Sometimes we give little thought to the potential danger drugs pose to our pets, even though most of us have become quite familiar with the dangers they can pose to humans. But pets are just as vulnerable to the same drug dangers as we are, and in many ways moreso. These risks include:
Veterinary staff giving the incorrect drug or dose, or giving the drug to the wrong animal. This happens far more often than you would think. A contributing factor to the prevalence of this error is the lack of regulation in veterinary medicine, which allows veterinarians to hire cheap, unlicensed and ill prepared staff to work in their "hospitals." Often untrained or inadequately trained staff are allowed to administer drugs unsupervised. These errors can also occur as a result of sloppy animal identification procedures in a hospital or clinic (no names or wrong names on cages and charts, etcetera). Failure to administer the right drug to the right patient has even led to healthy pets being "euthanized." This dog was dropped off for grooming, but instead was mixed up with a patient who was to be euthanized, and he was killed. http://badvetdaily.blogspot.com/2008/11/leonardo-dog-is-dropped-off-for.html
"Off label" (or "extra-label") use of drugs whose effect on animals is not adequately tested. Most pet owners do not realize that standards for testing drugs to be used on our pets are very differnt from the standards in place for human use. Unlike human physicians, veterinarians may prescribe and administer drugs to your pet even if those drugs have never been thorougly tested on your pets' species as effective and safe for your pets condition. The following link provides an explanation of this "extra label" drug use by the AVMA. The upshot of this explanation is: Your vet can do pretty much whatever he sees fit when it comes to prescribing and administering drugs. Drug companies know this, and market their drugs to vets for veterinary "extra label" use even when significant evidence exists that a particular drug causes a high rate of serious side effects in pets. http://www.avma.org/issues/drugs/ELDU_AMDUCA_faq.asp. One drug often used by veterinarians in such a fashion is metacam, which poses a significant risk of kidney failure in cats. In many cases where cats experienced metacam-induced kidney failure, the owners were not told that this was a possibility, and were not told what symptoms to look for that would be the first indicators of drug-induced kidney failure. There is no a website devoted to telling the stories of these victims, called "Metacam Kills." Metacam is just one example; the list of drugs used by veterinarians in spite of potentially deadline side effects is long, and includes the drugs Rimadyl and Deramaxx, often use for arthritis in dogs. The Senior Dogs Project has a very informative page about Rimadyl. While we are not saying that there is no legitimate use of these drugs in veterinary medicine, we believe strongly that they should never be used without fully informed consent on the part of the pet owner. This requires a comprehensive discussion of drug side effects and symtoms that serve as early warnings for serious side effects. The next issue on our list adds to the danger posed by off-label drug use.
Failure on the Part of Veterinarians to Discuss or Disclose Side Effects with Pet Owners. Veterinarians often prescribe drugs to a patient without fully discussing the potential drug side effects with the pet owner. Sadly, many pets begin showing symptoms of serious and even life-threatening drug reactions which go unnoticed by pet owners precisely because the veterinarian who prescribed the drug did not tell the owner what he or she should be looking for. Often, when the symptoms become severe enough to prompt another visit to the vet, it is too late to reverse the damage.
Failure on the Part of Veterinarians to Check for Drug Contraindications and Drug Interactions. As with most of the problems outline above, there is a systemic and widespread problem with veterinarians who do not check for contraindications to administering a drug (for example, the use of ketamine in a pet with heart failure or metacam in a pet with renal failure) or potential drug interactions before prescribing or administering a drug. There are rarely significant consequences for a veterinarian whose actions result in the injury or death of a patient. Our pets have negligible value in the eyes of the law, as mere depreciable "property," and the veterinary boards dismiss the overwhelming majority of complaints they receive. It is therefore critically important that we, as loving pet owners, educate ourselves and do everything possible to protect our pets before harm comes to them.
For all these reasons, we strongly urge all pet owners to be vigilent and cautious about drugs being given to their pets. The section below provides some recommended actions we believe you should taken to reduce these threats to your pets' wellbeing.