How to Give a Dog a Pill… if your dog is impossible to pill

If you are looking for tips on how to give a dog a pill, chances are you have a pill ninja for a pup.

Otherwise, you’d just lift your dog’s lip, open his jaw, drop the pill in, and move on, right?

That’s how the vet tech demos giving your dog a pill. That’s how dogs on YouTube seem to take pills. That’s how we used to give Emmett pills many, many years ago. It was so simple, we never dreamed of finding “solutions” to pill our dog.

Fast forward to Cooper.

Cooper is an impossible dog to pill. He even acts like he swallowed a pill, walks away, then spits it out in an undisclosed location. Only later, when I’m vacuuming, do I discover the pill remains.

So, if you’re trying to figure out how to give a dog a pill, and all the normal techniques don’t work, I’ve got some ideas for you.

A small dog with a white body and a black and tan face lies on a white fluffy rug with his pink tongue hanging out. The text overlay reads: How to give a difficult dog a pill.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This site uses affiliate links, which means that I may make a small commission on products purchased through links clicked on this site at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this site running, so thanks for your support in this way!

Quick back story

Cooper takes medication for allergies and arthritis every day. Those pills have a solid routine, which I include below. Recently, though, he experienced a systemic infection that lasted for months and required a slew of medications that tasted bad, had to be given in specific ways, required many doses each day, and on and on… He was DONE.

We had to get super creative. Below, I’m going to share 5 of the more successful of the many, many things we tried and how each worked out.

While some had a lower rate of success than others, they all worked at least a bit, so I’m hoping they might help you and your pill ninja, too. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Here’s how to give a dog a pill… if your dog is a pill ninja!

Bait and Switch / Catch

This idea came from a vet tech. She suggested pill pockets because most dogs think they’re a great treat by themselves. Toss an empty pill pocket… toss another… toss another but this time WITH the pill inside… then toss another empty one, all in quick succession. The idea is to keep your dog too busy catching treats to notice the pill. Cooper caught on quickly then stopped catching treats tossed his way altogether.

Success rate: Low

Stuffed Bugles

This idea came from Cooper’s main veterinarian. He suggested buying Bugles (remember those??) because dogs can discern texture. He suggested that using a squishy treat with a hard pill makes it too easy for the pup to pull the pill out. Instead, stick the pill inside a Bugle and stuff the top with cream cheese. While Cooper liked the chip and cream cheese, several of his pills were too big to fit into a Bugle chip.

Success rate: Medium

Request a different compound

While this isn’t technically a trick, it’s the KEY for tough dogs. However, it’s not possible for all medications, so you’ll need to chat with your vet. If your pill comes in one form, like a powder, see if you can get the same medication compounded into a cream. Many medications do have different options. Years ago, Lucas took a medication that we could have compounded into a cream to rub on his skin instead of forcing him to take it orally. Majory win! Likewise, ask your vet if you can grind up your dog’s pill. You canNOT do this with all meds, but it’s worth an ask. Right now, Cooper’s arthritis medication can come in a powder form, so we do that PLUS the next trick and have no problems giving it to him three times a day.

Success rate: High

Wet Food Sandwich

With the arthritis pill, which can be opened and sprinkled, we just spread a layer of wet food from The Farmer’s Dog onto a plate, sprinkle the powder on top, then spread another layer of wet food on top of the powder. It’s like a sandwich where the wet food is the bread! He licks it all up that way! He’s currently eating a kibble for breakfast and dinner, so this fresh food makes an extra-special treat. I’m confident if we used his regular food, this would not work.

Success rate: High


Depending on your dog’s dietary needs, bake meatballs from his or her favorite protein. Instead of fresh meat, since Cooper’s diet is so restrictive, we made meatballs from TFD fresh food, BUT! Here’s the trick! Thanks to one of our longtime favorite internet dog moms who suggested freezing pills inside baby food, we started doing a modified version with TFD. It’s a brilliant idea that worked pretty well most of the time, I think because of the texture issue.

Success rate: Medium

5 quick tips for pilling success

Some lessons learned about giving pill ninjas a pill…

  • Try not to use the same method too many times in a row. They catch on fast! Mix it up!
  • Catch your dog off guard! Give him or her pills in different locations. If your pup expects a pill every time you go into the kitchen and open the cupboard, your dog will learn that routine quickly! Try tossing a meatball in your backyard or sneaking in a pill pocket treat on your walk.
  • Ensure your dog actually swallows the pill! The number of pills I’ve found in dog beds, under the fridge, in my bed… astounding. It took me longer to catch on, but I finally did! Coop doesn’t walk away until I’m SURE his pill is gone.
  • Create a positive association with pill time. Treats, praise, snuggles, fetch, whatever makes your dog happy should be part of pill time.
  • Make it desirable! Save the most favorite, most preferred snacks and treats for pill time. If your dog loves squeeze cheese, use that–but only for pills until the meds are finished! If your dog loves meatballs, use them for pill time and nothing else.

Is any of that helpful for you and your pill ninja? What works for your dog? Do you plan to implement any of these tips? Or do you have any tricks up your sleeve? I’d LOVE to know in the comments! How do you give YOUR dog a pill?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *