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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

How to Give a Dog Pills: 23 Sneaky Treat Ideas

Updated: May 15th, 2024


Dogs who hate pills may just need a tricksy treat! Sneaky ideas for treats to hide pills from experts: our readers.

If you’ve got a dog who hates to take pills — but you HAVE to give them anyway … this article is for you, dear fellow dog lover. I’ve got dozens of tips for you, collected from readers of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

I know you’re at your wit’s end, so I’m going to skip the stories from other dog parents. You’re here because you’ve already tried peanut butter and it didn’t work.
So … let’s dive straight into the best ideas from around the world on how to trick your skeptical dog into taking a pill.

23 Sneaky Treat Ideas That (Almost) Never Fail Your Dog

Pick one of these strategies to tempt your dog beyond reason. Dogs almost never resist the following, listed in descending order of effectiveness:

1. Braunschweiger, Also Known as Liverwurst or Liver Paste

Every supermarket stocks this lovely, nutritious liver pate. (Look for it near the bacon and hot dogs.) Scoop a little bit out, roll it around the pill or capsule, and offer it to your dog. It slides right down. Watch your fingers!

2. Chicken or Turkey Hearts

If you don’t see these in the meat section, ask the butcher on duty if they have any. When the butcher chops up whole chickens for parts, they leave the hearts and livers aside. Some stores pack them into little deli tubs for sale, while others don’t bother and will give them to you for free. Check the freezer, too, because sometimes they stick them in there.
Dogs. Love. Chicken. Hearts.
If you are feeding raw, you can use them as-is. I prefer to cook them, sauteing with a little oil. Or, you can simmer them for ten minutes in water. Reserve that stock — your dog will love it over her food. You can freeze raw or cooked hearts and thaw as needed.
To use, look for the little white rubbery part at the top. That’s the aorta, and it provides the perfect pill tunnel into the center of the ventricle. Nature’s pill pocket! I sometimes have to clip the aorta off to get a larger pill inside.

3. Cream Cheese

A light cream cheese has the ideal slip and slide for a pill pocket. Scoop a little bit of cream cheese and mold it around the pill, and your dog is likely to gulp it down!

And If Those Don’t Work…

Here are some more delicious ideas if those sure-fires fail you. Assuming your dog doesn’t have an allergy, try one of these:
  1. little mozzarella balls
  2. peanut butter
  3. string cheese
  4. any goat’s milk cheese
  5. banana slices/chunks
  6. coconut oil (makes the pill/supplement super slippery and dogs love the taste)
  7. green-lipped mussels
  8. hard-boiled egg
  9. honey (not for puppies, though)
  10. hot dog chunks
  11. deli meat, like chicken, beef, turkey, or ham — as long as it doesn’t have nitrites it’s a nice easy way to wrap pills
  12. meatballs, homemade or frozen
  13. pitted dates have a natural interior pocket and dogs love them!
  14. plain Greek yogurt is thick and makes a lovely treat
  15. boiled potatoes (cooled, of course)
  16. mashed potatoes (cooled, of course)
  17. pumpkin puree (especially good if your dog needs the pumpkin to firm up their poop)
  18. raspberries have a natural pocket for pills
  19. turkey or chicken gizzards, similar to hearts, they have a natural “pocket”
  20. wet canned cat food
  21. marshmallows (thanks, Laura!)
  22. empty gelatin capsules (see below) for the tip!

What About Sugar in Some of Those Treats?

I used to freak out about every little drop of sugar or carbs my dogs ate, worrying that every little bite would feed cancer, not them. It’s true, cancer prefers sugar to any other food, and gobbles it up.

Ten years ago the thought of using a marshmallow or date as a pill pocket would have horrified me.

These days, I’m more relaxed. I have realized that I will never, ever, ever, ever get anything about dog cancer “right,” or “perfect.” There are always tradeoffs.

So, if my dog would ONLY take good-for-them supplements and medications hidden in marshmallows … I would make sure I always had marshmallows on hand.

More Tips for Tricking Your Dog Into Taking Pills

You can choose the perfect treat to trick your dog, but that might be enough. Some dogs are so skeptical they will turn up their noses at even the most delicious liverwurst!

(I honestly think sometimes they just feel so hurt. They thought they were getting something lovely, but there was something nasty inside. How could you??)

Here are some strategies to employ to see if you can help your dog take those darn pills.

Treat – Trick – Treat

If your dog is as skeptical as my Roo is, she needs three treats. The first is a treat, to earn her trust. The second is the trick, with the pill. The third is a “chaser” given immediately, to apologize for the trick.

What?!? It’s Your Dinner!

This works especially well for folks who feed raw. Take a little bit of your raw food and make three meatballs. Insert the pill into one, and then offer them in the treat-trick-treat style. Or … if your dog has figured that out, toss the meatballs to the floor like you’re playing a game. Make sure you toss a “good” one first, then trick, then treat. Dogs often forgive us if they taste a pill while they are also playing!

