How to Nurse an Ailing Dog

sad sick dog
Having a sick dog is no fun, but our tips can help get him on the fast track to recovery.

Any time your dog needs treatment for a significant health problem, his recovery at home will go faster if he gets lots of tender loving care from you, the most important person in his life. It's up to you to make sure he gets plenty of rest, eats right, takes all his medicine and doesn't get too active too soon.

Start by making sure that he has the perfect place to recover. Put your pup's favorite bed (or get him a new, comfortable bed) in a quiet area away from all the hubbub in your home. This could be in a bedroom, a laundry room or a bathroom that isn't used often. If you have kids in your household, don't let them bother the dog too much. They can go in one at a time for a few minutes each day to sit quietly with him, but no roughhousing or loud sounds until he's feeling better.


To tempt his taste buds, serve your dog's food warm -- or top it with something that smells good, such as chicken or beef broth. Scrambled eggs, yogurt and cottage cheese will also encourage his appetite and be easy on his digestive system. Be sure to check with your vet before supplementing his diet, however, to make sure you aren't offering anything he shouldn't have. Your pooch will need plenty of fresh, cool water as well. Make it easy for him to reach so he'll get enough, and check on both his food and water supply often.

Follow your veterinarian's directions to the letter when it comes to exercise. If your dog is recovering from surgery, especially for a broken bone, it's important that he doesn't overdo it. It's hard to keep a good dog down, but if you want him to recover properly, you'll have to be lovingly firm. This may mean putting your pooch's bed in a crate to keep him confined.

Finally, even if he seems to be recovered, don't stop giving your dog his prescribed medications until they're all gone. If you have any questions about whether to continue, don't hesitate to ask your vet.

Before you take your dog home from the vet or animal hospital, you should also ask for tips on dispensing the medication. On the next page, find out why getting a dog to take pills is often easier said than done.


Getting Pup to Take His Pills

someone giving a small dog a pink pill
Getting a dog to take his medicine can be a challenge.

If you've been a dog owner for awhile, you know that getting a dog to take his medicine isn't always easy. Dogs can be pretty sneaky about hiding pills under their tongues or in their cheeks, then spitting them out later when you're not looking. Below, we'll discuss some helpful tips for giving your dog his pills -- and making sure he actually swallows them!

You may need another person to hold your pooch. By the way, make sure you have the pill out and ready to go before you start. Hold your dog's head firmly with one hand or, if he's small, hold him firmly between your knees while kneeling on the floor. If you're working with a puppy or a small breed, it might be easier to wrap the dog in a towel so he can't move or place him on a table.


Hold the pill in one hand. Using the first and middle fingers of the other hand, gently open your dog's jaws and put the pill far back on his tongue. Close his mouth and stroke his throat to get the pill to go down. You can also tilt his head straight back with one hand, grasp the pill between your thumb and forefinger of the other hand, and use your middle finger to open his mouth. Place the pill in the back of his mouth and push it over his tongue. Hold his mouth closed and rub his nose or throat so he'll swallow it.

You can also buy a "pet piller," which is basically a long, thin stick with a plunger on one end. You place the pill in the tip, insert the piller into your dog's mouth and as far back into his throat as you can get it, and then push the plunger to release the pill.

Another trick is to disguise the pill by wrapping it in something soft and tasty, such as cream cheese or peanut butter. Pet supply stores also sell special treats with holes in them so you can tuck the pill inside. Unless your pup is really smart or cautious about what he puts into his mouth, the pill will go down without him even knowing it. Since some medications need to be given on an empty stomach, can interact with certain foods or should not be chewed, be sure to ask your veterinarian if it's okay to give the pill this way.

Pills are one thing, but what if your dog has been prescribed a different type of medication? We'll reveal the best ways to administer other types of medicines on the next page.


Dispensing Other Doggie Meds

Pills can be difficult to give your dog, but what about other types of medications like liquids, drops or ointments? Dispensing these other types of doggie meds may require some special care as well.

To give your dog a liquid medication, make sure you have the proper dosage ready first. Hold your dog the same way you would if you were giving him a pill. With his head tilted upward, pry open his mouth and aim the eyedropper at the cheek pouch. Then, with the dropper still inside, hold his mouth closed and squeeze out the medication. He'll swallow automatically when the liquid reaches the back of his mouth. Make sure he has swallowed before you release your hold. Just to be on the safe side, rub or blow into his nose to make him lick, which will trigger swallowing.


