Thursday, June 18, 2015

Persuading reluctant dogs to take a bitter-tasting pill can be alow-stress endeavor

We've plenty of medications available to help keep or make our pets well, and to manage pain. When our veterinarian prescribes a drug for our animal companions, it might come in the form of a tablet or capsule, a liquid suspension or it may even be compounded as a transdermal.

The latter is especially convenient and stress-free for both pet and human (as the medication is administered by applying to the inside of the ear flap), but unfortunately few drugs can be delivered into the body in this way. Thyroid and anti-depressant medications, as well as prednisolone are options, just to name a few. Another caveat is that this method is more expensive, making it prohibitive to many families. 

Tablets and capsules are the most common way that medication is dispensed, and for good reason: they are the easiest to work with, and are the least expensive. 

A well-cloaked disguise

Getting most tablets or capsules down the hatch is usually easy if it's mixed in their food. Using something soft or gooey to hide the pill is helpful, as I've indicated in a previous post. It's important, however, if you're feeding multiple pets, to keep everyone separated and ensure that dog number one gets the medication down, while dog numbers two, three or more do not. 

(I urge pet owners and caregivers to keep an eye out during meal time to watch for any doses of medication that end up fished out of food and discarded onto the floor.) 

Most of the time this easy, stress-free method works great. When it fails, consider using food as a tool, this time in a different context. 

Quantity along with quality 

Starting with bits of food or treats that your pet values highly, it can be pretty easy to get the most reluctant canine to scarf down what's in your hand. Make sure that they are good and hungry (give the treats before a meal), and have 4-5 treats in your hand, ready to offer one after another in rapid-fire succession, ensuring the highest value treats are doled out somewhere in the middle. For example, you might give a crunchy treat, a slightly higher value treat, then whatever you've hidden the medication in, then whatever is left in your hand. Most dogs are too busy thinking about getting the next treat that they don't pay attention to anything, and using this tactic seldom fails.

A little competition never hurts

Using a little peer pressure can help. Few dogs can resist wanting to get in on the action if another creature in the family (animal or human!) is enjoying a yummy treat, so you can use that to your advantage. Using the same tactic as above, but only using pill-free treats for the helpful participants. 

The problem with some medications is that they have a bitter taste, or can cause other unpleasant side effects, like nausea, and in either case can put pets off of food and treats completely. The bitterness of the pain reliever Tramadol had become an issue for Gretchen in early June, despite her having been on the drug for a while with no unfavorable effects. With the medication not being an option for her as a transdermal, and as a suspension, too bitter, finding a workable solution was the only option: at 15 years old, going without the drug at this stage of osteoarthritis was unthinkable. 

A no-fail solution for hyper-aware dogs

In chatting with our acupuncture vet, Monica Turenne, DVM, CVA, she made a simple but ingenious suggestion that made me wonder why I'd not thought of it before.

By taking an empty gelcap — available from any pharmacy for just a few cents — and slipping the pill inside before tucking that into a high value treat or food, any odor or taste is masked. I've been doing this for a few days, and it hasn't failed.

Given Gretchen's past level of suspicion, I totally give this trick a big thumbs up. It's made managing a painful condition much easier and in the end, both of us very happy. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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