Giving a Bear a Pill—Or Trying To…

Profile of a black bear being playful

Sometimes there is a story we enjoy so much that we want to repeat it, like this one from our archives. Originally written in 2010, the bears still love their marshmallows—and still don’t like taking pills.

There comes a time in the course of events when you have to give a bear a pill—or in Major Bear’s case, eight of them, twice a day. You might think it was easy. With a wolf, as long as there is breath in their body, put it in a piece of meat and they wolf it down, no questions asked. If there is any difficulty at all, you keep a second piece of meat in your other hand and they’ll focus so much on that piece that they might miss the fact that they wolfed down the first while eyeing the delectable second (the grass is always greener…). If there should be any possible problem even then, you offer a piece to another wolf and they are so upset that the other is getting something they aren’t that they wolf it down. No problem giving pills to a wolf.

But a bear is another matter, and a black bear is especially particular with what he eats. He does so slowly, with thought and care, methodically sniffing, examining, then folding his front legs and laying his bulk gently down, preparing to take his time enjoying his meal. A bear does not wolf down his food.

But we thought we had him buffaloed. He loves marshmallows, so we thought it would be a snap—put the pill in a marshmallow. Try the wolf trick to be certain: first give him a marshmallow without a pill, and then when he is lulled into a false sense of security, give him one with a pill hidden deep inside. And then, quick! Another without a pill. That does mean about twenty marshmallows for one bear two times a day but hey—worth it.

However, Major Bear was not about to be rushed or tricked. Anything going down his bear gullet to add to his tender and precious massive self was going to go down carefully and slowly—and be thoroughly enjoyed. It took forever to finish a cherry pie, for example. First the whipped cream had to be licked off. One edge of the crust is delicately lifted, then the cherries are licked out one by one using his long, sticky pink tongue… and on and on. You would think something he loved so much would go down quickly, but no. Slowly and methodically, with thorough, sensual enjoyment. They do not pig out.

So we watched in suspense as he took the marshmallow, us willing it to go down. But with his sensitive and agile tongue, he realized something was amiss. He got a funny look on his face and I thought, “Uh oh—he broke the capsule, has a bad taste, and doesn’t know if he should swallow or spit it out.” But he hadn’t even nicked it. He chewed and rolled it around in his mouth and managed to extract the whole capsule from the sticky, enclosing walls of the marshmallow and let it drop, clean and intact, to the ground. Out-foxed. We tried all the above-mentioned wolf tricks using his brother Huckleberry Bear Bear as a foil but to no avail. There’s no fooling around with a bear and his food.

So—plan B…

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