Start out the same way to administer ear drops -- get the dosage ready before getting your dog into position. Holding his ear gently but firmly, tilt his head slightly to the opposite side. Drop the correct dosage into his ear, gently fold it down and rub the cartilage at the base to get the medication all the way into the ear canal. This technique also keeps more of the medicine in your dog's ear if he shakes his head afterward.

Eye drops may be one of the most difficult doggie meds to dispense. Once again, get everything ready and then restrain the dog gently but firmly. It's especially important to keep your pup's head still so that the medicine goes in his eye but the dropper doesn't. Hold the dropper in one hand, tilt his head up and aim the drops at the inner corner of the eye, directly on the eyeball. Make sure you don't touch his eye with the tip of the eyedropper. To ensure that the medication gets distributed evenly over the eye, close and open his eyelid before releasing him.

To apply ointment to your dog's eyes, hold his head steady and gently pull down on his lower lid, exposing the inner eyelid. Rub the ointment on the inside lower lid, and be careful not to get it directly on the eyeball. You can also pull the upper lid back and apply the ointment on the white of the eye. To make sure the medication gets distributed evenly over the eye, close and open your pet's eyelid. To apply ointments to a dog's ears, follow the same directions for ear drops.

Be sure to praise your dog and give him a treat (if he's allowed one) for cooperating while you give him medicine.

Whether your pooch is healthy or recovering from a procedure, it's important to have a first-aid kit ready at all times. Find out what needs to be in yours on the next page.


First-aid Kit for Dogs

dog and first-aid kit
Your dog needs a first-aid kit, too.

Even if your dog isn't ailing, you should still have a first-aid kit available so you can treat him for basic medical problems at home. Ready-made first-aid kits are available at pet supply stores or through catalogs. However, you can also put one together yourself for less, using items from around the house.

Put the kit where you can find it easily and include your veterinarian's business card, along with the phone number for, and directions to, the nearest emergency clinic. You may also want to include the number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center -- in North America, it's (888) 426-4435.


Check the kit every once in a while to make sure you aren't running low on any supplies and that everything is still usable -- some medications may expire or dry up over time.

The following items should be in a basic first-aid kit for dogs:

  • Activated charcoal (available at drugstores) for absorbing poisons
  • Adhesive tape to secure bandages
  • Antibacterial ointment or powder for cleaning wounds
  • Anti-diarrheal agent, such as Kaopectate
  • Blunt-tipped scissors to trim away hair from wounds and cut-bandaging material
  • Cotton balls and cotton swabs
  • Gauze pads and rolls to make bandages
  • Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent) to clean wounds
  • Laxative or antacid, such as milk of magnesia
  • Petroleum jelly to lubricate a thermometer or soothe sore paws
  • Needleless syringe for giving liquid medications
  • Plaster splint for broken limbs
  • Plastic eyedropper to administer liquid medications or eye drops
  • Latex gloves
  • Rectal thermometer
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting
  • Tweezers

Other helpful items for your kit might be needle-nose pliers to remove porcupine quills or other items stuck in the mouth or throat, sanitary napkins to help stop heavy blood flow, and towels. For many of these items -- such as the anti-diarrheal agent, laxative or syrup of ipecac -- it's important to get advice from a vet before giving them to your dog. You may also want to include identifying and important medical information for your dog in case a petsitter needs to care for him.

No one likes to see their pet sick or injured, of course. But if you ever do find yourself with an ailing pooch on your hands, you'll know what to do.


Lots More Information

Related Articles


  • Eldredge, Debra M., et al. "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook." John Wiley and Sons. 2007.
  • Nash, Holly. "Making a First Aid Kit for Your Dog." Drs. Foster and Smith Pet Education. 2011. (June 16, 2011)
  • PetFinder. "Recommended Pet First Aid Kit." PetFinder. 2011. (June 16, 2011)
  • PetPlace Staff. "First Aid Kit for Dogs." Pet Place. 2011. (June 16, 2011)
  • Ruben, Dr. Dawn. "How to Administer Ear Medication to Your Dog." Pet Place. 2011. (June 16, 2011)
  • Ruben, Dr. Dawn. "How to Administer Eye Medication to Your Dog." Pet Place. 2011. (June 16, 2011)
  • Ruben, Dr. Dawn. "How to Administer Liquid Medication to Your Dog." Pet Place. 2011. (June 16, 2011)
  • Ruben, Dr. Dawn. "How to Administer Pill Medication to Your Dog." Pet Place. 2011. (June 16, 2011)