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It’s hard enough for humans to administer eye drops to themselves. But how do you give them to your dog? Although eye drops are important for various eye issues, it’s challenging to gain your dog’s cooperation. You don’t want to waste expensive medication or potentially make your dog uncomfortable by holding them down.

What is the best technique to successfully administer eye drops? And can you train your dog to be a willing participant?

Why Your Dog Might Need Eye Drops

According to Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club, many different canine health concerns require treatment with eye drops. These include example, eye infections, inflammation of the eye, abrasions of the cornea (the transparent surface of the eyeball), ulcers of the cornea, glaucoma, and keratoconjunctivitis sicca (also known as dry eye). Some of these conditions may only require eye drops to be administered until the condition has improved. Others, like dry eye, can require treatment for the duration of your dog’s life.

Senior Golden Retriever receiving eye drops at the vet.
fotoedu via Getty Images

How to Administer Eye Drops to Your Dog

It’s impossible to give eye drops to a moving dog. Because you need your pet to be immobile and calm, using the right technique can make all the difference. Dr. Klein recommends the following steps for administering eye drops:

  • Have all tubes or bottles opened and ready to go.
  • While holding the tube, place the hand applying the medication on the dog’s skull. This will keep your hand stable and help prevent you from poking the dog’s eye with the tube if they move. Firmly hold the dog’s head close to your body.
  • With that same hand, gently lift the dog’s upper eyelid.
  • With your other hand, gently pull down the lower eyelid of the same eye. You want to create a pouch into which you will place the eye drop.
  • Gently drop the medication into the pouch in the lower eyelid. Then let the dog close their eye. This will allow the medication to spread across the surface of the eyeball.
  • Be careful not to touch the tip of the tube to any part of the dog’s eyeball or skin. It can hurt the dog and contaminate the medication.
  • If you miss the first time, don’t worry. Just do it again. It’s better to miss than contaminate the tube or cause injury to your dog.
  • Release your dog as soon as you’re finished. Then praise them for their cooperation.

Tips for Giving Eye Drops to Small and Medium-Sized Dogs

Dr. Klein suggests placing small and medium-sized dogs on an elevated surface, like a grooming table, because it gives you the upper hand. “Big dogs may be larger and stronger, but smaller dogs can be more squiggly and difficult to keep still.”

German Spitz sitting on a grooming table at a dog show.
©Mariana -

It’s far easier to have the dog at your level than to bend over or crawl on the floor. Your dog is also more likely to stay still when elevated. Be careful if you place your dog on a slippery surface, which you can cover with a towel to make your dog feel more secure. If you’ve taught your dog to go to their place, you can even put that beloved mat or bed on the table to provide comfort and familiarity. But never let your dog jump off the table, as they could fall or suffer an injury. You can even sit on the couch and tuck your dog in beside you.

Tips for Giving Eye Drops to Large Dogs

With a larger dog, lifting them onto a table is a gargantuan task. Instead, leave your dog on the ground, stand beside them, and follow the steps above. Or you can ask your dog to sit, then walk behind them and place one foot on either side of their body so you’re straddling them like a horse. Next, place your medication-dispensing hand on the dog’s skull and the other hand under their chin to tilt their head back. Finally, follow the remaining steps above to administer the drops.

Training Your Dog to Accept Eye Drops

If your dog dislikes receiving eye drops, it will get more difficult to enlist their cooperation the next time. Instead, a little training can go a long way. You can teach your dog to tolerate the procedure and even willingly assist you by staying still.

First, be confident with the technique you will be using. Your dog can read your emotions, so if you’re anxious, they will be too. Always ask your veterinarian or a veterinary technician to show you the proper way to apply the drops before you leave the clinic or hospital. Because it requires coordination, you might want to practice on a cushion or stuffed animal until you get comfortable with the procedure. Then you can work with your dog calmly and skillfully.

German Wirehaired Pointer getting pet
©rodimovpavel -

Next, don’t force your dog. If the situation is too traumatic, you will only make it harder in the long run. Dr. Klein advises, “If your dog struggles too much, let go and give them a minute before you try again. Your aim is to win the war, not just a battle. But at the same time, be firm.”

Finally, use the power of positive reinforcement. Reward your dog for their cooperation. If your dog loves treats, give them a few as soon as you’re finished. If they would rather play fetch, toss them their ball. Or using whatever makes the experience worth your dog’s while. You can even break down the steps of the procedure and desensitize and countercondition your dog to each one. For example, start with touching their head, then rewarding them. Next, touch their eyelids, then reward them, and so on. With a little bit of effort, your dog will be a far more willing partner and eye drop administration will be stress-free.

Related article: How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?
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