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How to give medication to dogs

How do I give medication to my dog?

We often have to give medicines to our dogs, but if they’re stubborn or reluctant, it can mean that they miss out on important treatments. So, it’s important to make sure that whatever you do, the medication goes where it should, into your pet, and not all over the floor!

How can we give medicines to dogs?

There are a number of different routes that we can use to medicate dogs. The most common are:

  • Injections - most commonly used by us at the vets’. However, sometimes you do need to do these at home - for example, injecting insulin if your dog is diabetic. It is very important to get the injected liquid into the correct compartment within the body - generally the space under the skin (subcutaneous).
  • Rectally - this is rarely necessary, but in some emergency situations (like a fitting dog), it is the most appropriate route for you to use at home. It is relatively straightforward, but does need a certain amount of care to avoid damaging the rectal lining.
  • Liquids - some medications are given as liquids by mouth, for example painkillers, some wormers, and some heart drugs (especially in very small dogs such as Chihuahuas). Persuading a dog to drink a liquid isn’t that easy!
  • Capsules contain the active ingredient (usually as a powder) inside a hard casing. In most cases, they mustn’t be chewed or broken, but swallowed whole.
  • Tablets have the active drug incorporated into a solid (and often flavoured) carrier matrix. Most can be broken or chewed, but don’t always taste good!


So how should I give them?

  • Subcutaneous injection - when giving your dog an injection, the best site is usually the scruff of the neck. The skin here is loose and can easily be pulled up; if you’re injecting very regularly, though, the skin may become thickened in your usual site, so other locations such as along the back or in front of the shoulder may be needed as well. When injecting, use one hand to tent the skin up, and the other to slide the needle into this “tent”, keeping the needle roughly parallel to the skin (this minimises the risk that you will go too deep and hit something important!). Make sure the needle doesn't come out the other side (commonly called “doing a Trudi”!), then draw back. If you get blood in the syringe, you have hit a vein, so reposition your needle and try again before injecting.
  • Rectal tubes - you’d only need this in an emergency - use one hand to lift your dog’s tail, then insert the tube gently into the anus, as far as the “shoulder” of the syringe. However worried or scared you are, try to avoid ramming it or jabbing it in!
  • Liquids - most liquids can be given with food, squirted into wet meat or dry biscuit. In fact, some drugs (like most painkillers) must be given with or after food. For some others, like wormers, it may be possible to give the liquid directly by syringe. Some dogs will let you squirt it directly into their mouths, but if not, hold your dog’s mouth closed, lift up the upper lip and squirt between the teeth. Keep your dog’s mouth closed until you see them swallow!
  • Tablets - many tablets can be mixed in with food; a wet or soft food is usually best, in which you can conceal the tablet. It’s worth remembering that many dogs are very good at avoiding tablets in their food, but can often be persuaded to take it in a treat (like a piece of cheese). If not, you’ll have to give it directly, like a capsule.
  • Capsules - a capsule has to be given directly; sometimes, tablets have to be given this way as well. Open your dog’s mouth and push the tablet to the back of their tongue. Then close the mouth and hold it closed while massaging their throat to encourage them to swallow. Once they have, reward them with fuss or a treat!


If you want advice on giving medication talk to one of our vets or nurses!