Thursday, April 17, 2014

LifeHack: Dog Pill Pockets

My dog has some persistent skin infections which require me to give him antibiotics. (I then have to add <a href=>Nzymes Probiotics</a> to his food to aid digestion and hair growth, but I digress.)

At first, Bruno was so eager to please that all things I tossed at him were *treats!* and I could just toss him pills to swallow. He started to realize there was something hinky about certain "treats", and implemented a new policy. He would not catch the first thing I tossed him, but would let it fall and investigate before committing. Raw Pills no longer made the cut. 

I tried stuffing them in cheese, specifically cut up string cheese, but larger pills would split the cheese and Bruno would spit out pills if he noticed them.  I tried hot dogs, but they had similar flaws to cheese, and both were pricey in volume. I tried stuffing them in hunks of Natural Balance sausage, but that doesn't mold or stick well. Ordinarily those are attributes, but are not consistent with disguising pills.  My dog weighs a hundred pounds. His pills can be large and/or numerous. I needed a cheaper, easier option. 

I'm not sure why I bought braunschweiger at the grocery store one day, but I did. I like it a little, but not usually enough to eat the whole package. I had the notion that I could buy it for me and give the rest to the pooch. I'm less fond of it than I remember being. I like the smell fine but the texture gets to me. But Bruno? He thinks Braunschweiger is The. Best. Treat. Ever. He likes it more than marrow, his previous favorite. 

And somehow I got the notion to hide his pills in the braunschweiger. Even knowing there is something hinky with this treat, he will still eat it without question. Success!

After some trial and error, I settled on a method to form these homemade pill pockets.

I scoop a lump of braunschweiger onto a dessert spoon (from Ikea, also used in Rainbow Cake post). I place the pills on it then squish them in, covering them and making a oval shaped lump to facilitate easy swallowing. This works a treat!

But I didn't want to be scooping strong smelling liver sausage twice a day so I started making them ahead and freezing them. This works best if I make a trough in some foil to hold them during assembly, then wrapping the foil into a tube when full. This gets frozen overnight, then twisted between each pill to make counting and retrieval easier. Like so:

Again, make them bullet shaped rather than round to reduce the risk of choking. (These look round due to reflection.) Not that my dog chokes on anything smaller than a charcoal briquette but still, caution seems prudent. If you don't agree that braunschweiger smells nice enough, other options are goat cheese or maybe hummus - if your dog likes either of those things - or anything of similar consistency. The Kroger brand of liver sausage is $2.49/ 8 oz, though, so it's hard to beat on cost and doggie desirability. 

After a while without meds, he's now on 2 antibiotics (poor boy's got methicillin resistant staph that flared up after a steroid treatment, and 4 other opportunistic bugs to add insult to injury). Each dose is given twice a day. Each dose is 3 pills. This would be fine if it was just the small pills. Three small pills fit easily into one sausage pellet. But the second pill is large and slippery. I can't fit 3 of those in one pellet without it being too large. I thought of various combinations to prep - 3A+1B & 2B was the front runner until I realized it would be hard to manage when they all looked the same. I finally settled on one of each pill per pellet / pocket. 

Doing the math, that's 42 pill pockets for a one week supply. He has to take these for a month, which makes 180. Making them all individually as above, with slippery pills, was going to be a pain in the tuchus and take forever. I decided I needed to mass produce them. I looked around for a half pipe shape of a diameter to be useful and enough and found nothing. I did have a notion of what I wanted, though: a tray that I could smear wholesale with braunschweiger. So I made one out of clay. I had to make the clay, too. This is also cheap and easy if you have standard pantry goods. 

Roughly 2 scoops flour to one scoop salt, water to mix, and a drop of food coloring to make it less repulsive looking. I also added some guar gum and xantham gum thickener because I have it and I could. I rolled the dough into a long log about 3/4" diameter or so. Then I placed it on parchment paper and sliced part way through, down the length of the log, and pressed the back of the spoon into the crevice as many times as I could fit. This gave me connected but individual shapes with a slightly crisp upper edge. I then used a rounded plastic clip to enhance the boundary between spoon presses. Realizing these boundaries would be hidden when filling, I made marks on the outside of the mold to indicate placement. (whew! Failure avoided.) I dried it in the oven in low heat (170F, chosen to be <200 & >150) for several hours while I did other stuff. Ta-da! 18 pill pocket molds!

To assemble, I lined the mold with plastic wrap, cut long and gathered slightly to allow some slack. I cut slabs of braunschweiger and pressed them I to the bottom. Between my marks, I placed one of each pill, then went back and smooshed the pills in a bit more.

 I wound up rolling out thin, flattened logs of the braunschweigher to place on top. At this point I closed the plastic wrap over the top and smoothed the top surface, trying to fully cover all pills. I then flipped over the mold to remove to log of sausage pills. To ensure proper distribution and ease of use, I pressed a dull edge into the separation marks, then re-rounded the sides. You can see the plastic wrapped log before enhancing the separation, and the mold showing pocket size relative to pills. 

In not too terribly long, I made 54 "treats", which will last a bit longer than a week. I then formed a few more by my usual method to get pictures and use up the remainder of the braunschweiger.   Now they're in the freezer, ready to start using tomorrow. 

I'll keep the mold until I can make all 180 pellets, then throw it out. But just so I wouldn't forget, I wrote this here helpful post. 

Please feel free to use any of these ideas, but know your dog's limits and use at your own risk. If choking is a concern, thaw the pellets before use. (Freezing only needed if more than a couple days supply is made ahead.) Choose a pellet making medium that is safe for your sick dog to eat.  Make sure, if you make the salty salty mold, to line it with plastic wrap. Otherwise, ick!  Don't let the parchment paper touch the heater elements in your oven, do not poke your eye out, or use my advice to perpetrate any other avoidable tragedy. Because this is the easiest way I know of to give pills to dogs and I want to share it in good faith. Good luck!