Flavoring for Pet Medications

They estimate that over 11 million prescriptions are written for compounded animal drugs annually.

In a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance released in 2019, they estimated that over 11 million prescriptions are written for compounded animal drugs annually. Species are a key factor to take into consideration when discussing flavor preferences and dosage form preferences.

Flavors can disguise bad-tasting drugs; this is where the art of compounding meets the science of compounding. Pharmacists use flavor strategically, by complementing the existing flavor of medicine (for example, adding a fruit flavor to a sour-tasting medication), or by masking it altogether with a strong, pleasant taste that overshadows the flavor of the medicine.

Liquid Formulations: For medications that are available in liquid form, flavoring agents can be added directly to the liquid medication to improve the taste. This can be done by the veterinarian or a compounding pharmacy. However, it’s essential to check with your veterinarian or pharmacist before altering the formulation of any medication.

Some medications use a less bitter insoluble salt or use secondary flavors to mask bitter end-notes. Additionally, enhancers like sweeteners and salt help mask the bitterness. Other enhancers can also be used to improve the feel of the medication in the patient’s mouth. (Anything that can make a medication feel non-gritty, smooth, or creamy can generally improve patient compliance.)


Cats lack the necessary receptor to detect sweetness, therefore sweetening dosage forms for cats are unnecessary unless the sweetener has a dual bitter-blocking purpose. Bitterness masking can be very important for oral medications for cats as many have a strong aversion to bitter tastes. The aroma can be an important consideration as well. A study in cats demonstrated the similar significance of aroma and flavor.

When designing oral suspensions, solutions, or pastes flavoring both for taste and aroma is essential for dosage form acceptance. Cats tend to prefer meaty flavors such as fish (tuna, sardine, etc.), chicken, liver, beef, or dairy related such as vanilla or marshmallow. One study evaluating 90 owners and their cats found that owners rated the delivery of medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT)[1] as easier than using gelatin capsules.

Pet owners may ask, “Why not just use foods as flavoring?” Foods typically are not used in compounding because they can spoil, and significantly increase the volume that needs to be given because foods are less concentrated than most flavoring agents used and may interfere with the bioavailability or stability of the medication.


A study in dogs demonstrated a greater full and partial acceptance rate of tablets combined with aromas as compared to sugar placebos. Flavoring preferences can be highly individual, but generally, dogs seem to prefer meaty flavors such as bacon, beef, or chicken as well as sweet flavors such as peanut butter or marshmallow.

A study looking at palatability of dosage forms in dogs found that dogs preferred flavored products over ones simply sweetened with sugar and that when it came to chewable treats the likelihood of full consumption decreased if the dosage form was too chewy. It’s important to know that your dog’s sense of smell is between 10,000 and 100,000 times stronger than yours.

This means that although you can’t smell the beef flavoring inside that thick plastic pill bottle, chances are your dog can, and if your pup can smell it there’s a pretty good possibility they’ll try to eat it. Judging by the graveyard of chew toys in your backyard, it goes without saying that the plastic bottle and even the cap that gives you trouble don’t stand a chance of keeping your dog away from those lamb-flavored goodies.

Assuming your dog gets into the bottle, there won’t just be one missing; they’re all going in their tummy. Depending on what medicine your dog has eaten, they could become very ill or die. That is the greatest danger of flavored medicine for dogs.

Other Pets

Other species such as small mammals, birds, and lizards may also be in need of compounded treatment. Small mammals that are herbivores, such as rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs often do well with oral suspensions or gels/pastes that can be smeared on food. These animals often do well with vegetable flavors such as lettuce, celery, or carrot, or fruity flavors such as banana créme.

Mixing with Food: Some medications can be mixed with a small amount of moist pet food or treats. The medication is typically crushed or ground into a fine powder and mixed thoroughly with the food. It’s important to check with your veterinarian to ensure that the medication can be safely administered with food, as certain medications may interact with or be degraded by certain types of food.

Omnivorous small animals, such as rats, hamsters, gerbils, and mice often do well with either fruity or savory flavors. Fruity flavors such as orange, tangerine, or banana cream or more savory flavors such as cheese or peanut butter may be considered. Obligate carnivores, such as ferrets often prefer savory flavors such as liver, beef, or bacon. For reptiles, specific species play a large role in which flavors work best.

To give a few examples of a more common species, lizards, such as iguanas, often do well with fruity flavors such as lemon or banana créme. Making a small, concentrated dosage form is often key to acceptance in iguanas. For reptiles such as snakes, flavoring may not be added, and tricks such as injecting medicine into a food item such as an egg may be appropriate depending on the species or snake and diet.

For most birds, sweet or fruity flavors are preferred. Birds may receive oral suspensions or gels smeared on a favorite piece of fruit or mixed with yogurt. Tropical birds often do well with flavors such as banana, tutti-fruity, orange, or pina colada. For parrots, fruity flavors may be considered, but spicey flavors such as cayenne are also sometimes used.

It’s important to note that while flavoring medications can make them more appealing to pets, it’s crucial to follow the instructions and dosage recommendations provided by your veterinarian. Also, be aware that some medications should not be altered or mixed with certain substances, as it may affect their efficacy or safety. Always consult with your veterinarian or a compounding pharmacist to ensure the proper administration of medications to your cat.

  1. Medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT) is a type of dietary oil that has gained popularity in recent years due to its potential health benefits. MCT oil is composed of medium-chain fatty acids, which are metabolized differently than long-chain fatty acids commonly found in other dietary oils. MCTs are rapidly absorbed and transported to the liver, where they can be quickly converted into ketones and used as an energy source. MCT oil has been studied for its potential therapeutic effects on a variety of health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and neurological disorders. However, further research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of using MCT oil as a dietary supplement. [Back]

Further Reading


Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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