Much like humans, dogs’ bodies often need help to function to their best abilities. Whether you have a German shepherd that needs extra hip and joint support, or you’re in the same boat as I am and have a Shih Tzu that needs help in maintaining healthy skin and coat, there are essential dog supplements out there for the majority of pets owners may need to give.
Unfortunately, dog supplements aren’t always mouth-wateringly good. And it's not always just the supplements that we have to give them either. Sometimes, it's the essential dog medicine that not only tastes bad but smells unappealing to our canine companions.
Heidi, my Shih Tzu, isn’t a picky eater by any means, but she isn’t a big fan of the skin and coat supplements I have to give her. We chose soft chews from NaturVet as the best supplement for her skin and coat, and because these are large-sized chews, I can’t hide them in her grain-free dog food without her finding out (she’s a smart pup).
So how do I get her to take it? It’s actually quite simple: my favorite method is to reward her for taking the dog supplement. Basically, once she takes it, I give her a tasty dog treat to wash down the not-so-tasty chew to reinforce positive behavior.
I'll expand on my techniques further in this article, but for more great and actionable tips on how to give a dog medicine (pills and liquid), supplements, and vitamins, I recommend you watch Samantha's video and step-by-step instructions I link to below.
How I Give My Dog Essential Pet Supplements She Doesn’t Like
You have to think about this as if you were training your dog. If you told your dog to sit, and he ran away from you, would you give him a reward? Of course not!
If you were to potty train your puppy and he pooped in the middle of your brand-new rug, would you praise him? I don't think so.
This is the same concept, except instead of teaching your dog good pet-iquette, you’re teaching your dog to take essential dog supplements that will help him live a happier and healthier life – despite the temporary not-so-yummy taste.
If you want an effective way to make your dog take the supplements, make the event a big deal. Clap your hands, give praise to your dog, give him a hug and a kiss, then offer him a tasty dog treat.
Dogs feed off their human’s emotions and have a natural desire to please their owners. When your dog sees how happy him eating the dog supplement made you, he will be more willing to eat it the next time (although not guaranteed).
Let’s look at this from another angle. Remember that nasty cherry cough medicine you’d have to take as a child? No one liked taking that – especially me. Now imagine that taste in the form of a small, brown chew… would you want to eat it? I know I wouldn’t.
I remember having to have a glass of water in my other hand so I could chug it after I drank the gag-worthy cough syrup. For this reason, I completely understand why my dog was hesitant to take her supplement if it tastes anywhere near as bad. She's a child.
What dog treats work best?
There’s a factor you need to keep in mind when using a dog treat as a reward for your dog taking his essential supplements: the calorie count of a single dog treat.
You don’t want to accidentally make your dog gain weight as a result of taking the supplement. This is especially important if you have to feed your dog supplements or medication multiple times a day.
Typically, larger dogs require more pet supplements. For example, dog supplements I feed my Heidi only require me to give her one per day based on her weight, but a larger breed weighing over 100 pounds would need three chews per day.
If you're feeding your dog a supplement three times a day and rewarding him with a high-calorie dog treat every time, the pounds will add up quickly, so keep that in mind.
If you have a highly-active dog – such as a hunting dog or a herding dog – a reward treat that’s a bit high in calories won’t have that big of an impact on him. If your dog is small and generally low-key like mine is, you need to keep the calorie count low.
I generally stick around the 3 to 6 calories range. If you're really concerned about the calories or your dog is on a special diet, be sure to consult with your veterinarian for some suggestions of low calorie treats or treats that will fit in with his individual dietary needs.
For the most healthy ones, take a look at this list of best USDA organic dog treats.
If you have to give your dog a supplement or medication that is in pill form and not a tasty chew, there are pill pouches dog treats specifically to hide medicine. These are commonly called “pill pockets” or “treat pockets”, and these dog treats work well to hide essential supplements or medications. Greenies makes the most popular ones.
Keep in mind that these aren't very cost-effective if you need to give a lot of pills to dogs.
Generally, pill pocket dog treats are very malleable, so once you insert the pill you can pinch the edges closed and your dog will have no idea the treat is even in there. If you choose these types of treats, you still need to watch the calorie count, however. Some of these treats can have 30 or more calories per treat!
In terms of dog supplements themselves, below is a list of the most common pet owners use.
- Grizzly Salmon Plus Omega Fatty Acids Food Supplement
- Nutramax Laboratories Cosequin DS Chewable Tablets
- Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM Chewables for Large Dogs
- Glyco-Flex III Vetriscience Laboratoies
- GREENIES Hip and Joint Dog Supplements
* The above top 5 picks for best-selling dog supplements are based on Amazon’s Best Seller rankings [July 2016].
What to expect when giving your dog supplements
Your dog isn’t going to understand right away that he’s going to get rewarded for taking his essential pet supplements, so you need to be patient. Don’t get angry if he’s hesitant to take the supplement. Patience will be key in learning this process.
Remember what I mentioned earlier about cherry cough medicine. No one goes running to the medicine cabinet to drink that stuff for fun, and your dog isn’t going to be sitting up and begging for a treat that doesn’t make his taste buds dance.
You may have to coax him into it, but once he finally does eat his supplement, follow the guidelines we discussed earlier: praise and treat. Then rinse and repeat again. Make sure your praise and reward immediately so he knows exactly what he did that you liked.
Not all dogs learn quickly. Some canines will take longer to pick up the connection between supplement and reward than others. My dog got the routine down within a few days, but every dog is different. Just keep things consistent and have a little patience.
It’s important to keep the big picture in mind during this process of essentially training your dog to take his pet supplements. It’s okay to get frustrated when he refuses to take his supplement. However, when that happens, you have to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember that everything worthwhile takes time.
It’s going to happen eventually. Your dog will learn to take supplements willingly. You just have to be patient, loving, and consistent. Good luck, and here’s to your dog’s health!