How not to medicate dogs

A frame Mia

After we started treating Leo for pannus, Mia’s eyes started looking goopy. Tempting as it was to just start giving her the same medicine we give Leo, I took her in for her own eye exam. While Mia has better social skills than Leo in many ways (as far as people are concerned), Leo is actually the friendlier dog. Mia is not very cooperative when it comes to being examined, and will try her hardest to escape.

We managed to get her up on the motorized, elevated exam table, and I held her still long enough to have her eyes looked at. I tried not to be offended when the vet tech asked if she needed to be muzzled. Nothing against muzzles, but in this situation it would have only increased her aversion. We have never muzzled her, and she doesn’t bite. It seems my eye doctor has had bad experiences with German shepherds before, so rather than be defensive, the best I can do is hope for my dogs to be breed ambassadors.

Anyway, she was diagnosed with dry eye. Not as serious as Leo’s pannus, but requiring one of the same medicines. They gave it to me in drop form, even though Leo was getting it as an ointment.

Mia hated the medicine. She ran away from me when I tried to put it in, and afterward, would wipe at her eye. I told the eye doctor this and she said maybe to try the ointment because the drops might sting. Owie! Poor Mia!

For several weeks, I only managed to give her the medicine once a day, because she clearly hated it so much. She didn’t wipe at her eyes like she did with the drops, but she ran away from me afterward. If I gave her a piece of cheese afterward, she’d run away from me next time I offered cheese. If I gave it to her after she came in the house at bedtime, she’d refuse to come back inside next time.

Mia is totally on to me. I have to vary the routine so she doesn’t form a negative association with anything that happens anywhere near the time I give her the medicine. She does hold still when I give her the medicine, but she obviously holds a grudge.

For several days, I gave it to her right before or right after we went on our evening walk, which was working out pretty well. But it became clear that getting the medicine once a day is not enough, so now I have to find a time to do it in the morning that doesn’t ruin our entire relationship.

I feed them right before I leave the house. I put Mia’s bowl in her little condo outside, and close her in the dog run. She used to trot right into her condo for breakfast. After just one day of my giving her eye medicine before feeding her, she refused to come back into the dog run from the big yard. I’m telling you, she holds a grudge!

Any trainer would say the trick is to give her a really high value reward to give her a better association with the medicine. But you see what’s happening here? The medicine is such an aversive it’s poisoning whatever reward I try to give her. I’ve made up my mind though, that it’s important for her to get the medicine twice a day. She’s due for her 3-month checkup, and I don’t even want to subject her to it until I’ve been giving her the proper dosage.

So I’ll be chasing her down twice a day, and hoping that she still loves me in between doses.

Positive TrainingThis post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. This month’s theme is National Pet First Aid Awareness Month. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week – please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!

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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

14 thoughts on “How not to medicate dogs

  1. Great post, Kari. I had to give my cats eye drops last fall. And valium. I needed a valium after that experience. And the cats still haven’t forgiven me. Talk about a grudge. Maybe Mia is part feline?

  2. I can so relate, Cow had gunky eyes and I had to give her a pill and eyedrops twice a day for a week. I put the pill in a yummy treat every time, but occasionally the powder exploded out, and I’m sure that tasted nasty for her. :/ I made the mistake of calling her before medicating her, so her recall suffered. It’s still a bit weak, so I’m going back to basics with whistle training this week.

    I try to say happy things to help steer Cow’s reaction, like “Yay! Medicine time for Cow so Cow can feel better!” It doesn’t fool her, but I’m hoping it helps that I avoid holding my breath and dreading the dose too.

    I hope Mia starts feeling better soon!

    1. The powder is the worst! Leo had to take an antibiotic that was a capsule like that and you could just tell it tasted disgusting. Even when it didn’t explode, he’d spit the pill out. Why would they even make veterinary meds like that? Everything should be bacon flavored!

      I give them both kisses on their noses after, but I think that’s more rewarding for me than for them.

  3. Poor Mia and poor you! That does not sound fun at all! My dogs don’t particularly enjoy being treated for things either so we’ve started training for it.

    I’m linking you to a full video by Chirag Patel. He was the guy I was talking about in my blog post today. He teaches animals to cooperate for medical treatments. This one is for ear medicine but I’m sure you can modify it for their eyes. here’s another one for eye drops:

    I hope that helps!

    1. Thanks! I love that they show a German shepherd getting ear drops. They are SOOO sensitive about their ears. Leo screams at me if I rub his ear the wrong way.

  4. I really sympathize with this. Ruby scratched her cornea (running straight into a bush after a rabbit…with her face…) and we tried two kinds of drop and an ointment. She was not. having. it. Thankfully it healed on its own even though she got very little of the prescribed medication. You can imagine how relieved I was that Boca was an easy patient since she required several different courses of eye medication up to four times a day over the length of our ocular ordeal.

  5. Mr. N tends to get eye gunk so he’s used to me messing around his eye area. I’m working on re-conditioning him to brushing though. He had some bad tangles so he’s a little sensitive about me brushing right now. Thanks for joining the hop!

  6. I totally sympathize, too. Chirag Patel, whom Lauren linked to, is awesome, though!

    Nala sort of hates having her ears cleaned. The first time or two that I did it was bad enough for her to develop a horror of me approaching her with cotton balls. One simple fix for that–which may help here, too–is that I started warming up the bottle of ear wash before using it (if you must know, I stick it in the waistband of my pants until it’s body temperature. I’m classy like that). She finds it much less offensive now that it’s not cold *and* in her ears.

    One other thing–and I am sure you know this but it is worth mentioning–is to make sure that you always get the eye drops out, let Mia see them, *then* get the food. If I were in this situation, I would probably carry the eye drops around and periodically whip them out, give Mia a ton of treats, and put them away (without using them). Repeat for two days–no medicine for two days, sorry!–then add putting the drops back in before her walk. A few more days, then do morning drops.

    But I really feel your pain. I’ve been working on mouth handling with Nala for what feels like forever. I’m lucky that I have the luxury of taking forever with it.

  7. I think administering eye drops is one of the hardest things to do. I just had to do this with the old doxie (clearly size wise easier than your guys) and 2x Day. We muzzle and I actually try to give them from behind her head so she cannot see me coming… easier said than done though. Until you actually have to do this stuff at home – no one really gets how hard this can be….

    1. That was what the vet recommended. With Leo, I developed a technique of resting the hand holding the bottle on his forehead, tilting his chin back with the other hand and using a finger on the other hand to hold the eyelid open. Surprisingly, Mia now allows me to do this once I catch up to her, but then she refuses to talk to me afterward.

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