Q: Our dog has just been put on thyroid medication -- two pills a day. We've always had problems getting the occasional pill down this dog, and the thought of struggling with him twice a day for the rest of his life isn't a pleasant one. Any suggestions?
A: There are three basic ways to give pills to a pet, and since every animal is different, you should do a little experimenting to find out what works best in your case.
The first approach is the straightforward one. Hold your pet in your lap or have him sit on the floor. Open his muzzle and push the pill into his throat with your index finger. Then close his muzzle, lift it skyward and stroke his throat until he swallows. Finish with a pat and plenty of praise.
An experienced animal-handler -- such as a veterinarian or animal-health technician -- does this so quickly it's over before the pet has time to think, much less struggle. The average pet-lover is usually not that skilled, making the technique impractical for many.
Before you dismiss it out of hand, however, ask your vet to demonstrate this method, including the proper way to restrain your pet if you must use two people to get the job done.
The second approach is to grind up the pill and add it to the pet's food. While this works well for a few pet-lovers, it presents problems for many. If your pet's on dry food, for example, it won't work because kibble doesn't mix well enough to hide the medication. If your pet's a picky eater who rarely finishes his food, odds are the portion he leaves behind will contain most of the pill pieces.
There can be other problems, too. If you have other pets, for example, there's always a chance one will get the other's medication. And finally,remember that disguising mashed medicine so it's not noticeable to you doesn't mean your pet won't know it's there. A pet's sense of smell is considerably keener than our own, and some animals get quite good at identifying and eating around even the smallest amount of medication.
The mash-and-mix technique works best with fast eaters who lick the dish clean. This leaves out almost all cats, which are generally picky eaters, and many dogs.
The third technique is probably the most popular among pet owners. Coat the pill with a small amount of a substance the pet adores and stand back as it's snapped up.
What food works best? Peanut butter's always popular, and cheese, liver sausage and hot dogs are also recommended.
My favorite pill-coater is the processed cheese that comes in a pressurized can. There are several brands, but I like the one that needs no refrigeration and comes in a container with a tip like a cake icing applicator. It's easy and neat to work with, and I've never met a pet that didn't adore the stuff.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278