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Pets: Outsmarting the dog on pills

Q: I read your recent column on pilling cats. What I need to know is how to give pills to my stubborn dog, who spits them out. I’ve tried rolling a pill inside peanut butter and lunchmeat, but to no avail. Is there a secret trick?

– D.N., Anchorage, Alaska

A: Cats often seem like magicians, able to determine if there’s a pill within a mile of their food bowl, and dogs can be pretty adept, too.

First, stop hiding pills inside peanut butter or lunchmeat. The problem is, your dog is on to you. She has figured out that where there’s peanut butter or lunchmeat, there’s likely to be a bitter-tasting pill. Substitute another treat. You have lots of options, including liverwurst, baby food, cheese, or tasty Pill Pockets. Check with your veterinarian on the best choice.

If you want to try liverwurst, for example, start on a day when you have some time. Early in the morning, roll the liverwurst into three little balls. Make a big deal of this, then as you hand each ball to your dog, say something like “Here’s your special treat!”

Now, repeat the same process two more times. The final time around, roll four little liverwurst balls. Inside the third ball, hide the dog’s pill. By now, your dog will be conditioned to know that liverwurst balls are wonderful.

Start again by saying, “Here’s your special treat!” – so your dog is excited about what’s about to happen. Confidently, pop her the first three balls and hold the fourth at her nose, ready to go. For dogs, smell overtakes taste. Be smooth, confident, upbeat and quick – and this “secret” trick will work. (By the way, if you do use lunchmeat or peanut butter to entice your dog, low salt is preferred.)

Another solution might be to simply buy moist dog food and hide your dog’s pills in that. “Hoover dogs” who inhale their food may never realize there’s a nasty pill there.


Q: I saw a television segment recently about overvaccinating pets. This may be a genuine problem, according to my veterinarian. She wasn’t sure if my dog really needed the vaccine for leptospirosis.

My pet hangs out at dog parks, and I take her for walks. Based on that TV segment, it may make sense not to vaccinate. Do you think I should skip the leptospirosis vaccine?

– C.L., Chicago

A: “No, don’t skip the vaccine,” implores Dr. Natalie Marks, a Chicago veterinarian. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease spread primarily through urine of rodents and other infected animals. Unprotected dogs can get quite sick by drinking infected water, or licking their paws after they’ve stepped in infected water.

Leptospirosis can make people sick, too. The disease is zoonotic, meaning that people can potentially get lepto from dogs.

“Protecting our pets protects us, as well,” Marks notes.

Lepto prevalence does seem to be on the rise, particularly in well-populated areas. City rats are among primary carriers.

Marks says veterinary vaccine experts now consider the vaccine for leptospirosis a core vaccine. It’s that important. Talk with your veterinarian and weigh the benefit of vaccinating compared with the risk of leaving your dog unprotected.

“Certainly, any vaccine (can trigger) a reaction, and the most common seen in the leptospirosis vaccines are itching or swelling at the vaccine site, (although) those are rare,” Marks says.

“Even more rare are more serious reactions to the vaccine, which range from vomiting to severe allergic response.”

Marks adds that “the recent measles outbreak occurred because of a concern (among some people) regarding the safety of vaccination – and look what happened. Vaccines protect our pets, and in this instance protect us, as well.”

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is