9 Steps to Eliminate Pet Medication Side-Effects

All pet medications carry a small risk of side effects but as a dog or cat owner there are several steps you can take to make them as safe as possible and in this article I'm going to give you 9 steps to reduce the risk of drug side effects in your pet.


All drugs have a small risk of side effects

If you've googled your pets medication it may be that you have got some concerns about the potential for side effects in your pet.  The first thing I'd say is don't panic though, in the vast majority of cases the drugs prescribed to your pet will be very safe and the horror stories you might have read will not be completely accurate.

Reduce Side Effect Risk

That said, every drug that does anything carries the risk of causing side effects.  Of course though, we don't want to use any drug irresponsibly and there are a number of actions we can take to minimize the risk of any side-effects.

  1. Only give drugs advised by your vet

  2. Never give human medication without advice

  3. Follow dosing instructions

  4. Give medication as advised

  5. Stop if any side effects develop

  6. Contact your vet if you have any concerns or questions

  7. Run monitoring tests

  8. Have regular check ups

  9. Include any additional management or treatment strategies

Only give drugs advised by your vet

My first step is simply to only give your pet medication as advised by your vet.  There is a lot of information online that it is easy for you to try and make your own diagnosis and treatment plan.  You might even have some left over medication from another pet at home.

There are 2 problems with this though.  The first is that your diagnosis may not be right and so there is no benefit to your pet getting the medication.  The second is that there may very well be a good reason why that particular drug is safe for one dog or cat but dangerous to another.  They may need a different dose or have a condition that makes receiving the drug much more risky.

If your pet is already taking medication then adding another drug to their treatment plan may again make the risk of drug side effects much higher

Never give human medication without advice

My next step is to never give your pet human medication unless specifically advised by your vet.  Some human drugs are safe for us but deadly to pet dogs or cats. Others can be given safely but need to be given at a very different dose rate to be effective and safe.

Follow dosing instructions

Step 3 to reduce the risk of medication side effects is very simple.  Give your pet the correct dose, at the right interval and for the right length of time as prescribed by your vet.  Skipped doses and other administration errors can mean that a drug won't work. It may mean that a multiresistant superbug infection develops in the case of antibiotic administration.  It may even mean that a higher dose is given and so the risk of side effects increases.

Simply follow the instructions given to you by your veterinarian.

Give the medication as advised

My next step also involves following the instructions given to you with your pets drug prescription.  Do you need to administer it with or without food? Does your pet need to have an empty stomach? Is it important that there is a gap between giving your pet 2 different medications?

Stop if any side effects develop

At 5 is to stop giving any medication straight away if your pet suddenly appears depressed, becomes unwell, stops eating or drinking, starts vomiting or having diarrhea and these signs are not related to your pets condition.  If the medication is being given because your pet is unwell then it may be that these problems are all part of your pets illness.

If though your pet is getting medication for a skin infection for example, becoming very lethargic and starting to vomit is highly unlikely to be linked and so whatever medication you are giving should be stopped.

Contact your vet if you have any concerns or questions

Linked to this, at number 6, is to contact your veterinarian if you have nay concerns with your pets condition or any questions about the drugs you are giving them.  Even if you think you should continue with the treatment that has been prescribed, it is always better to check in if things aren’t going to plan, or if your pet develops any new symptoms.

Run monitoring tests

The 7th step to help reduce the risk of drug side effects in your pet is to run any tests needed before starting and at the intervals advised by your vet.  For quite a few drugs it is a great idea to run a blood sample at the very start of treatment. This helps check that there are no underlying problems that may mean a different drug or altered dose would be better for your pet.

A pre-treatment test also gives great baseline values against which future tests can be compared.  This can give a true assessment of whether any drug is adversely affecting your pet making a change in their treatment plan a good idea.  Very often when a dog or cat starts treatment it will be recommended that blood testing is carried out more regularly than once they have been on a drug and been stable for some time.

Have regular check ups

Even if blood testing is not required, at number 8 is to take your pet to be re-examined at the interval advised by your vet.  With all the testing that can be done these days it is important not to underestimate the benefit of your pet getting a proper physical exam.

Based on an exam, as well as the history that you give to your vet, it may be apparent that side effects are starting to develop or a treatment plan needs to be altered.  It may even be that the drug has worked faster than expected and so treatment is no longer needed.

Include any additional management or treatment strategies

And my final step to reduce the risk of medication side effects in your pet is to follow any additional management instructions advised by your vet.  These may allow a shorter course or a lower dose of medication to be used.

Severe side effects are rare

While a guarantee can never be given, following this 9 step plan will help significantly reduce the risk of your pet suffering from serious drug side effects.  Don't worry too much, severe side effects really are uncommon. And remember,there will be a very good reason why you are giving them to your pet in the first place.

If your pet is being given pain killers then I have a dedicated article which discusses pet painkillers in detail.

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If you have any questions about drug safety or how to keep your pet safe then please leave me a comment below.

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