There will be times when you need to give your dog medication — and that can be a tricky task, especially if you’ve never done it before or if he is uncooperative. Here is expert advice on how to get the medicine down.

To get your dog to take his medicine, you may have to employ a few sneaky tactics, whether the medicine comes in a pill, a capsule or is liquid. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can try to help you keep your pet still so you can give him the medication that will make him feel better. But first you must be clear on what the veterinarian recommends.

1. Understanding the Medication Instructions

When your veterinarian prescribes a new medication, make sure you completely understand the instructions before you leave the office. She will likely explain the route of medication into the dog (by mouth, into the ears, or into the eyes, for example) how often the medication should be taken (once daily, every 12 hours, etc.), duration of treatment (7 days, until gone), and other special considerations (give with food, follow with water). You should also ask how you can expect your pet to respond to the treatment—and how quickly he will be feeling better.

Some medications don’t have very strict dosing instructions—for example, your veterinarian may simply say you should administer the drug as needed. Other times, you may be able to give a medication once a day even though the package says twice a day. But since dosing guidelines must be followed precisely, you should always ask your veterinarian before making adjustments. And don’t hesitate to speak up if the dosing instructions don’t work with your schedule—in some cases your veterinarian may be able to recommend another medication that can be given on a different timetable. For example, if your work schedule does not permit dosing every 8 hours, your veterinarian may be able to recommend a medication that can be given less frequently.

To make sure you don’t forget any doses, consider making a medication schedule for your pet. Simply write the date and time that the medication needs to be administered, along with the last day of treatment. Even if your dog is feeling better, you should still give him the medication for the correct length of time. The reason: Complications can occur if antibiotics aren’t given for the full duration of recommended treatment, plus some medications—such as corticosteroids—will cause illness if they’re discontinued.

You should also take care to follow all label directions exactly, since seemingly minor factors, like improper storage (for example, keeping a refrigerated medication at room temperature) can affect a medicine’s safety and effectiveness. And if your pet experiences any side effects after taking the medication, contact your veterinarian promptly before making any changes to your dog’s dosing schedule or discontinuing the medication.

2. Administering Pills

It can take some trial and error to get your dog to swallow a pill. When your veterinarian prescribes a medication, ask if it can be given with food, as some dogs take pills very readily if they’re hidden inside a treat (such as liverwurst, a small piece of soft cheese, peanut butter, or cream cheese) or given with a small amount of canned food (simply crush pills or break and empty capsules and mix into the food.) The downsides to this method: Your dog must eat all of the food in one sitting (to ensure he receives the full dose), plus some coated pills and capsules have a bitter taste if the capsule or coating is removed, and if the medication makes the food taste bad, your dog may refuse to eat it. You will probably know after the first or second dosing if this method will work.

It’s a bit more challenging if you must give your dog a pill directly by mouth. If your dog isn’t used to having your hands around his mouth, gradually introduce him to this by stroking his muzzle and chin for a few moments to calm him down. If you think your dog may try to bite you, do not attempt giving him medicine by mouth—ask your veterinarian about alternative medication options. But if you trust that your dog won’t attempt to harm you, try these tips to make it a bit easier (warning: this technique takes practice and may require more than one attempt to get your dog to swallow the pill):

  • Stand/kneel beside your dog (on his right side if you are right-handed). Hold the pill between the thumb and index finger of your right hand if you are right handed. Switch it if you are left handed.
  • Using your left hand, reach over the top of your dog’s nose and squeeze your thumb and middle finger between his upper and lower teeth. Your thumb should be on one side of your dog’s mouth and your middle finger on the other side. Try to stay behind the canine teeth (the long, pointy teeth near the front of the mouth). If you’re doing this properly, the sides of the upper lip will curl in as your fingers go in his mouth.
  • Once your fingers are inside, gently tilt your dog’s head back to encourage him to open his mouth.
  • Once the mouth is open, use your right index finger and thumb to place the pill near the base of the tongue. Then remove your hands quickly so your dog can swallow.
  • Rub your dog’s throat lightly and offer a small amount of water to encourage swallowing.

3. Administering Liquid Medication

Some people prefer liquid medication because administering it doesn’t require placing your fingers inside your dog’s mouth. Here are tips for administering liquid medication:

  • Draw the medication into the dropper or syringe and hold it in your right hand (if you’re right handed).
  • Stand/kneel beside your dog (on his right side if you are right-handed). Place your left hand behind your dog’s head to stabilize it. You can gently stroke the back of the head to distract your dog.
  • Using your right hand, insert the tip of the dropper or syringe into the side of your dog’s mouth. Try to stay close to the back of the mouth (near the molars) and away from the canine teeth (near the front of the mouth).
  • Once the tip is in, empty the medication into the mouth and release your dog’s head.
  • Rub your dog’s throat lightly to encourage swallowing.

4. Troubleshooting Tips

If you’re unable to administer medications to your dog, consider these expert tips:

  • Ask for help. If your dog won’t cooperate with receiving medication, ask someone to help you restrain your dog while you control the head and give the medication.
  • Don’t risk injury. If you’re unable to administer medication or are worried your dog will hurt you, call your veterinarian and ask for advice. Seek out a different formulation. Some medications are available in several forms, including pills, liquid given by mouth with an eye dropper or syringe, chewable flavored treats, and transdermal gels (the gel is applied to your dog’s skin, where it’s absorbed into the bloodstream). So if you dog won’t swallow liquid medication or if the pill just isn’t working out, ask your veterinarian if there is another option.
  • Consider calling in the pros. Some veterinarians can arrange daily outpatient appointments for a technician or assistant to administer your dog’s medication. If your schedule doesn’t permit this, some veterinarians may be able to board your dog so that medication can be given until the course of treatment has been completed.
Hopefully giving your dog medication will go smoothly but if it doesn’t, or if you are concerned about dosage or anything at all, call your veterinarian.

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.