does not spit the tablet out again.

9. For cats that are struggling excessively and scratching, it may be helpful to wrap them in a towel. To do this, place a towel flat on a table, and then the cat in the center of the towel. Wrap the towel tightly around the cat (like a burrito), so that all of the limbs are enveloped in the towel and only the head is sticking out (ensure that the towel rests against the cat’s chest and not its throat). Either hold the cat between your knees, or have one person hold the cat in the towel while you give the medication.

Administering Oral Liquids


1. Make a “tent” out of the dog’s cheek by hooking your finger in the skin at the corner of the mouth. Gently pull the skin away from the gum line, forming a pocket.

2. In the pocket that you have made, insert the syringe or dropper.

3. Elevate the dog’s muzzle slightly as you slowly deliver the medication into its mouth. Do not lift the muzzle so that it is pointing straight up – this can result in the liquid entering the windpipe, leading to choking. Placing the liquid in the back of the throat can also cause choking and should be avoided.

4. Remove the syringe and hold the mouth closed.

5. Gently stroking the throat will stimulate swallowing.

6. Do not put more liquid in your dog’s mouth that it can swallow at one time – the excess will probably just drip out.


Since cats do not have jowls like dogs do, the process is slightly different. Go through all of the steps as listed above, but do not use your finger to make a pouch in the cheek.

Simply insert the end of the syringe or dropper into the corner of the mouth and use the end of the syringe/dropper to create the pouch. Liquid medication can then be given as described with the dog.

Rabbits and Guinea Pigs

The dental anatomy of rabbits and guinea pigs actually lends itself to giving them oral medication. The space between their large incisors and their cheek teeth is perfect for administering liquid medicine.

1. Place the rabbit/guinea pig on the table in front of you and lean over it so that your chest prevents movement. It is important to prevent the animal from jumping off the table and injuring itself. Also, rabbits are at risk of breaking their backs if they jump suddenly.

2. Keeping your arms on either side of the animal, place one hand over the animal’s head and use your fingers to retract the lips.

3. Do not tip the animal’s head upwards.

4. With the other hand, insert the syringe or dropper into the space between the incisors and the cheek teeth.

5. Slowly deliver the medication into the mouth, allowing your pet to swallow any medicine in its mouth before putting more liquid in.

(photo: aturkus)