Deerfield Blog

Pharmacy Mistakes Can Harm Our Pets!

When national surveys are done, pharmacists continually rank high when it comes to trust, honesty and ethics.  Whether it’s your pharmacy professional at the locally owned corner store or the one at the corporate big box store, this profession consistently out ranks doctors, engineers and even the clergy!  Like veterinarians, pharmacists are viewed as compassionate and caring by the general public.

However, increasing numbers of news reports detailing mistakes made by human pharmacies dispensing pet medications has both professions concerned.  In some cases, there was no noticeable effect and the pets were fine, but serious illnesses, severe complications and even deaths have occurred.  How widespread is this issue?

Thankfully, in the vast majority of prescriptions sent to pharmacists from veterinarians, the dosage and medication is delivered as expected and the pet gets exactly what is needed.  It’s only when drugs are changed, generics substituted or dosing altered that problems occur.

In a recent survey completed by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA), more than 1/3 of the veterinarians surveyed reported incidents of pharmacists from either retail or online pharmacies changing the prescription.  In a highly publicized case from Los Angeles, an 8 year old Labrador was euthanized after the drug store altered the dose of a veterinarian’s prescription, changing the “cubic centimeters” (or “cc”) to teaspoons.  This pet ended up receiving almost 4 times the amount of medication needed which compounded his other, already serious health issues.

In the Oregon survey, veterinarians also reported that insulin brands were changed, dosages for anti-seizure medications were altered and antibiotics substituted for chemotherapy drugs.  Other news reports have shown that pet owners were told to give human pain relievers, such as Tylenol® or Ibuprofen®, to their pets.  This seemingly harmless advice can lead to serious liver damage in dogs or even death in cats.

Executive Director of the OVMA, Mr. Glenn Kolb said that ““Together, veterinarians and pharmacists work hand in hand to meet the needs of the client and the best interests of the patient.  The bad news is the rare occurrence when a pharmacy steps out of its scope of practice by making determinations and adjustments.”

Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken notice.  In a 2012 Consumer Update, the FDA mentions how veterinarians and pharmacists are taught different systems of medication dosing abbreviations, leading to confusion.  In addition, transcription errors and product selection mistakes can lead to the wrong drug or the incorrect amount being given to your pet.

Both professions and the FDA are taking these reports very seriously.   Carmen Catizone of the National Association Boards of Pharmacy says that pet owners “”primary concern should always be whether or not the pharmacist is knowledgeable in the area of veterinary medications” and cautions that price should be a secondary consideration when looking for pet or human drugs.

In the FDA alert, consumers are urged to ask questions of both the pharmacist and the veterinarian if your pet’s prescription is filled at an online or retail pharmacy.  Glenn Kolb takes it one step further and flatly states that “veterinarians need to raise awareness among pet owners by telling them, “If a pharmacist suggests changing to a different drug or different dosage, please contact me right away.’”

Be familiar with your pet’s regular medications and take time to review any written prescription.  If what you receive doesn’t match your expectations, do not give the drug and contact your veterinarian.

Veterinary experts also recommend that pet owners shopping for the best price on pet medications have an open conversation with their primary veterinarian.  In many cases, the veterinary hospital will have the right medication available at a price that matches or is close to the online costs once you figure shipping and convenience.  Plus, you get the added peace of mind that your veterinary team understands your pet’s unique needs.

Just like in human medicine, prescription errors happen with our pets too.  The important thing to remember is that both your veterinarian and your local pharmacist are interested in what’s best for your four legged friend.

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Veterinary Emergency Teams – Responding When Disaster Strikes!

Whether it’s rising floodwaters, raging wildfires or even acts of terrorism, catastrophic events require all kinds of professionals to respond.  Even though most people know about police and firefighters, veterinarians are also often called to disaster scenes to help save lives and reunite families.

