How to Administer Rectal Medications

By Catherine Barnette, DVM

Why would my pet need rectal medication?

While rectal drug administration is not very common in veterinary medicine, it is required in certain situations. Your veterinarian may prescribe rectal medication if your pet is unable to swallow oral medications or if a specific required medication cannot be effectively absorbed with oral delivery. The rectal tissues contain large number of blood vessels very close to their surface, which means that medications delivered to this area are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.

Rectal medication is most commonly used to treat seizures. While most pets with seizures are prescribed an oral medication to prevent or reduce seizures, your veterinarian may also send you home with an emergency drug to give in the case of a prolonged seizure that does not appear to be stopping. Reaching into your pet’s mouth during an active seizure is risky for both you and your pet, so these emergency drugs are often given rectally. This minimizes risk do you and your dog while allowing the medication to rapidly enter your pet’s bloodstream and reach your pet’s brain.

How do I administer liquid medication rectally?

Before you can administer medication rectally, it is important to ensure that you have the correct dose for your pet. If your veterinarian sent you home with individual doses of medication that are already drawn up into syringes, ensure that you have the correct number of syringes for your pet (according to the prescription label recommendations). If your veterinarian sent you home with a bottle of liquid medication, carefully draw up the appropriate amount of medication as directed by your veterinarian.

Next, remove the needle from the tip of the syringe (if one is present). If your veterinarian sent you home with a teat cannula or other short piece of rubber tubing, you should attach this cannula or tubing to the end of the syringe in place of the needle. The use of a teat cannula or tubing is not strictly necessary, however; there is no need to worry if your veterinarian did not send one home with you.

Use sterile lube or petroleum jelly to lubricate the syringe. Then insert the syringe (with the tubing or cannula attached, if provided) into your pet’s rectum. Advance the syringe approximately one to two inches into the rectum, although you should stop sooner if you feel that you are meeting resistance.

Once the syringe tip is in place within your pet’s rectum, fully depress the syringe plunger. After you have emptied the full contents of the syringe into your pet’s rectum, remove the syringe carefully. If you used a teat cannula or other syringe attachment, it should come out with the syringe when pulled.

How do I administer a solid rectal suppository?

While liquid anti-seizure medications are the most common indication for rectal drug administration, your veterinarian may also prescribe rectal medication for other conditions. Other rectal medications may be in the form of a suppository, which is a solid or semi-solid form of drug that is inserted into the rectum and left to dissolve. Rectal suppositories are sometimes used to deliver medication to pets that are vomiting, constipated, or have trouble swallowing.

To insert a rectal suppository, first cover the suppository with a small amount of sterile lubricant or petroleum jelly. Next, use your gloved finger to insert the suppository into the rectum. Aim to insert the suppository approximately one to two inches past the anal sphincter, but stop if you feel any resistance or if your pet appears painful. If your pet strains and pushes out the suppository, repeat the process and place the suppository a bit higher.

Will I hurt my pet by administering rectal medication?

If your veterinarian has sent home rectal medication for your pet, he or she feels that the benefits of the medication outweigh any short-lived discomfort that the procedure may cause for your pet. The syringes used to deliver medication and rectal suppositories are both narrower in diameter than your pet’s bowel movements; therefore, they should not be especially uncomfortable for your pet.

As long as you remove any needles before inserting the syringe and avoid excessive force as you insert the syringe or suppository, it is extremely unlikely that you would damage your pet’s rectum by administering medication. However, if you meet excess resistance, see blood after medicating your pet, or have any other concerns, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

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