People have kept dog and cat companions ever since
humankind began to domesticate animals, and most folks feel
that sharing life with at least one of the furry housemates
is an educational and pleasurable experience.
Unfortunately, such four-legged family members do
get sick now and then. In fact, it sometimes seems that a
household's animals require more medical care than do
You can, however, save a considerable amount of time,
effort, worry, and money by treating many pet
illnesses yourself. I'll
describe some basic veterinary techniques that will help you
administer dog and cat medicine. But first, a few important words of
 Consult with your vet to find out what medicine you
should be giving your pets (this piece will tell you "how
to" but not "what to").
 Be careful about what you're doing. Know the proper
techniques for cleaning and filling a syringe (as described
in my article, "You Can Too Give That Animal an Injection.") Read medicine labels several
times to be sure you're using the proper amounts. And be
painstaking in your efforts to apply those physics
 Don't become frustrated if Kitty keeps spitting out the
pill or Rover squirms free just when you finally get the
needle ready. Patience is an often necessary virtue for any
animal healer to develop.
Oral Dog Medicine
The easiest way to give oral medications to your canine, of
course, is to take advantage of the beast's gluttonous
nature. Simply hide the powdered or capsuled remedy in your
pup's favorite treat and let the "patient" gulp it down.
However, some particular medications—as the labels
(which you should ALWAYS read ... more than once) will
tell you—shouldn't be given along with food. Furthermore, a
few canines are such picky eaters that they'll find the
tiny pill in the middle of that tasty hunk of hamburger and
"spittoon" it right out onto the floor.
You can force-feed pills to a reluctant dog by grasping
both sides of the animal's upper muzzle with one hand, and
pressing the beast's lips against its upper teeth. This
"squeeze play" will force the pet to open its mouth enough
for you to pop a pill over its tongue. Larger capsules
(called "boluses") can be lubricated for easier
internal travel with a little butter or mineral oil.
But no matter what size the pill is, place it well back in
the dog's mouth (think in terms of tickling the beast's
tonsils). Then close your critter's jaws and hold 'em shut
(and slightly elevated) until the animal finally swallows.
You may also need to stroke Fido's neck—or even
gently blow in his nose—to encourage the gulping reflex.
Liquid medications are usually easier to administer.
Simply pull the dog's lower lip out on one side (near the
back of the jaw where it meets the upper lip) to
form a cup, pour the elixir into this "pinched pouch", and
then tip the hound's head slightly upward.
Sometimes even our best efforts to help will give a pet
some temporary pain, and dogs often react
instinctively to such discomfort by attacking the cause of
the hurt with their teeth. Well—when you're giving
your pet an injection—that "cause" will be your
fragile hand! So, for your own health, you may want to
protect yourself in advance from any "snappy" reflexes.
One way to avoid getting chomped during your pet's
treatment is to have a helper run one arm under the dog's
neck and trap the animal's head in the crook of that limb.
The assistant can then wrap his or her other arm around the
dog's body to keep the animal from backing out of the
The best way to protect yourself from an irritated pooch,
though, is to put a muzzle on the critter. You can make
such a jaw vise out of leather thongs, 1-to 2-inch gauze,
or any other cordlike material. Simply loop the "ribbon"
under the dog's lower jaw and over its snout, tie an
overhand knot, run the wrap back under the animal's mouth,
and make another overhand hitch. Then bind the ends of the
homemade muzzle by tying a bow behind the dog's ears.
Once both your pet and your equipment are ready, it's time
to administer the medication. The two most common
injections are subcutaneous (under the skin) and
intramuscular (into a muscle) shots. Neither one of these
"needles" is particularly difficult to administer. Just be sure that you're giving the right type of shot for
the medicine you're using! (By the way, tricky intravenous
and intraperitoneal injections are almost always best left
to the vet.)
Subcutaneous (Sub-Q) injections are given along the middle
of the dog's back in the loose fold of skin over its
shoulders. Just clean this section of hide, pinch and
lift the "flap," push your 20- to 22-gauge, 1 1/2-inch
needle into the pocket formed by the skin, point it
toward the dog, and inject.
Intramuscular (IM) shots are a bit more difficult to
administer. The best spot for an LM. injection is in the
rear third of the dog's thigh a safe distance away
from the large sciatic nerve that runs down the middle of
the leg. Cleanse this area and thrust in the needle (use a
20- to 22-gauge, 1- to 1 1/2-inch point on Lassie-sized
canines and a 23- to 25-gauge, 3/4- to 1-inch "poker" on
smaller dogs). Next draw back briefly ("aspirate") on the
syringe to see if blood comes into your injector. If so,
you've hit a vein or artery and should start over and
"look" elsewhere for your medication site.
Oral Medications for Cats
Felines present their own special brand of problems to the
homestead animal healer. An angry tabby can swat with its
sharp front claws, bite with its razor-edged teeth, and
throw its powerful hind legs into the fray. Besides all of
that, cats will often react more violently to your efforts
at restraint than they will to whatever pain your treatment
Because of a feline's defenses (and defensiveness), the
best cat restraint technique is often no restraint at all.
You can (at times) give medicines, and even some
injections, to a tabby with no problems at
all if the critter is being held in the arms of its
Another good cat-handling tactic is to hold your pet off
the ground by lifting on the large fold of skin directly
behind the animal's head. This tranquilizing grip will
subdue most any feline ( probably because the cat's mother
used to haul the animal by the same spot back during its
Since most cats are too fussy to fall for the
pill-in-the-food trick, this scruff-grabbing maneuver is a
good way to give Tabby her capsuled medications. First,
grab enough skin so that—when you tilt the critter's
head backward—its mouth will be forced open. Next,
plop a lubricated capsule onto the back of the cat's tongue
(this will be easier to accomplish if you use long-handled
tweezers or push the medicine back toward the throat with
the eraser end of a pencil). And then close the critter's
mouth and keep its head tilted upward until the animal
swallows. (Give the feline its liquid doses of medicine
with the same pour-the-juice-in-the-cheek technique you use
If your cat absolutely refuses to take its oral medicine
without a fight, you'll have to use more serious restraint
measures. It's hard to muzzle such a short-snouted beast, so try having one person hold the animal by
the scruff of the neck while another holds its feet. If the
unruly feline is still unmanageable, you can wrap the cat's
whole body in a heavy cloth towel or canvas bag,
leaving only its head exposed.
The locations and techniques for subcutaneous and
intramuscular feline injections are about the same as those
for dogs: Sub-Q shots are given in the fold of skin over
the animal's shoulders, and I.M. injections are delivered
to the rear third of the thigh muscle (use a 23- to
25-gauge, 3/4- to 1-inch needle). "Under the skin" shots
are relatively painless, so they can often be
given—quickly—while the cat is relaxed or is
diverted by its favorite food.
There's no closer human-animal relationship than that
between folks and their family dogs and cats. And you
can—with the skills presented in this article and
some patience—give at least as much healing help to
these animals as you give to the two-legged members of your
EDITOR'S. NOTE: Further information on medicating your own
animals can be found in the following articles:
1. "How to Give an Injection to a Horse"
2. "You Can Too Give That Animal an Injection"
3. "Be Your Own Animal Medicine Man"
4. "How to Deal With Internal Parasites in Livestock, Part II"