script sense part 2: the dangers of inaccurate dosing

Dr. Kim
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jan 01 2014



A few weeks ago, I heard a story on the dangers of overmedicating. I was surprised to hear some of the facts that I was hearing about a common over the counter human medication and its range of safety. Not that the medication itself wasn’t safe, but that sometimes we assume that if a little bit of medication is good for what ails us, a bigger dose of that medication will be better. Of course, this isn’t true. And in some drugs with narrow therapeutic range (or safe dose range), taking a few extra capsules could land you in serious danger.



It got me thinking that pet owners might also extrapolate those ideas to their dogs and cats, so I thought it would make good sense to dedicate a blog to the topic of medicating and supplementing our pets – the right and wrong ways to do it.

Prescription Medicines

This one is the easy one, because your veterinarian or pharmacist hands you a vial of medication with the directions for your specific pet right on the bottle. Couldn’t be easier, right?

Maybe not. Before you leave the office, read the label and make sure you don’t have any questions about how to administer it. I will never forget the poor cat many, many, many years ago when I was a veterinary assistant whose owner didn’t stop to ask questions.

The client had seen the vet administer an intranasal vaccine to her cat during the appointment and just assumed that was how she was to administer the oral antibiotic he also sent home with her. How she came out of that two week course antibiotics unscathed is beyond me, but it is certainly a testament to the patient kitty she was treating by giving oral antibiotics nasally!

Filling your pet’s prescription at a human pharmacy? Read my recent blog on pharmacy safety for a few words of caution.

Over the Counter Medications

Before you give ANY over the counter medication meant for humans to your pet, please, please, PLEASE call your veterinarian to make sure that it is safe. Dogs and cats are not small humans. They metabolize medications differently, and some medications that are perfectly safe for us to take can be toxic to our pets (NSAIDs come immediately to mind). I am not exaggerating this claim, so please check the drug with your vet before you administer it.

Supplements, vitamins, minerals and nutraceuticals

This is where it starts to get a little hazy regarding the rules of medicating, because there are so many options available for both you and your pet in this industry. Vitamins and minerals are good for us, and good for our pets, but do supplements really benefit our pets? What about nutraceuticals, which tout safe, natural cures for ailments ranging from arthritis to cognitive dysfunction? There are a lot of questions out there and a lot of different answers.

First, before you give a supplement made for humans to your pet, check with your veterinarian. Just like with over the counter drugs, some things that are safe for us are toxic for our dogs or cats.

Second, always follow the labelled dose to prevent overdosing your pet on any medication. Even those that are natural or herbal can still cause trouble if given in chronically high doses.

Third, keep all medications and supplements well out of the reach of your pet. Many veterinary-specific medications and supplements are tailored specifically to appeal to your pet’s tastes, and some are quite hard to resist. Even though the packaging may be child proof, I’ve not seen a “Labrador Retriever proof” bottle yet – dogs can chew through anything! And even something that you assume is benign, such as glucosamine joint chews, can cause devastating liver disease and death in the right (or should I say wrong) scenario.

As veterinarians, we KNOW that you only want the best for your pet, which is why it is so difficult to see cases where pets are ill because of inaccurate supplementation or medication. We feel terribly, the owner feels terribly, and most of all, the pet feels terribly. So before you pop that pill pocket to your pet, just double check that the dose and drugs are safe!