THURSDAY THOUGHT: HOW CAN WE MAKE GIVING MEDICATION MAGICAL?
Some dogs will snaffle up a pill wrapped in a bit of ham like it's their favourite treat. Some might even take the pill without it being wrapped in something - think Labrador: "If it looks like a bit of food, I'll eat it!"
Whippets, however, are a whole nother story. They're often not all that bothered about treats unless they're in the mood. And they can sniff out a bit of medication from several houses away! They're also expert spitter-outers. Lily will gleefully suck all the cheese off and then spit the pill out afterwards.
I'm not keen on shoving medication down dogs' throats. It can work for some, but with very sensitive dogs, it can set up a whole lot of associations that we can't control. Moth had a stomach virus 2 weeks ago and lost his appetite. The only way I could get meds into him was by sticking them onto the back of his tongue wrapped inside a bit of cheese. The result of this was that within a day he was avoiding me touching his head. He is highly sensitive and his cognitive processing isn't what it was; he's being managed for the early stages of dementia, and dogs with dementia don't process things rationally.
Once he was eating again, he had gone right off cheese. It took several days of mixing cheese with other treats and playing the Connection Game for him to start taking cheese happily again.
Some dogs have been known to stop eating entirely if more than one dose of medication is given with their food. I would always avoid mixing meds with food for this reason, because you never what associations your dog may make.
TRAINING GAMES FOR GIVING MEDS
Training games are great ways of teaching our dogs to happily take meds. You start with 5 to 10 pieces of cheese or a food/treat that is really high value (and I mean reeeeeally high value. Kibble won't work here...). Roll them into irregular shapes about the size of a pea and put them around the edge of a plate.
Use whatever game works best for your dog. Some may love the Connection Game. Others, like Moth, might enjoy Touch (finger targetting) or you may even find that the Countdown Game works best for your dog. Whatever you use, it needs to be a game your dog loves.
IT WORKS LIKE THIS:
Hold the plate so your dog can see the treats but make sure it's beyond reach so that s/he can't grab any! Avoid saying "leave it" if s/he moves towards it (we want to create good, pressure-free associations with this game. Just move the plate out of reach).
Say "ready" and start playing your training game of choice.
When your dog does what you want her/him to do, mark the moment with your marker word (Moth's is "Mo") and give her/him a treat from one end of the treats arranged round the edge of the plate. Make sure s/he can see you take the treat from the plate.
Repeat until you've finished all the treats.
As well as using your marker word, smile and be upbeat each time you give her/him one of the treats. If we look smiley, we're less likely to feel tense about giving meds.... Fake it 'til you make it!
After playing the game like this for about 5 goes (once a day, or up to 3 times daily if you know you're going to have to get meds into your dog in the near future), you can go to the next level.
Put something that isn't particularly palatable to your dog inside 3 of the pieces of cheese/soft treat. Whatever you use needs to not smell too strongly. I use bits of broccoli stalk or a small bit of carrot (the Paws Den dogs wouldn't choose to eat either of these, but they don't hate them).
Don't make the pieces too big - they need to be small enough to swallow easily. About the size of half a pea.
Repeat the steps in Level 1, starting with bits of cheese/treat that don't have any broccoli etc in them.
Remember to keep all treats in view of your dog and work your way through the treats on the edge of the plate (the ones with broccoli etc need to be mixed between the ones without). Finish with 2 empty bits of cheese/treat. There should be at least 2 empty bits of treat/cheese in between each treat that contains the pretend meds. Vary the number of treats/bits of cheese between the ones with the fake meds in them, because some dogs can get very good at counting and working out which ones hold the fake meds.
Do this once or twice a day for 3 to 5 days. Your dog should happily be taking all the treats. If you have more than one dog (and no guarding issues) you can play the game with them all. If any of them guard, play the game in separate rooms.
Put something less palatable that smells a bit unpleasant inside 1 of your treats and 2 less palatable things (broccoli etc) in 2 of the treats/bits of cheese. What you use will depend on what your dog doesn't like to eat. Make sure the unpleasant bit of food won't cause harm to your dog (no chilli!) A lot of dogs aren't keen on nutmeg, so you could sprinkle a bit on a very small bit of orange or apple peel. Don't use anything citrus if you're doing this with cats - citrus oils can be toxic to cats.
Repeat Level 2 with the new fake meds.
Do this for another 3 to 5 days.
If you want, you can go up a level and use even less palatable small bits of food but make sure anything you use is safe for your dog.
If your dog resists the smell, put another step in for a few sessions where you just use orange peel etc, with no strong smelling spice. Then add an unpleasant smell once s/he's happily taking all.the treats.
By now, you should be able to replace the fake meds with real meds. Make sure you make the game fun every time you play it. Play it in different rooms in the house and the garden so that it always feels fun. If your dog loves movement or catching, you can ping the treats out into the air or on the floor. Do whatever it takes to make the Magic Meds Game feel magical!
DONT MISS THIS BIT OUT: 🧐 😂
Every third day, play the game at level 1 so that your dog often gets 5 - 10 of lovely treats with no hidden nasties. This is more likely to avoid any negative associations with the treats or the meds and always keeps the Magical Meds Game truly magical!