Take Your Medicine
Too often, pet owners leave veterinary hospitals with prescriptions they don’t fully understand for pets who don’t want to take their medicine.
As a practicing veterinarian, I can tell you that pets need to get their medicine exactly as prescribed for the best possible outcome. But a recent study confirms what we veterinarians already suspected: Only 10 percent of cat owners and 30 percent of dog owners succeed in medicating their pets correctly.
This means that a lot of prescriptions end up in the cupboard or on the person rather than in the reluctant pet. That’s why it’s important to ask some basic questions and make sure you understand all the answers before leaving your veterinarian’s office with medication in hand.
I’ve narrowed them down to six questions that must be answered before you head home:
Why has this been prescribed? “Pet owners must understand exactly what condition a pet has and what the prescribed medications are for,” says Dr. John Tait of the veterinary school at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. For example, is the medication an antibiotic, a wormer, an anti-inflammatory drug, a pain medication or something to soothe the intestinal tract? Are we fighting a fever by giving an antibiotic, trying to prevent a secondary infection, or stopping diarrhea or vomiting?
How long should I give my pet this medicine? “There is a tendency to discontinue medication when our pets appear ‘cured,'” says Dr. Kelly Diehl, an internal medicine specialist at the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado in Englewood, Colo. “Owners need to follow their pet’s medication schedule for the entire time prescribed.” Diehl uses the development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics as an example. A pet may seem better, but the bacteria can prepare a second wave of attack if the medication isn’t given for the duration prescribed.
How should I give this, and how often? Is the medication oral or topical? Will it be given in response to symptoms or on a regular schedule? “Because of busy schedules, it is easy to overlook a pet’s medication,” says Diehl. The easiest way to keep on schedule is to write down the doses in your home calendar and check them off when given to your pet. This way, you give all the doses for the proper amount of time. And if you miss a dose, don’t double up to catch up. Instead, give the next dose at the prescribed time. Make sure, too, that you know how to get the medicine where it’s going, such as by “pilling” an uncooperative pet. Ask for a demonstration or, if you can’t handle the task at hand, ask for alternatives.
What about food and water? In a recent study, cats given medications without water were found to have the pills stranded far from the destination in the stomach. That’s why medications should be chased with water, which for cats means giving them a syringeful after every pill. And don’t forget to keep checking that ample water is available to your pet, since some medications increase thirst. Also, ask if the medication needs to be given with food or on an empty stomach. Different medications are digested and metabolized in different ways. Some medications are given on a full or partially full stomach in order to prevent irritation to the stomach lining.
What side effects should I watch for? “We try to be sure side effects are covered verbally at the time of the prescription and then followed with written information,” says Dr. Thomas Carpenter of Newport Harbor Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa, Calif. Some side effects are not harmful, while others — typically vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness, paralysis — can be quite serious. Ask what to expect, what is routine and what’s not, and call your veterinarian if you have the slightest doubt or concern.
Is this safe with other medications? Make sure your veterinarian is aware of all other medications or supplements your pet is on, and don’t add any others without checking first. “A great example of this danger is the use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Many people think of aspirin as a very safe medication, but when combined with an NSAID it is very dangerous,” says Carpenter.
The most important lesson all experts stress is to make sure the pet receives the medications. If you can’t give the medications as prescribed, don’t feel embarrassed or guilty, and do not put the meds away in the cupboard to tick away toward expiration. Call your veterinarian for help.