As we have all seen, tragic events like hurricanes, earthquakes or bombings take their toll on human lives.  But, it’s not unusual to see animal victims of these disasters as well.   Animals can be injured or lost and in the case of large scale calamities, local animal control resources are quickly overwhelmed.

Although our first thoughts often go to our companion animals, like dogs and cats, large animals, from horses to sheep and pigs to cattle are also at risk.  In fact, horses will often panic and run in the face of danger while cattle will quickly scatter through downed fence lines.

What can local agencies do when animals are in need of help in addition to the local population of people?

Veterinary Emergency Teams (VET) are often called upon by local first responders when a disaster situation gets beyond their control.  These well-equipped and well trained groups of volunteer veterinary professionals will bring in vital supplies, needed medications and even state of the art mobile facilities designed to provide a safe work environment as well resting quarters for the crew.

It’s obvious that these teams can function to help injured animals, but they actually can provide invaluable aid to local veterinarians who have suffered damage to their hospitals.  In addition, these specialized emergency response units can also help triage animal cases, provide additional assistance to local animal control agencies by searching for microchips among lost pets and care for the many search and rescue or working dogs that aid in disaster relief.

Veterinary emergency teams also provide vital public health monitoring in the aftermath of catastrophes, give technical assistance to assure food and water safety and help prevent zoonotic and other disease outbreaks.

Although a National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT) has been established and operates within the National Disaster Medical System, many states will also field their own veterinary medical assistance teams.  Colleges, such as Texas A&M, the University of California at Davis and others have also developed volunteer groups that have responded to a multitude of local emergency situations.

With the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Safety Act  (“PETS Act”) in 2006, a greater emphasis has been placed on the care of our pets and animals in the event of large scale disasters.  States must include animals in sheltering and evacuation plans and also provide means of tracking those animals throughout the event.  Veterinary emergency teams are crucial to insuring that these standards are met.

Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal control officials, pharmacists and many others, including concerned citizens who aren’t in the animal health field, are eligible to volunteer for veterinary teams.  Interested individuals should become familiar with the National Incident Command Structure as working in disaster zones requires a strict adherence to details and an organized system of communications.  This means that even though you might have a strong passion for helping our four legged friends, you can’t just run into a danger zone and start trying to save pets.  That type of action will not only endanger yourself, but also pull resources from where they may be needed if you get in trouble.

So, when disaster strikes, don’t be surprised to see volunteer veterinarians and technicians working with police and firefighters, saving lives and getting life back to normal and animals and families back together!

Develop a disaster preparedness plan for your pet at http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/disaster-preparedness.

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Search and Rescue Dogs – Canine Heroes!

Throughout history, dogs have helped humans in many ways, but it’s only been in the last 350 years or so that our canine friends have assisted in the rescue of lost people.  The most famous example is, of course, the work of hundreds of St. Bernards who are credited with saving more than 2,000 people from frigid deaths high in the Swiss Alps.  Like their historical counterparts, modern day Search and Rescue dogs rely on extensive training, an unshakeable bond with their trainer and, of course, their incredible sense of smell!

We all know that our dogs are great at sniffing out things, especially when food is involved.  Dogs actually have a sense of smell that is about 40 times more sensitive than a human’s and its olfactory prowess that helps make a great search and rescue dog.  Experts still don’t know exactly how dogs can locate an injured person or missing child, but current theories indicate that the dogs are using the dead skin cells that constantly fall off us.  These “skin cell rafts” contain conspicuous human scents that the dogs use during their search.

While all breeds possess a keen sense of smell, good search and rescue canines will be a medium to large breed (or mixed breed) animal in good physical health, above average intelligence and also possess good listening skills.  But, perhaps the most important attribute for a good search dog candidate is his desire to play!

Allowing an opportunity for the successful dog to play is the animal’s “reward” for properly performing their duties.  This behavior is ingrained early as training starts with puppies as young as 8-10 weeks of age and is continually reinforced throughout the dog’s career.  The search dog in training is taught to find a special toy with a desired scent and this skill is then expanded so that the dogs learn to find people in all sorts of environments and situations.

