Taking a bite out of pet medication errors

One to one

Pet medication misuse is a double-edged sword that affects both pets and their owners. Mistakes can happen at the veterinary clinic, in the pharmacy that fills the prescription, and at home, when the pet owner gives the meds to the animal. Pharmacists can help ensure safe use by being aware of the potential pitfalls when dispensing pet medications and by carefully advising pet owners.

Ask key questions

Pet owners may give their pets the wrong medicine or an incorrect dose for a variety of reasons. To help prevent pet medication errors, encourage pet owners to ask their veterinarian the following key questions:

  • What is the name of the drug? What is it supposed to do?
  • How much of the medication should I give each time?
  • How many times a day should I give it?
  • Should I give it before, during, or after meals?
  • How should I store it?
  • What should I do if I forget to give a dose to my pet?
  • Should I finish giving all the medication, even if my pet seems better?
  • Are there reactions I should look for and call you about right away?

Encourage pet owners to keep a list of drugs their animal is taking—including OTC products, supplements, and prescription drugs—and to bring the list with them to their vet and pharmacy. Ask pet owners if their animal is allergic to or has had problems with any drugs and discuss any serious or chronic health conditions their animal may have.

Avoid common errors

Pharmacy errors can occur as a result of unfamiliar abbreviations used by veterinarians. Unclear or illegible handwriting can lead to transcription errors. Product selection errors can occur if labels or packaging are similar, if drug names look alike when written on a prescription, or if the drug names sound alike during verbal orders. Review handwritten or typed medication labels carefully with pet owners to ensure that they have received the correct medication and understand the dosage instructions.

Warn pet owners not to share medications for one animal with another animal or to give human medications to their pet unless their vet directs them to do so. In addition, explain the dangers of overmedicating a pet based on the severity of the pain it displays.

Pet meds are not for people

Pet medication misuse and abuse can occur when patients inadvertently or knowingly take medications prescribed for their pets. For example, pet owners may mistakenly take a pet medication due to not reading labels carefully or storing pet medicines with their own medications. Advise pet owners to avoid mix-ups at home by storing their pet’s drugs separately and keeping pet medications in their original labeled containers.

Some patients may use their pet’s medications to save costs or because the meds are conveniently available. At worst, abuse of pet medications such as animal tranquilizers may occur. Refer pet owners to “Rover’s pills are not meant for you,” an article from the Consumer Health Information Corporation.

Buyer beware

Online enticements such as “Discount pet drugs—no prescription required” may appeal to pet owners, but warn them they may be shortchanging their pet’s health or putting their pet’s life at risk if they buy pet meds online. Some online pet pharmacies peddle unapproved, counterfeit, or expired drugs; make fraudulent claims; and dispense prescription drugs without requiring a prescription. Refer patients to the Consumer Health Information Corporation’s tips on avoiding the pitfalls of Internet pet pharmacies or FDA’s “Purchasing pet drugs online: Buyer beware” Web page.

Pet owners may find an accredited online pharmacy through Vet-VIPPS, the veterinary version of Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites, a voluntary accreditation program of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Another option is to order pet meds from a state-licensed Internet pharmacy service that works directly with the vet. Encourage pet owners to ask their veterinary hospital if it uses an Internet pharmacy service.