Chances are, if your pet has an emergency and needs to visit our hospital, we will send her home with at least one medication. Sick, injured, or painful pets are difficult to medicate if their appetite has diminished, or if they are injured and resisting being handled. But, for your beloved companion to travel the road to recovery, she needs her medication. Whether it’s an antibiotic, pain reliever, eye drops, or ear ointment, our tips will ensure your pet receives her treatment.

1: Counter-condition and desensitize your pet to handling

A little positive reinforcement goes a long way toward helping your pet accept treatment. Follow these tips to accustom your furry friend to the various handling techniques required for medication administration:

  • Ear medications — Stroke your pet’s ears, speak soft words of praise, and reward her with treats for cooperating. Ideally, ear handling is performed before your pet ever suffers from painful ear infection and inflammation. Once your pet realizes that having her ears touched brings delightful rewards, move to flipping over floppy ears if she is a dog with droopy ears or rubbing the inner flap if she has pointed ears. Avoid rushing to squirt ear cleaner or medication in your pet’s ears without her being accustomed to being handled. These liquid treatments are chilly and can startle pets, so use a cotton ball with a small amount of cleaner to wipe the debris from her ears. For ear crevices, remove wax and debris with a cotton swab, ensuring you always pull out the debris rather than push it deeper.

  • Eye medications — Many pets do not appreciate eye medications, but some need lifelong ointment or drops for chronic conditions. A team of two works wellone to steady your pet’s head and one to administer the eye medication. Start medicating slowly, using gentle restraint. A pet who is wiggling may end up with a poked eye and pain she will remember for future treatments. Your helper should hold your pet’s head still for a second, and then reward her with a treat. Increase the length of restraint, rewarding your pet each time. Next, your helper should steady your pet’s head and gently pull down the bottom eyelid, forming a small pouch to apply medication. You may steady your hand holding the medication against the side of your pet’s face to administer treatment. Reward her with high-value treats when you’ve completed your task. 

  • Oral medications — Placing your hands in biting distance of your pet’s sharp teeth can be a dealbreaker with oral medications. Some pets are tolerant of pilling, while others may reflexively chomp down or bite. For pets who sniff out any tablet, capsule, or pill, try hiding the medication in a pill-pocket treat, or see if the medication comes in a liquid form. Using a syringe keeps your hands out of your pet’s mouth while ensuring she receives her total medication dose. Work up to giving pill or liquid medication by gently holding your pet’s muzzle in one hand, and then popping a treat in her mouth. Once she’s used to treats for this form of restraint, medication will be a cinch.

2: Use towel wraps for small pets

A cat or small dog being medicated can change from your beloved, gentle companion into a whirlwind of claws and teeth. Swaddle her in a towel to provide gentle restraintthe pressure also will help release calming hormones. Wrapping your pet in a towel will restrict her movement when you administer oral or eye medication, and will help to keep you safe from sharp claws when your pet tries to scratch at an itchy ear you’re treating.

3: Ask for help

There’s no shame in asking for help when you are wrangling with a feisty feline or cantankerous canine to accept her medication. As veterinary professionals, we often also have to team up to treat a pet—and this is our job. So if you’re struggling to give your cat a pill or to put ointment in your dog’s ears, let us know. We can show you how to administer medication, demonstrating the technique with your pet. 

4: Know your options

Administering medication to pets is an art. Some pets will gulp down any medication, disguised or not, while others will only tolerate a transdermal option. If you know your picky pet will detect oral medication, no matter what smelly substance you use to hide it, let us know. We can work with a compounding pharmacy to create a medication designed for your pet. Compounding pharmacies can make medications with tasty flavorings, tablets that rapidly melt in a pet’s mouth, or transdermal gels that can be rubbed into a pet’s ear flap, and with their help, we will find a medication form that is easy to give. 

Are you struggling to medicate your pet? Call us for help—we may be able to order a compounded form that is easier to administer.