ARDMORE, Okla. (AP) -- At Sue Fernando's house, mornings start early and active. The owner of three rambunctious canines all living together in a small space, that first jump out of bed gets the ball rolling in a cacophony of wriggling excitement as the morning routine begins.
For Fernando, it's not just about feeding, watering and letting the dogs out for some "nature" time. That morning routine means giving each of her three dogs doses of medication for a variety of ailments and conditions.
Brave is the oldest, a 12-year-old black Lab who suffers from arthritis. Another black Lab, 8-year-old Max, is afraid of thunderstorms. The youngest, Nestle, a chocolate Lab/bird dog mix who's about 3 years old, has separation anxiety issues. All of these together make for an interesting combination when it comes time for breakfast.
"I start immediately taking care of them when I get up," Fernando said. "I automatically go down the hall and turn off the alarm so they can go out. Then I go in and fix my breakfast."
Then comes medication time. Brave recently had surgery on a paralyzed larynx, and he has arthritis in his hips, so Fernando gives him a dose of vetprofen, a form of Motrin for dogs, and gives him some Juice Plus, a vitamin supplement program that she takes herself.
During the a midmorning thunderstorm, Fernando quickly dosed Max with acepromazine, which helps keep him calm during the booming thunder and crash of lightning.
And, to keep the high-strung Nestle calm and soothed during the day while she's away, Fernando gives her a dose of Reconcile, which is a Prozac-like medication for dogs.
"Some days when I leave, I have to drag her back into the house," Fernando said. "I used to have to keep her in the kennel while I was gone. She hates that. So we take our meds now and everybody's OK. We all have our issues."
Luckily for Fernando, dosing the dogs isn't that big of a chore. She's found a tried-and-true method that gets the pills down quickly. Fernando takes a spoonful of peanut butter, folds the pill into the middle, then gives the whole wad to each dog. The pills are disguised in the tasty treats, which each dog readily accepts.
"They have those pill pocket treats that are great for putting pills into, but giving one every morning to three dogs gets expensive," Fernando said. "This works much better. I usually buy the cheapest peanut butter I can find. They don't get the good stuff."
Not every pet owner has daily medications as part of their pet-care routine, so the task can get daunting at times when a pet is sick and they are sent home with prescriptions. Cats and dogs both have a propensity to spit out foreign objects like pills even though they may be comfortable eating anything else in the house that's not exactly on the food chain.
Luckily, the experts have some tips and techniques that may make it a little easier to dispense the dosages at home.
Dr. Barbara J. Dunn of the Family Pet Clinic said there are any number of ways to make sure the medications get to their intended targets, which is in a pet's stomach and eventually into the bloodstream.
Dunn said there are other commercially prepared products on the market designed to encapsulate pills so the pets will accept them more readily, including "yogurt jars of meaty materials made to be palatable for cats and dogs."
She doesn't recommend a full regimen of "people food" for disguising pills, but said, "I usually tell people it's OK to take a tiny piece of cheese, the tiniest you can get away with, and use that to get the pills down. When all the pills are taken, you stop giving them the cheese. That way, they associate getting a treat with their medicine and they're not expecting it all the time."
Smaller pills sometimes can be soaked in chicken broth or water to soften them, and some pharmacists are able to compound pills into a paste form, but it is an extra expense that some may not want or be able to afford.
There are also new cross-dermal ointments that can be rubbed on a cat's or dog's ear to soak in through the skin, which can be a help to someone like a senior citizen who lives alone, but, again, there is added expense involved.
To give a cat medicine, the first thing is to grab a big handful of neck scruff, tip the cat's head back so the nose points straight up and poke the pill or dropper of liquid medicine into the inside pocket of the mouth.
"It's nature's reflex," she said. "You go into the side because there's usually a natural break at the side where you don't have to worry about separating the teeth. Give it slow and let it work."
If a person is concerned about being bitten, there are plunger-type pill holders that can be used to get the pill to the back of the throat. One way to ensure it is swallowed is to blow in the animal's face, which stimulates the swallowing reflex.
"There's also the towel method," Dunn said. "You get the cat (or dog) and wrap a towel around its neck, cradle it in your lap with the head toward the wall and the rear toward you and pull the head back. And the blowing in the face is not an old wives' tale. It does work, just like stroking the neck to stimulate swallowing. I use the blow technique especially with cats."
For dogs who are high strung or in pain and snap as a reflex, owners can borrow or purchase nylon muzzles, or tie nylon hose around the dog's nose as a precaution.
Whatever happens, Dunn said it's important to make sure the pet takes all of his or her medication. If an owner is having trouble, all it takes is a phone call to the veterinarian, who will try to find a solution.