Search and rescue dogs are even trained differently, depending on how they will be used.  “Air-scent” dogs work with their nose up in the air, following a scent trail and working towards the highest concentration.  This is especially useful when trying to find victims buried in an avalanche, people trapped under buildings in an urban setting or even human remains.

Contrast this with the typical tracking dogs often seen in movies chasing down escaped criminals.  Bloodhounds and other breeds work with their nose on the ground, following a scent trail from a known starting point.  Many of these dogs also help find children that have wandered away from home and into fields, forests or deserts.  They have even found Alzheimer patients who have strayed from their safe home.

When their services are needed, local law enforcement often calls upon volunteer search and rescue organizations which they have trained with and trust.  These private groups are not components of any branch of government, but are called and deployed to help first responders in a variety of situations.  Although search and rescue dogs have been used throughout the 20th century, the teams have received more national recognition due to their work after 9-11, during the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.

Both handlers and dogs must meet stringent training requirements that are set forth by their organization in addition to specific standards outlined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Groups like the American Rescue Dog Association and Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States (SARDUS) have detailed websites about the training their specific groups offer to potential candidates.

So, the next time that your local news shows scenes of devastation or natural disaster, remember that our canine friends, and their human partners, are also on the front lines, saving lives and bringing hope to victims of catastrophes.

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The Confusing World of Pet Parasite Prevention

According to PetsAndParasites.com, a website devoted to tracking the occurrence of parasites in our pets, the prevalence of deadly heartworms continues to cause problems.  More than 1% of dogs tested will be positive for heartworms in the US every year.  That’s almost a million pets suffering from a preventable disease!  Rates are even higher for parasites like roundworms, whipworms and hookworms!

Thankfully, we have had safe and effective parasite treatment and preventive products available for many years.  So, why are we still seeing so many cases? There are many theories.

Despite the claims of Internet sites who say rising resistance among heartworms or massive failure of preventives is to blame, the reality is probably a little closer to home.   Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a past president of the American Heartworm Society is quoted as saying that human error or forgetfulness is probably the biggest reason for pets developing heartworm disease.  His comments are echoed by research in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana that reviewed cases of presumed heartworm preventive failure and found that owner compliance was actually much lower than originally reported.

Graphic of various pillsBut, an uncertainty among pet owners about which product to use (market confusion), as well as economic factors, are fueling at least some of the issue.  Generic heartworm preventives can now be found in many human pharmacies and online pet pharmacies are offering six to ten different medications to the public.  It’s frankly hard for a pet owner to choose.

Experts from the American Heartworm Society recommend giving heartworm preventive year round.  Just be sure you are using a prescription product that contains one of these known compounds; ivermectin, milbemycin oxime, selamectin or moxidectin.  Then your pet needs to receive a dose once monthly, every month, all year long.

Some of these medications are also effective against intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.  A few of these preventives are also now using compounds to treat tapeworms in addition to the other parasites.  It’s even possible to get heartworm preventive that also includes means to help control fleas!!

Part of consumer confusion is whether to buy the least expensive product or the one that covers every possible parasite.  Veterinarians do understand how this can be such a confounding problem.

In fact, certain parasites are less common in some areas of the country and your pet’s risk factors vary quite a bit.  These risk factors also include exposure to parasites through trips to dog parks, hiking or camping, interstate travel or even the presence of other animals in the household.

Veterinarian with petVeterinarians follow these trends every year.  They couple this information with their understanding of the different life cycles, knowledge of your pet’s specific medical conditions, the reputation of the drug manufacturers and your region of the country.  They are ideally equipped to help you more fully understand exactly which product provides the best parasite protection for your pet and your family.

