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script sense: dr. kim smyth discusses some safety issues of filling vet meds at human pharmacies

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


We’ve talked before about the use of online pharmacies to fill your pet’s prescriptions.  Sure, they are convenient, but they’re not always reliable.

I had an incident occur a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking again about pharmacy safety. This time the incident happened at a human pharmacy, and luckily my patient ended up ok in the end. But just in case, I thought it would be important to address keeping your pet safe when ordering their prescriptions through a human pharmacy.

Veterinarians have differing opinions on filling prescriptions at human pharmacies. While it is true that having an in-house pharmacy makes some money for a veterinarian, I think we all realize that we simply cannot compete with the $4 list at Wal-Mart or free (free!) antibiotics at some chain grocery stores. I will happily write a prescription for a client to fill elsewhere, especially if it frees up funds to do a more thorough work-up on their sick pet.

My qualms with human pharmacies lie more with the safety of the pet. When I prescribe a medication, I want to be sure that my pet owners know the side effects, exact dosing directions, and above all, I want to be sure that the drug their pet receives is the one that I prescribe. When a medication is prepared in-house, I can personally make sure that all of those things happen. 

When I hand a client a written prescription instead of a vial of medication, I then lose control over what happens next. Most of the time, this is not a problem. Pharmacies have been making up medications for humans for decades without trouble, so I do think they can be trusted for the most part. But huge chain pharmacies are simply not the same as the “mom and pop” pharmacies of yesteryear, and some of their policies make me nervous.

Human pharmacists receive little to no veterinary training. And as you know, our dogs and cats are not little humans. Many drugs that are available even over the counter for ourselves and our children can be deadly to our pets. And though humans and pets do take some of the same medications, the doses vary drastically between species.

Human pharmacies, especially the large chain pharmacies, are keen on cost-saving. Because of this, they offer (and often push) cheaper generic forms of medications, even when the drugs are not equivalent, as is sometimes the case with veterinary medications.

An important example is insulin, which is prescribed to diabetic patients. Humans can get insulin without a prescription, but animals require one. I have heard more than one case of insulin substitution at a pharmacist’s whim simply because the generic was cheaper. In veterinary medicine, not all insulins are the same, and dangerous substitutions like this can end up risking the life of the patient.

Doses for drugs that humans and pets share can be drastically different, too. Medications for seizures and hypothyroidism are excellent examples. Because of the higher metabolism in dogs, the doses of these medications is often ten times that of the human dose, leaving many human pharmacists scratching their heads.  All it takes is a quick phone call to the prescribing veterinarian to double check the dose, but if a pharmacist takes matters into their own hands and changes the dose, it’s your pet who will suffer.

Finally, take those pages of side effects and warnings stapled to your pet’s bag of medication with a grain of salt. They are geared toward humans, and as we’ve established, humans aren’t just big dogs. Your veterinarian should have already discussed doses and possible side effects. If something about your pet’s prescription troubles you, call your veterinarian immediately.

I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom about human pharmacies. They have their place, especially if you can save a buck or two. But please be careful. Review the medication before you administer it and ensure that it matches up with what your veterinarian actually prescribed. If you have any questions, call your veterinarian for advice.

 

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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