Adventures in Medicating Ginger

First, you should know that Ginger is a twelve year old lab-chow mix who thinks she’s a puppy.

We got her as a puppy and were told she wouldn’t get “too big” because “neither of her parents were big”. As she got older and bigger, I decided we were lied to. When we first got her home, though, our plan was to let her be an inside dog so we started trying to housebreak her. Then one day, as she and I are both walking toward the back door, she got there before me (again), made eye contact with me as I reached for the door handle (again), and squatted. Again. I was done and Ginger became an outside dog. Have we been the best dog parents? No, but we do love her and are trying.

When she was 4-5, we noticed a lump under her jaw and that her hind legs were getting weak. We took her to the vet, fearing the worst. Taylor had just lost her baby brother and now we were afraid we were about to lose Ginger. When she responded well to prednisone (a steroid), we knew it wasn’t cancer, but what was going on? A friend who worked at our then vet’s office told us that the doctor was pouring over his books and had consulted with Auburn (THE vet school in Alabama). After a couple of months of testing, we found out it’s an autoimmune disorder and, if we wanted to, we could take her to Auburn, spend several more hundred dollars, and maybe find out exactly what disorder. At that point, she was responding well to prednisone and doing fine. I wasn’t going to spend several hundred dollars for a maybe.

Because you can’t stay on a steroid forever, we eventually switched her to the medication she’s now on: azathioprine. This is a medication typically given to people who have had organ transplants. Yep, it’s an antirejection drug for people. Yes, she has her own listing at our drugstore (Ginger TheDog McAlister).

During this whole ordeal, she had also quit eating. She couldn’t eat dry food. She ate puppy food at the vet’s office but refused it at home. My guess is that she was starving when they put it in front of her and, like any starving … person? individual? animal? She’d have eaten anything you put in front of her. So, crazy dog-mom that I was, I dug through the internet and found out how to go about making her food. It was a concoction of brown rice, ground beef, and vegetables. She LOVED it. I made large batches and divided them into quart bags. I put the pill in that and she scarfed it down without even realizing it.

From my reading, I knew I couldn’t keep up with her dietary needs with what I was feeding her so, when she was better, we transitioned back to dry food. I will never forget that morning. I put her bowl in front of her, she looked at it then looked up at me and I could see the disappointment on her face. I felt like a horrible dog-mom, but yeah, I was done cooking batches of rice, meat, and veggies.

Once she was back on dry food, our next challenge was giving her her medication. A vet tech recommended that we wrap it in cheese and peanut butter. That combination sounded gross to me and apparently Ginger agreed. I tried just peanut butter. Nope. My dog is the first one I’ve met who doesn’t like peanut butter. I put it in a little bit of cheese and boom, done.

One day, I dropped it. She ate the cheese and I thought she was going to leave the pill. Nope, she then went back for the pill.

“What the hell? I could’ve just been giving you the pill??”

She looked up at me with those big brown puppy eyes and her tongue hanging out like a goofball and I decided to keep giving her the cheese.

About a year ago, we learned that azathioprine causes liver damage. We can’t NOT give her the azathioprine, so she is now also on a liver medication. This one is for dogs, though. It’s called Denamarin and they have chewables. The only problem is, she’d have to take it on an empty stomach–no food an hour before or after taking it. Okay, mornings would be the easiest for that.

Ginger sleeps in a kennel in our garage. In the mornings, I come down and let her out. With the addition of the Denamarin, I started waiting for her and bringing her back in as well. After multiple mornings of her leaving the chewables in her bowl, I gave up. The vet’s office recently fussed at me about it.

“Why am I just now hearing about this?”

“That’s a good question, because I’ve mentioned it every time I’ve brought her for boarding or a bath or anything else!”

They gave me the non-chewable version for free.

The non-chewable version is about the size of erythromycin (an antibiotic I affectionately call “a horse pill”). When I was younger, we had dogs and cats. I knew of two ways to give an animal medication: hide it in food or use a “pill pusher” to shove it down their throats. I mentioned this to a vet tech neighbor who responded, “Just put your hand down her throat.”

“Oh sure! Easy for you to say, Little Miss Vet Tech!”

She gave me instructions on getting Ginger’s mouth open. Neither of the dogs we had when I was younger needed to be given meds this way–they were perfectly fine with cheese, thank you very much. I knew the technique because of the cats we’d had, but cats’ heads are smaller than dogs’ heads. Or at least smaller than my dog’s head. When I think of this technique, I think of Tigger. He hated getting meds about as much as we hated giving them to him. He wasn’t fooled by cheese or food. We had to use the pill-pusher, which he also hated. Because of sharp claws, it took two people to give him meds: one to wrap him in a towel and hold the thoroughly pissed cat and the other to give the pill to the now thoroughly beyond pissed cat. Because of sharp teeth, we went through multiple pill-pushers for every round of medication he needed. Once done, the pill-pusher person had to jump back out of the way while the cat-holding person essentially just let go and got out of the way of the flailing, scratching, biting thing that was our cat.

But Ginger. Sweet, sweet Ginger. Sweet, stubborn Ginger…

Day One
I got her mouth open, shoved the pill down her throat, she spit it out.
I picked it up, tried again, she spit it out again.
I gave up, wrapped it in cheese, and she ate it.

Day Two
With a look of resolve on her face, she made me work to pry her jaws open, but I did it and got the pill down her throat without her spitting it out.

Day Three
Not only were her jaws fighting the battle, but she enlisted a new ally: her tongue.
I got her jaw open, shoved the pill in, her tongue did an impressive maneuver and the pill hit the ground.
I picked it up, tried again, she spit it out again then jumped around in a little circle while wagging her tail.
I had to admit she was cute being so proud of herself for non-compliance.
I picked it up. Again. And got it into her mouth. As she was trying to spit it out, I closed her mouth and we both heard a crunch as her teeth bit into the pill. She was not happy as she chewed and swallowed.

Day Four
You know how in movies, when non-compliant patients are given meds, the nurse checks their mouths to make sure they actually swallowed it? This was the day I learned I would need to do that with my dog. I got the pill down her throat with surprising ease, got her back into her kennel then went about the business of getting ready. Later that day, I got a text from Brian. It was a photo of a slightly crushed pill that he found beside his chair in the garage which just happens to be along the path she takes when she comes back inside.

“Any idea what this is?”
“Dammit dog!”

She’s now about to finish a month’s worth of the Denamarin and it’s still a battle, though she hasn’t fought quite as hard lately as she did at first. There’ve been a few mornings in which it’s taken multiple attempts and a few mornings in which I caught her spitting it out somewhere she thought was out of my sight. I’m hopeful we’ll get to the point where she just begrudgingly lets me give it to her.