- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Pet parents know that giving a dog medicine can be a real pain for everyone involved. Pills can be tough to give dogs, but what about liquid? If your pup struggles with swallowing pills and you’ve wondered how to give a dog liquid medicine, there are tips and techniques that can help make life easier for all of you.
There are some pros and cons to liquid administration of medicine when it comes to dogs. First, the downside: “Not all liquid medications are created equal,” says Dr. Shannon Barrett, Charleston-based house-call veterinarian and owner of Downward Paws. For example, a medication like metronidazole is bitter even as a liquid. Liquid medicines can also be tricky as the amount may make it tough to give, your dog may have an aversion to taste or consistency, and it can be a mess—making it hard to determine how much medicine your dog received.
But there are upsides, too, such as being more palatable to some dogs than pills, and Dr. Barrett points out that some pharmacies even make liquid meds in tasty flavors. “Liquids can often be absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly than pills or chewables,” she says. “Additionally, liquids are often easier to dose accurately than other forms of medicine, making them ideal for smaller dogs.”
9 Easy, Vet-Approved Steps To Help Your Dog Take Their Medicine
With the help of Dr. Barrett, we’ll walk you through the steps of giving your dog liquid meds, from starting with proper storage to proper placement in your dog’s mouth. Read on for the dos and don’ts of giving your dog liquid medicine.
1. Read The Medication Label To Double-Check Proper Dosage & Preparation
Before you begin, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve read the instructions on your dog’s liquid medicine and that it is stored in a place and temperature that is described, in order to not affect its potency.
As with most things, it’s a good idea to start off by washing your hands (be sure to do this after as well). Read the instructions through carefully, making sure you understand the steps, appropriate dosage, and have any materials, such as a syringe, ready to roll.
2. Carefully And Gently Open Your Dog’s Mouth
Opening a dog’s mouth is not as easy as it sounds—just ask any pet parent. We’ve all been there when our dog runs off with something in their mouth that shouldn’t be there! So, what’s the best way to go about it?
“When giving liquid medication to your dog, it is important to open their mouth correctly to avoid getting the drug sprayed everywhere or swallowed incorrectly,” says Dr. Barrett. She says to approach gently, as a quick or aggressive approach can put a dog on defense. “One way to open a dog’s mouth is by using your thumb and index finger to gently push down their lower jaw while using your other hand to open their upper jaw.”
3. Choose Your Delivery Method: Spoon Or Syringe
If your dog likes to lick treats, such as peanut butter, from a spoon, Dr. Barrett suggests trying that method with their liquid medication. “Just be sure to offer small amounts of the medication at a time to ensure they eat all of it and get the full dose.”
4. Place The Syringe In The Correct Location In Your Dog’s Mouth
If you’re working with a syringe, you’ll want to create a “pocket” in your dog’s mouth between their cheek and teeth, because it’s easy to access and, according to Dr. Barrett: “It’s an ideal location to insert a syringe and give medication. It is also more challenging for your dog to spit out the medication if you give it slowly.” She says to gently lift your dog’s gum on one side of their mouth, and slowly distribute the liquid in the “pocket” behind their large canine tooth.
Be sure to avoid sticking a syringe directly in your dog’s mouth. This can result in the dog spitting it out and make it hard to tell how much medication went in if squirted too quickly. “Forcing a dog to take medicine in this manner can make them anxious and fearful of taking medicine in the future, which could lead to problems getting them to take medication when they need it,” says Dr. Barrett.
The process should be as positive as possible. “I know this is not always an option but try for positive reinforcement first.”
5. Take The Syringe & Put It In The Pocket
Once you’ve got your pocket, Dr. Barrett advises gently inserting the syringe in that area behind that large canine tooth and angling it correctly (see next step). Depress the plunger slowly during administration.
6. Angle The Syringe Toward The Throat
“Liquid medication should ideally hit the back of your dog’s tongue towards the throat to be swallowed properly,” says Dr. Barrett. “It allows your dog to swallow naturally and minimizes the chances of them spitting out the medication.” Angling toward the throat to hit the back of the tongue also decreases the chance of your dog choking on the medication.
7. Squeeze The Syringe Slowly
As mentioned above, it’s important to depress the plunger slowly when administering medicine, but why? Dr. Barrett explains that if dogs swallow too quickly, you risk regurgitation. Slowly giving your dog medicine helps ensure that they don’t choke and that they receive the correct dosage.
8. Encourage Your Dog To Swallow The Medicine
When in doubt, nothing helps encourage dogs like treats! “Have a treat ready so that they can eat the treat, which entices them to swallow,” says Dr. Barrett who keeps treats on hand for such occasions. Be sure to check with your vet though that the medication can be given with food.
Whatever positive reinforcement you choose, do not try to get them to swallow by tilting your dog’s head back: “You should not tilt your dog’s head back when giving them medication,” says Dr. Barrett. “This can lead to choking, where the drug goes into the trachea (windpipe) and then the lungs. This can lead to a severe lung infection called aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal in dogs.”
9. Avoid Giving Your Dog Extra Medicine
If your dog spits out their medicine, you might be tempted to try to administer more right away—but don’t! “This is because you have no idea how much of it they actually ingested vs. how much they spit out. Therefore giving them more may result in an overdose,” says Dr. Barrett.
“If this occurs, talk to your veterinarian about when to give the next dose and how much. Also, let them know you are having trouble giving the medication; there may be alternative sizes or forms of the drug.”
Are There Other Ways To Give My Dog Liquid Medicine?
If the syringe is no-go, there are some other options:
- Hide the medicine in dry or wet food: Depending on if the drug can be taken with food, a helpful aspect of liquid meds is that they are much easier to mix into food, which may make it more palatable for your dog to consume. Dr. Barrett recommends avoiding hiding the medicine in high-fat foods, and trying canned pumpkin or bland (a.k.a. no spices or additives) baby food.
- Use a small spoon: As mentioned above, you can have your dog try licking the medication from the spoon. Dr. Barrett says to measure out the medication in the syringe and then add it to the spoon for your dog to lick up a little at a time.
- Enlist the help of a second person: A lot of dog tasks require a buddy, and administering meds is no different! Have a helper to help keep your dog calm and reassured while you work on correct administration.
- Offer treats and praise before and after: Positive reinforcement can go a long way. Be sure to offer your dog positive attention through treats and praise before and after you administer medicine. Be sure that the medication can be taken with food.
How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Absorb Liquid Medication?
You may encounter liquid medications prescribed for your dog for conditions such as worms, allergies, or osteoarthritis.
Generally speaking, liquid medications absorb faster than tablets or capsules, says Dr. Barrett. “However, the time it takes for a particular drug to be available in the bloodstream can vary from minutes to hours, depending on the drug. There are a lot of variables that affect medication absorption, and these include the drug class, the size of the dog, and the medicine itself,” she says. “Always follow the instructions on the bottle and those given to you by your veterinarian to ensure proper absorption.”
Giving a dog liquid medicine can be tricky, but correctly using a syringe, spoon, or appropriately mixing it with food may help. Be sure to go gently, create a pocket, aim for the back of the throat, and go slowly.
If you’re still having trouble, be sure to talk to your vet who may have additional options or suggestions that can help.
Making medicine time a pleasant experience can help make the process go more smoothly. Treats before and after, as long as the medication can be taken with food, never hurts. “Make sure that you are gentle and patient when giving your pet their medicine,” says Dr. Barrett. “Try not to rush them, and praise them for taking their medicine correctly. This will help your pet associate good things with taking their medication, making the process easier in the long run.”