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  1. Animal Health Literacy

Medications for Your Pet ... Questions for Your Vet


It’s a busy Thursday morning when you notice your normally bouncy, happy retriever, Daisy, is laying around and not wanting to move, eat, or drink. Because this is so out-of-the-ordinary for her, you call your veterinarian right away and he tells you to bring her in for a sick pet visit. After a thorough examination and some blood tests, your veterinarian diagnoses Daisy with Lyme disease and prescribes an antibiotic to get rid of the infection. He also gives her a pain reliever for dogs to help her feel better faster.

At the end of the visit, you and your veterinarian discuss Daisy’s medicines. While picking up her medicines at the reception desk, you realize you still have questions about them. One medicine is a capsule, the other is a brown pill. How can you be sure that you know how to give Daisy the medicines correctly? Communication is key. By asking your veterinarian a few simple questions, you can give yourself peace of mind by ensuring your pet is getting the treatment she needs. The following questions apply to all veterinary care situations, whether you have a dog, a guinea pig, or a horse.

1.  Why are you prescribing this medicine for my pet and how long do I need to give it?

When giving a medicine to your pet, it’s important to know why you’re giving it, what it does, and how long you need to give it. Antibiotics given to treat infections caused by bacteria, for example, require doses at certain time intervals over the course of the treatment period. This ensures there’s enough medicine in your pet’s bloodstream so it can work properly. Skipping a dose or two could decrease the amount of medicine in your pet’s bloodstream, which could mean the difference between clearing the infection and having to give the medicine longer or having to switch to a new antibiotic because the bacteria have become resistant to the original one. The same is true for not finishing the entire antibiotic prescription. Skipping doses or not finishing the medicine could lead to problems later.

2.  How do I give the medicine to my pet? Should I give it with food?

Knowing how to give the medicine to your pet is important. Some medicines are given orally (in the mouth) while others are meant to be given on the skin, in the eye, in the ear, or injected. If a pet has an eye problem and an ear problem at the same time, you don’t want to use an ear medicine in the eyes or an eye medicine in the ears because you could cause harm to the eyes and ears. Before you give medicine to your pet, read the label so you know how to give it correctly. Some oral medicines work better when given with food. Others need to be given without food and on an empty stomach for the best effect. Your veterinarian can show or tell you how to correctly give the medicine to your pet.

3.  How often should the medicine be given and how much should I give each time? If it’s a liquid, should I shake it first?

The label on your pet’s medicine has important information. It tells you how to give the medicine, when to give it, and how much to give your pet. Giving the medicine at the proper time and in the proper amount helps ensure the medicine will be effective. For example, for an oral medicine, like an antibiotic, to work properly, it must reach a certain level in your pet’s bloodstream. If you skip doses or give the wrong amount, the level in your pet’s bloodstream may be too low for the medicine to work.

Some liquid medicines need to be shaken before you give it to your pet because the medicine can settle out on the bottom of the bottle. Shaking helps distribute the medicine throughout the liquid so you can give the proper amount each time. 

4.  How do I store the medicine?

Medicines have an optimum temperature range in which they should be stored. Storing medicines in temperatures that are too high or too low can affect the medicine’s effectiveness. Some medicines need to be kept in the refrigerator. Other medicines should be stored at room temperature. Some medicines need to be kept away from sunlight. You can find more information about proper storage of medicines on FDA’s webpage, “Properly Store Medications to Keep Your Pet Safe.”

5.  What should I do if my pet vomits or spits out the medicine?

It depends on the medicine. Some medicines break down in the stomach faster than others. So, if your pet immediately vomits a medicine that breaks down quickly, he may have already absorbed medicine into his bloodstream. Giving him another dose could cause too much medicine to be absorbed and lead to side effects. Your veterinarian will guide you on what to do based on the type of medicine prescribed for your pet.

6.  If I forget to give the medicine, should I give it as soon as I remember or wait until the next scheduled dose? What if I accidentally give too much?

Again, it depends on the medicine. Some medicines need to be given at an evenly spaced amount of time to make sure the level in the bloodstream is high enough for it to work. If you missed a dose of medicine, your veterinarian will be able to tell you when to give your pet the next one. If you accidentally gave too much medicine, call your veterinarian right away.

7.  Could this medicine interact with other medicines my pet is taking?

Medicines for pets, just like medicines for people, can sometimes interact with each other. If your pet is taking a medicine for another condition, remind your veterinarian so he or she can check for potential interactions.

8.  What side effects should I watch for, and what should I do if I see any in my pet?

Every medicine can have side effects. Your veterinarian should discuss potential side effects with you, so you know what to look out for. In general, if you see side effects in your pet, stop giving the medicine and call your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will give you advice and may ask to see your pet to make sure nothing serious is going on. 

9.  When should I bring my pet back for a recheck? Are you going to call me to check on how my pet is doing, or should I call you?

Rechecks are an important part of veterinary care, especially if your pet is on a medicine for a long-term disease that needs to be periodically monitored, like diabetes, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, osteoarthritis, or a resistant infection. Rechecks let your veterinarian physically see how your pet is responding to the medicine. Some medicines could potentially hurt your pet’s kidneys or liver, so your veterinarian may recommend periodic blood tests to make sure those organs are working properly. Sometimes, your veterinarian may notice that your pet is not getting better. In that case, your pet may need a new medicine to help her feel better. Talk with your veterinarian about a recheck for your pet.

10.  My pet has underlying health issues—could this medicine hurt her?

Sometimes, underlying health issues can get worse if your pet takes a medicine for another condition. For example, if your pet has underlying kidney or liver disease, your veterinarian has to be careful when prescribing veterinary NSAIDs to treat your pet’s pain or inflammation. Veterinary NSAIDs could make your pet’s kidney or liver disease worse. If your pet has liver disease and needs medicine to treat seizures, some medicines may be safer to use than others to control the seizures. Talk to your veterinarian about the potential for the medicine to worsen your pet’s underlying health issues. 

11.  Are there other medicine options we could use to treat her instead of this medicine?

Sometimes several medicine options are available to treat the same health problem, and some of those options may be easier on your pet than others. It’s a balancing act between what will give the best outcome for your pet while not causing side effects. Ask your veterinarian if there are other medicine options that may be better for your pet.

12.  What do I need to be aware of when giving this medicine to my pet?

Some medicines for pets have a Client Information Sheet that should be given to pet owners with each prescription. These pet owner-friendly handouts summarize information that you need to be aware of when giving the medicine to your pet. For example, FDA-approved veterinary insulins have Client Information Sheets because the medicines require careful dosing and storage. Veterinary NSAIDs also have Client Information Sheets because this class of medicines can cause side effects, some of which can be severe. Client information Sheets give you a summary of what the medicine is used for, how to give it, what side effects to watch for, and information on what to do if your pet develops side effects.

Not all medicines have Client Information Sheets. For medicines that do not have them, you can refer to the product’s package insert, the folded leaflet found in the medicine’s packaging, sometimes glued to the top of the bottle. You can also refer to the National Library of Medicine’s DailyMed website and FDA’s Animal Drugs@FDA searchable database for safety information. 

Communication is important to ensuring your pet is safe while taking medicine. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—your veterinarian is there to help you and your pet spend many happy years together. 

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