TERRI JOHNSON, AAHA PRACTICE ACCREDITATION
Pets age at a much faster rate than people. So when you think about how important it is for us to be seen regularly by a doctor, it’s even more important for our pets—especially if they are on medication. Pets age five to seven times faster than we do. This makes having your pet examined at least once a year or more frequently before having prescriptions refilled the logical and right thing to do.
Medications that Can Be Harmful to Pets (From ASPCA “Top 10 Human Drugs that Poison Our Pets”)
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen or naproxen are the most common cause of pet poisoning in small animals, and can cause serious problems even in minimal doses. Pets are extremely sensitive to their effects, and may experience stomach and intestinal ulcers and—in the case of cats—kidney damage.
- Antidepressants can cause vomiting and lethargy and certain types can lead to serotonin syndrome—a condition marked by agitation, elevated body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, disorientation, vocalization, tremors and seizures.
- Acetaminophen can damage red blood cells and interfere with their ability to transport oxygen. Cats are especially sensitive to acetaminophen; in dogs, it can cause liver damage and, at higher doses, red blood cell damage.
- Medications used to treat ADHD in people act as stimulants in pets and can dangerously elevate heart rates, blood pressure and body temperature, as well as cause seizures.
- Fluorouracil, an anti-cancer drug used topically to treat minor skin cancers and solar keratitis in humans, has proven to be rapidly fatal to dogs, causing severe vomiting, seizures and cardiac arrest; this has occurred in dogs that have chewed on discarded cotton swabs used to apply the medication.
- Isoniazid, a drug used to fight tuberculosis, is toxic for dogs because they don’t metabolize it as well as other species.
- Pseudoephedrine, a popular decongestant in many cold and sinus products, acts like a stimulant if accidentally ingested by pets; it causes elevated heart rates, blood pressure and body temperature, as well as seizures.
- Oral diabetes treatments, including glipizide and glyburide, can cause a major drop in blood-sugar levels in pets.
- Small exposures to Vitamin D analogues, like calcipotriene and calcitriol, can cause life-threatening spikes in blood calcium levels in pets.
- Baclofen, a muscle relaxant, can impair the central nervous systems of cats and dogs.
AAHA-accredited practices go through an evaluation process based on 19 sections of standards. The Pharmacy section of the AAHA Standards of Accreditation focuses on providing a safe, efficient and well-run pharmacy in a veterinary practice. These standards help veterinary teams set up a system of checks and balances to make prescribing and filling patient prescriptions run smoothly. Practices are evaluated at least every 3 years. The evaluation provides the team the opportunity to look at what they’re currently doing, see if they’re up-to-date and adhering to current best practices, and to make changes where necessary and appropriate.
You are your pet’s advocate, and even though you know a lot about what’s going on with your pet, you probably aren’t aware of all the symptoms your pet is experiencing when it’s not feeling well. You may know your dog is vomiting and lethargic, but you may not know if he or she also has a headache, or is in pain or about to experience diarrhea. That’s why it’s so important to communicate with your veterinarian and to take your pet in for examinations. While pets get viruses very much like we do, some illnesses may be the first steps in a developing disease. Talking to and working with your veterinary team is very important in helping your pet stay healthy.
Veterinarians are sometimes faced with clients who request medications or drugs without bringing the pet in for a diagnosis. Under the requirements of the FDA, only products specifically labeled and packaged for over-the-counter sale may be dispensed in that manner. Any prescription drug or medication labeled with “Caution: to be dispensed by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian” cannot be dispensed without a veterinarian–client/patient relationship. Veterinarians could face loss of their license as well as a fine if they do not have a working knowledge of the conditions and treatment of a particular patient. The foundation of this relationship is the in-office physical exam and without it, the veterinarian–client/patient relationship does not exist.
Communication is critical to this relationship and to providing the best possible care and most appropriate medications for pets.
Usually, clients may have a pet’s prescriptions filled in the office. But if you choose to fill the prescription elsewhere, or use an Internet pharmacy, select an Internet pharmacy certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (www.nabp.net). These online pharmacies are appropriately licensed and prepared to practice pharmacy via the Internet. The article, “Purchasing Pet Drugs Online: Buyer Beware” (www.fda.gov/downloads/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm115432.pdf) educates consumers about what to look for and what to watch out for when considering an Internet pharmacy.
Veterinarians are uniquely educated and trained to make treatment decisions for pets. You are probably aware that there are many medications and treatments that can be used both for people and animals. But, did you know there are many human medications that could endanger or even cause death in animals? (See the sidebar.)
It’s important to your pet’s health to nurture the veterinary–client/patient relationship. Because you’re with your pet every day, subtle changes may be hard to see and recognize. Following your veterinarian’s recommendations for giving medication and periodic follow-ups and rechecks, especially if your pet takes a medication all the time, will help maintain your pet’s health and quality of life.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter September / October 2011, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2011 AAHA. Find out more.