Also it is so important for you not to fall for advice in online forums that recommend odd-ball alternative methods of protecting your pets against any parasite, but especially heartworm disease.  Many of these simply fuel speculation about diminishing effectiveness of heartworm preventives and they are not well researched.  These sites often misinterpret data or are actively promoting products that have not gone through proper testing and safety research.

This is an area of pet care where we have made great advances, but bad advice and a confusing market have created unnecessary risks and vulnerabilities. Trust your pet’s healthcare advice to your family veterinarian and team.  Trusted products from Deerfield Veterinary Hospital can be found at our hospital.  Our pharmacy is price competitive with most online and local big box retailers.  Call the hospital today to setup your account with Deerfield.

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The Silent Epidemic Affecting Our Pets

Veterinarians have estimated that more than 88 million pets are far too heavy and this tendency towards chubbiness is causing injuries, illnesses and even shortening life spans.  Unfortunately, there is a serious disconnection between what veterinarians tell owners and what the owners see in their pets.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) surveys veterinarians and owners each year to find just how overweight our pets are.  Recent surveys have shown that 53% of dogs and 55% of cats are classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians, but 15 to 22% of owners see those same pets as normal weight!  In the words of APOP founder, Dr. Ernie Ward, pet owners have now normalized obesity and made fat pets the new normal.

What’s even worse is that despite veterinarians’ warnings, the numbers of fat pets continues to grow.  In recent years, pets classified as obese (greater than 30% above normal body weight) have increased after each survey.  This means that more and more pets are at higher risk for a variety of weight related problems.

Carrying excess pounds can cause pets to develop breathing problems, kidney disease and aggravate arthritis.  Cats are extremely prone to acquiring Type 2 diabetes when they are overweight and any anesthetic procedure for your pet is automatically more of a risk because of  increased body fat.

Above all, excess weight will shorten a pet’s lifespan.  A landmark study has shown that pets who intake a limited amount of calories actually live almost two years longer than pets without calorie restriction.

Pet owners are the major gateway to both preventing our pets from becoming obese and in helping them lose the excess fat.  After all, it’s the owner who controls the pet’s access to all foods!

So, if your veterinarian has diagnosed your pet as overweight, first, don’t despair.  Your veterinarian is happy to develop a plan that will safely and effectively lose the extra pounds.  Next, use tools like a Body Condition Score chart http://www.hillspet.com/weight-management/pet-weight-score.html to more fully understand what an overweight pet looks like.

Involve your whole family in the pet’s weight loss process.  Assign one person to be the pet’s primary feeder and make sure that no one else in the family is providing non-approved treats or snacks on the side.  It may not seem like much, but even a couple of dog biscuits each day can add an extra 50-100 calories.  That’s almost 25% of a small dog’s total daily requirement!

For obease pets, your veterinarian will recommend a prescription weight reducing diet for your pet.  Although you might be tempted to continue feeding the previous brand of food at smaller portions, this practice could actually lead to nutritional deficiencies.  Reduction diets are specially formulated to provide the right amount of all nutrients while still limiting the amount of calories.

You may need to change your pet’s feeding schedule too.  Most pet owners leave food out for their pets all day (free choice feeding) and that often leads to the obesity problem or they only feed a large amount once a day.  By feeding a the right amount twice or even three times a day, you can actually help your pet lose more weight.

Increasing your pet’s exercise is also a crucial component to weight loss.  Once your veterinarian gives the okay, try to work up to two 20 minute walks per day or even one hour long walk.  The extra benefit is the positive effects on your health also!

For cats use kitty toys to encourage play and movement.  Teasers on strings and even laser pointers can keep your cat moving and a couple of twenty minute sessions each day will help your feline burn more calories.

Once you have started the process, your veterinarian will want to see you for regular weigh-ins and consultations to make sure you are meeting goals and adjusting as needed. .

This is a serious issue and has proven affect on longevity.  We all want our pets to be with us for as long as possible, so helping them lose excess weight is just one way we can help make that happen!

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