Treat your dog’s symptoms without causing more problems

Did you know 37 percent of American households have dogs? The pharmacist in me immediately calculates how many prescriptions those dogs will need! All kidding aside, when our four-legged furry companions become ill, they often need medication just like we do.
Just like when you take your own medications, it’s important to understand the do’s and don’t’s of using prescription drugs. Many pet medications are the same as human medications, but keep in mind, not all human medications are safe for animals, and often the dosing is much different. Consult your veterinarian before administering any medication for your pet.

Dosing. Be sure to clarify all directions and storage requirements before administering any medication. If the label says “Give two capsules daily,” does that mean two at the same time or one in the morning and one at night? Do you need to cut the tablet in half or measure out a liquid? Ask your vet to ensure you know what to do before the time comes to give the drug. When measuring liquid medication, it is more accurate to use a measuring syringe instead of a household spoon. In animals, medications are often dosed by the weight of the animal. Be sure to inform the vet of any changes in your dog’s weight.

Absorption and Metabolism. Understanding how drugs get into and out of the body is very important. The gastrointestinal transit time is much shorter in dogs than in humans. Enteric Coated and Extended Release tablets that are popular in humans often don’t have the same effect in dogs. They move through the system too quickly to give their intended effect.
Various animal species metabolize or break down drugs differently; what is safe to give a dog may be lethal for a cat. There are also differences among breeds. For example, some sheep dogs are susceptible to nerve damage from Ivermectin, a commonly used heartworm medication.
Xylitol, a commonly used sugar substitute found in sugar-free gum, chewable vitamins and some liquid medications, can be very toxic for dogs. It can cause vomiting, seizures and liver damage.

Treating Pain. When it comes to treating pain, we might reach for ibuprofen or naproxen; however, these drugs are generally not recommended for dogs due to irritation of the stomach lining. Acetaminophen is another popular human analgesic, but it can be toxic for dogs and must be used with caution.

Tummy Issues. To reduce stomach acid, veterinarians may recommend Famotidine, Omeprazole or calcium carbonate. For constipation not relieved by dietary changes, Psyllium can be used, as well as the stool softener Docusate. Diarrhea can be bit tricky to treat. Bismuth subsalicylate can be used for dogs when dosed appropriately, but caution should be used with Loperamide. It can be toxic in certain breeds and may make intestinal bacterial infections worse.

Allergies. Sneezing, wheezing, and itching happen to dogs too. With appropriate dosing and guidance, antihistamines like Diphenhydramine, Loratadine and Chlorpheniramine can be used. Drowsiness is typically the biggest side effect with these types of medications.
Heart and Blood Pressure. There are many different prescription medications used to treat heart problems. Animals using these medications must be closely monitored for changes in weight and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Side effects can be nausea, dizziness and fluid weight gain.

Infections. Thankfully animals don’t seem to contract bacterial and fungal infections as frequently as we do, but when antibiotics and antifungals are needed, ask if they should be taken with food. Be sure to finish the full course of therapy to avoid costly re-treatment.

Cancer. Unfortunately, this tragic diagnosis can also strike family pets. There are many successful chemotherapy agents to treat canine cancers, but these medication regimens can be complicated.
It is important to have a thorough discussion with your veterinarian prior to starting cancer treatment to learn about proper dosing, storage, handling and disposal, along with potential side effects and required monitoring.

Dogs are called man’s best friend for a reason. They enhance our lives in many ways and truly become members of the family. Taking care of their health is important. There are plenty of safe and effective medications on the market for your dog, but some can be unsafe if used incorrectly. Always rely on your veterinarian to assist you in selecting the right medication and dosage for your favorite pooch. ND

Cheri Garvin, R.Ph., is the owner and CEO of The Compounding Center in Leesburg, Va. Learn more about customized medications for your pet at


Having Trouble with Pills? Consider Compounding. Just mentioning that your pets have to take medicine can stir up nightmares for some owners. What seems like an easy task—getting a small pill into a dog—can turn into a rough battle of wills. We’ve all heard the tricks of hiding medication in cheese, meat or any food that your pet loves, and often that works. However, there are always those stubborn few who will somehow find a way to make the whole process difficult. Splitting pills is another bothersome issue for pet owners. Small dogs and cats need little doses, but cutting pills into fourths is a frustrating process that often leads to a bunch of crumbs.
Fortunately, these problems can be solved by working with a compounding pharmacy. Through the art of compounding, you can take a medication that would normally be in a pill form and turn it into a treat or flavored liquid in just the right dosage needed. Compounding pharmacists collaborate with your veterinarian to customize the medication to fit your animal’s unique needs. Chicken-flavored treats and beef-flavored liquid medications are very popular for finicky dogs. Cats love our triple fish flavor. If those options fail, some medications can be prepared into a cream form that can be rubbed into the inner part of the ear, which the dog then absorbs through the skin. If these customized medications can help with your pet, talk with your veterinarian or compounding pharmacist. Together we can find a solution to help your best friends get the medication they need!
—Tony Hackett, The Compounding Center,