When Your Dog Engages in Highway Robbery

My dog Roo has an unbelievable nose. She can tell which treats are tricks without any effort. She thinks I’m insulting her intelligence. Instead of swallowing the infected treats, she refuses to eat ANY of them, even the ones she knows are fine.
I should note, she only does this with bitter pills. There is a pain medication that she particularly dislikes. She may tolerate my tricks with other meds and supplements, but this one? No way.
She wants compensation. She sits, staring at me until I split that pill up into tiny bits and give it to her in five or six treats!
I have no choice, folks. I give in.

Big Dog, Big Pills, or Several at Once?

If you’ve got a big dog, you might be able to get several pills into a single ball of cheese of liverwurst slimeball. If your dog isn’t the highway robber type, this works wonders!

Give Treats Every Day at the Same Time

My dog Kanga needs Apocaps every night before bedtime. Since I have two dogs, that means that both dogs need a treat, right before bedtime. 🙂
I call this treat their “midnight snack,” and they get it like clockwork.
On occasion, if Roo also needs a pill, she takes it with her midnight snack with no complaints. I don’t even need to give three.
She knows that most nights it’s only a treat, so the trick doesn’t feel bad.
So pick a time of day that is Treat Time … and then it can also be Pill Time if necessary.

Encapsulate Bitter Pills and Liquids

If you have an especially bitter pill or liquid medication and your dog absolutely HATES the taste, it can be hard to trick him into taking it. That sensitive snout can smell that pill, even inside liverwurst!

That’s when I use empty gelatin capsules, which you can buy at any health food store and online. Open the capsule, pour the liquid into it, and close it up. Then use a slice of deli meat or any of the tricky foods above to hide the capsule and proceed.

If you’re dealing with a pill, you can use a pill splitter to cut it up and put the pieces inside the capsules. Careful, though — some chemo agents given at home should NOT be cut open. Follow the label!

One note on gelatin caps: some dogs don’t tolerate them well.

Let me know in the comments if any of these worked for your pup.
And if you have another sneaky treat idea, tell us!
Warm Aloha,

Molly Jacobson
Editor, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Further Reading

Recommended Supplements for Dogs with Cancer: The Most Important Supplements in Order of Importance from The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Pain Management Update PLUS: Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

Prednisone for Dogs: Uses for Dog Cancer and Other Medical Conditions, Side Effects, Alternative Options, and More

Leave a Comment

  1. Renata on June 14, 2022 at 4:55 am

    Creampuffs! 1 cream puff can be broken in half and used for 2 (or more if small) pills. Maybe a little high on calories but they work, and can be used when your dog wont take healthier options. My dog just wolfes them down.

  2. MaryAnn on June 11, 2022 at 6:15 pm

    I have tried all of these, and more. Luna is not the least bit food motivated, so I’m doomed from the start. I can’t grind up or break her Palladia (chemo) pills, so all I’ve found that works is to coat the pill in butter (the squeeze kind), drop it as far down her throat as I can, hold her mouth shut and squirt a syringe of water between her teeth.
    However, she occasionally holds it in her throat till yellow/orange water starts to seep out the sides of her mouth. I’m sure once the coating starts to come off it tastes even worse. Sometimes she’ll cough or choke and spew pieces of the pill and liquid all over. The yellow stains terribly…cloth, floor and skin. I wear gloves when I administer it, now I’ve started wearing glasses. Next I’ll have to suit up in a PPE gown.
    This has been going on for over a year and nothing else has come close to working. However, it’s been almost 3 years since her surgery for liver and adrenal cancer (pheochromocytoma) and she’s doing well. So the battle continues…

  3. Margaret on July 13, 2021 at 4:25 am

    I chew up some English walnuts, put it on a plate, make a fingerprint in the middle, pull the top off of the pill if it’s in powder form, allow the little bit that’s in the top to fall into the depression I made, place the opened capsule in and roll it all together making sure none of the powder is on the outside. He takes it easily, this way. I found out the capsules were going right through his system and out into the poop, those pills are expensive. No more capsules in the poop.

  4. Virginia Chapson on July 13, 2021 at 1:06 am

    One of my pill tricks is to grind the tablets. Add about 2Tbs. of buttermilk, then feed. My dogs will lick
    up every bit.
    I use a mortar and pestle for the grinding and add the buttermilk to the mortar.

  5. Gary Rogers on July 11, 2021 at 1:17 am

    Great article, thanks for sharing… I finally discovered using Vienna Sausages. Use a thermometer to punch a hole through them, I put her Chemo pill in one end and the Prednisone in the other end. Because of her sensitive nose I put peanut butter over the holes and she swallows the sausage in one bite. Been doing this for three years and our Yorkypoo ‘Roxy’ is still going strong, full of energy and plays on the floor with me every night. She is 13 and I hope she makes it to 20… hope this helps someone to save their precious babies, Gary in Marietta Georgia..

    • Molly Jacobson on July 11, 2021 at 12:58 pm

      I think my dogs would just about die of happiness if I offered them this treat. Great idea!!

  6. Laura Gilmartin on October 25, 2020 at 6:23 am

    One treat that you didn’t mention was marshmallows. They have been my go -to for many years and many dogs without any refusals.

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