Pet Medication
You’ve done your best for your pet by taking her to your veterinarian when you could tell she wasn’t well. Your veterinarian listened to your observations and made many of his own as he examined your pet from tip of the nose to tip of the toes. Maybe tests were ordered and then expertly evaluated. And, finally, your veterinarian has a diagnosis and will be sending you home with medication to address your pet’s condition.

Your job is done, right?


Before you go home, you have more work to do. Because you need to be sure you know what you need to about that medication for it to help — and certainly not harm — your pet. I have a simple list of six questions to ask your vet before you walk out the door of that exam room and head home with your pet.

Be an Informed Advocate for Your Pet

People often take medications incorrectly — or don't take them at all. It’s no surprise, then, that medication sent home for pets is also commonly not given or not given correctly. Part of the challenge, of course, is that dogs and cats can be difficult to medicate. (Yes, we veterinarians are aware of the challenges and want to help, even if we joke a little now and then.)

To make sure you are getting your pet the help she needs, ask your veterinarian:

What is this medication for? Are you managing symptoms such as vomiting or pain? Or treating the disease itself? Knowing what the medication is meant to do helps you with your overall knowledge of what’s wrong with your pet and how this prescription fits in with everything else that is being prescribed or recommended.

How much do I give, and how often? Yes, it’s on the label, or at least it should be. Go over it anyway, just to be sure you understand. People can interpret things differently: Is three times a day morning, noon and night, or is it at precise eight-hour intervals? This is also the time to discuss any problems or challenges you have — for example, you will be unable to give this medicine while you’re at work. Finally, it's a chance to learn about other strategies for giving the medicine — are you familiar with using a pill-splitter to give half-pills?

How fast will it work? In other words, when should I see results? If your pet should react to a medication quickly and doesn’t, you need to know that so you can check back in. You need to understand as well that even if your pet seems “cured,” you should continue to give the medication for as long as it was prescribed. If that doesn’t seem reasonable, call your veterinarian and discuss before you stop giving medications as prescribed.

Some Problems Are the Same in People and Pets

If I miss a dose or find out later that my pet spit it out, what do I do? Missing a dose is common with people and pets alike. In general, you should never double up on your next dose. Usually it’s better to wait until it’s time for the next dose, give it normally and stay on schedule from then on. But that’s not always the case, so ask your veterinarian what is recommended for this particular medication.

Are there any possible side effects? Increased thirst or other changes in behavior can be extremely concerning if you aren’t expecting them, so be sure you know what to expect as normal, or at least as possible, with the medication. Not only will knowing what to expect save you worry over things you don’t need to be concerned about, it will also help you know when you do need to be concerned — and when to call your veterinarian right away for advice.

If I can't get my pet to take the medicine, what are my options? Yes, some pets are impossible to “pill,” and some pet owners are just not able to deal with at-home nursing of any kind. If that’s you or your pet, speak up! There are almost always alternatives, from long-acting injections for antibiotics to using compounding pharmacies to render medication in more palatable formats. Some people bring their pets in to the veterinarian's office for treatments (sometimes even for treatments that other pet owners have no problem doing at home) — and that’s OK, too.

Medication Can’t Work If You Don’t Give It

The best veterinarian in the world can’t help your pet get better if you can’t or won’t follow through on his recommendations for care. “Non-compliance” is one of the most frustrating problems in medicine. Doctors want you to get better, and veterinarians want your pet to get better. That’s why we do the work we do: to help you. Let us help you. Make sure you ask questions and understand the answers before you leave with your pet’s medication.

Your pet can’t ask, and she's counting on you to make sure you know what you need to do at home.