If you struggle to get your pet to take a pill, you're probably going to hate me when I tell you how my senior dog Andy takes his medication, morning and night.
I ask him if he wants "pills and cookies," and he trots to the hall closet where I keep the medicines. I ask him to sit, and he does. "Open mouth," I say, tapping his eyetooth, and he does. I drop the pills on his tongue, kiss his nose and he swallows them, to much praise. All three dogs immediately get a little treat, then we're done.
"I knew Andy was perfect," a friend once said after observing this feat, "but I had no idea he was THAT perfect."
I'd love to take credit for this angelic behavior, but I really can't. Andy is the only dog I've ever known who honestly doesn't mind being pilled. Benjamin, on the other hand, is more normal in this regard. He defies my every effort to hide medicine in goodies, keeps the pills in his jowls after swallowing the camouflage and spits them out when he thinks I'm not looking. If I try to pill him without the subterfuge, he wrestles, he cries, and he sulks afterward. Thank heavens Benjamin is rarely in need of anything more than a chewable monthly heartworm pill -- which he likes.
Pilling pets is second only to trimming nails on the list of things pet lovers would rather pass on. While you can ask your veterinarian or groomer to keep nails in shape, at some point in your pet's life you're not going to be able to avoid giving pills. So you'd better learn how.
There are two ways to go about this: straightforward and sneaky. Which way works best depends on you and your pet. It doesn't hurt to experiment a little, as long as you're getting that medication down your pet's throat.
The straightforward approach is a little different for cats and dogs. For cats, take a firm but gentle grip on your pet's head from above, pry open his jaw with the index finger of your other hand, and press the pill far enough back on the tongue to trigger swallowing. For dogs, grip the muzzle from above, pinching inward with index finger and thumb while you open the mouth with the other index finger. From there it's the same: Poke the pill as far back as you can to trigger swallowing. Holding the muzzle skyward and stroking your pet's throat will help.
A variation on this, especially useful for cats, is using a "pill gun." These plastic devices, available in pet-supply stores and catalogs, enable you to put the pill on the tip and then press it to the top of your pet's throat more accurately, quickly and easily than with your finger.
Easier read than done, you say? Here's another tip: Although veterinarians and veterinary-health technicians can make pill-popping look like an easy, one-person job, you're likely to find the task easier at first if you have someone else hold your pet while you pill him.
If that doesn't work, try the sneaky approach. Subterfuge works better on dogs than on cats, because cats are generally much more cautious about what they eat -- you're not fooling them at all by dressing up that pill. For dogs, peanut butter, hot dogs, liverwurst and cheese are probably the most popular pill disguisers, but tastes vary. A reader wrote me once about a dog who'd eat pills hidden in the cavity of a green olive.
A final word: As with anything your pet would rather avoid, be patient, gentle and firm when giving medication, and follow with praise. If you're having trouble medicating your pet, have your veterinarian walk you through it, or discuss alternatives.
Pets on the Web: Some folks think they have faces only a mother could love, but I disagree. The meaty, jowly and occasionally drooling chops of the bulldog and its related breeds are wonderful. If you feel the same way, you must visit Bulldog Dot Org (http://www.bulldog.org), a marvelously clever site with everything for fanciers of these breeds, including a national anthem.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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