Do you own a dog? How about a ferret, a rabbit, or a guinea pig? Is your best friend a cockatoo? Does your son carry an iguana in his pocket or your daughter stable a horse on a neighbor’s farm? Or maybe you are just permanent staff for the cat who owns your house. Pets come in all shapes and sizes and different people care for different kinds of pets but all pet owners care for their pets. For some “pet parents” that care eventually includes veterinary care as well and possibly the need for medications.
Veterinarians work with many different animal species, large and small, but often face a handicap in treating their patients- many of the medications they need to optimize an animal’s care are not available in the form or dose appropriate to your pet. Most veterinarians have learned to turn to a compounding pharmacist for help when they find their options too limited.
Compounding is the term describing the segment of pharmacy practice in which a pharmacist prepares, or compounds, a unique dose form for a specific patient. Veterinary care often requires the use of medications that are commercially available only for human use in dose forms or strengths inappropriate for animals. Other medications may no longer be manufactured or may be unavailable due to manufacturing problems. Your veterinarian may wish to change the delivery route of a specific medication in order to increase benefits, reduce negative side effects, or reduce the stress on a pet when the dose is difficult to administer.
Anyone who has ever tried to give a pill to a cat knows about stress- and not just to the cat. After you pick up the chair, change your tattered shirt, and get the stitches in your arm you feel like you need a pill! It doesn’t have to be that difficult, though. When you ask your veterinarian about compounded medications, you may find several appropriate options. Let’s consider several examples.
Flavored suspensions can be compounded for most medications. Doses usually can be concentrated into very small volumes and dispensed with a small syringe. Fish and chicken for cats, beef or liver for dogs, peanut butter or a variety of fruit flavors for birds or ferrets may be chosen based on your pet’s preferences. Thicker pastes made with molasses usually allow ease of dosing for horses.
Chewable treats may be compounded with the desired medication dose dispersed throughout. Treats work very well with dogs and many cats and may be used with birds or smaller animals. Treat bases can be prepared from your pet’s favorite treat or favorite food and generally store well. If your pet is accustomed to getting treats, you may be able to “reward” with a dose of needed medication.
Transdermal gels are one of the more unique delivery systems. Specific gel forms have been developed that have the ability to transport most medications through skin directly into the bloodstream. Transdermals have become a favorite especially for cats because of ease of use. A needed medication is incorporated into the gel and concentrated so that a very small amount is required to deliver the precise dose. Doses are measured from a syringe for accuracy and the pet owner merely rubs the gel into the inner surface of the pet’s ear. The pet owner uses gloves or finger cots to handle the gel so only the pet is medicated.
Although all pharmacists may legally compound prescriptions, most lack the equipment, training, and time required to prepare each medication individually. Pharmacists who specialize in compounding have invested countless hours in studying the special needs of their patients, including veterinary patients, and maintain the specialized equipment and inventories required to meet those needs.
Additionally, some compounding pharmacists may also be able to counsel pet owners about homeopathic, nutritional, or herbal therapies for animal health. These natural therapies, when used properly, may be safely integrated into traditional veterinary care or used alone. For those pet owners who wish to try a more natural approach, homeopathic and nutritional agents coupled with dietary change have often demonstrated benefit, especially with chronic health issues.
If you find your best pet friend is under the weather and needs a little care, don’t despair. See your vet, but you don’t have to pill your pet- just visit your veterinary compounding pharmacist for your customized options.
Terry Wingo maintains a pharmacy practice specializing in prescription compounding and natural therapies. He is a Fellow of the American College of Veterinary Pharmacists.