Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Drug Details

What to know about giving your pets medication

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When you live with a cavalier King Charles spaniel, you know that at some point, you are going to be medicating your dog to manage congestive heart failure from mitral valve disease. That day has come for me and Harper, my 9-year-old cavalier.

I took her to the veterinary ER last month because she was showing classic signs of heart failure: restlessness, rapid respiration and coughing. I had been chalking the coughing up to the grass that she loves to eat, but combined with the other two signs, I knew it wasn’t something to ignore. Harper’s cardiologist wasn’t able to see her right away, but based on chest X-rays and clinical signs, she prescribed three medications to help control Harper’s symptoms until she could be examined. One of them is a diuretic.

We’ve been through this before, so we knew what to expect. The diuretic removes excess salt and fluid from Harper’s body. That means she drinks more water and needs to urinate more frequently. No more asking her to wait if I’m busy when she comes to let me know she wants to go out. We get up and go right away.

No matter what disease your dog or cat is facing, there are lots of great drugs out there that can help. Here’s what you should know about ensuring that you and your pet get the best results.

-- Ask about side effects. Most drugs have them. Your pet may not experience side effects, but you should know what to look for. Common side effects of various types of medication include vomiting and diarrhea, stomach ulcers, lethargy, or liver or kidney damage. The potential for liver or kidney damage is why your veterinarian may require your pet to have blood work done a week or so after starting the medication or before refilling the prescription. Call your veterinarian right away if you suspect your pet is having a reaction to medication.

-- Ask for a copy of the prescription. You may be able to purchase medication for less at big box stores such as Target or Costco. They can leverage their purchasing power to get lower prices, something your vet may be unable to do. Getting a medication direct from your veterinarian can be more convenient, though, and may be worth the price difference to you.

-- Ask about compounding. If your pet is difficult to medicate if the pills don’t come in small sizes, a compounding pharmacy can formulate the drug in a different way, such as a chicken-flavored liquid or a cheese-flavored chewable.

-- Ask online pharmacies if they are accredited by the National Association Boards of Pharmacy Top-Level Domain program or, for compounding pharmacies, the Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board. The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that medications that are packaged or shipped improperly may be ineffective.

-- Ask if the medication should be given with food or on an empty stomach. It can make a difference in the effectiveness.

-- Ask when to start the medication. Your pet may have already gotten a dose at the veterinary hospital and might not need more until the next day.

-- Ask how much leeway there is in timing the doses. If a medication needs to be given every 12 hours, but your schedule is variable, it’s good to know if your pet can get the drug a little early or a little late.

-- Ask what to do if your pet misses a dose. Usually it’s not advisable to double up on a dose, but only your veterinarian knows for sure.


Is surgery the

only solution?

Q: My dog has a cruciate ligament tear. The surgery to repair it is really expensive. Is there anything else we can do? -- via Facebook

A: It’s not just athletes who suffer these types of injuries. Cruciate ligament tears are one of the most common orthopedic problems seen by veterinarians. The options for repair depend on such factors as your dog’s size, age, activity level and, of course, your budget.

Maybe you have a small dog. It’s possible that with complete crate rest for six weeks, medication for pain relief and some rehab sessions, his condition could improve. It won’t be fixed, but if he’s an older dog and doesn’t have an active lifestyle, that may be OK. A larger or more active dog may not respond as well to this program.

That might sound like a good plan to you, but keep in mind that when we say complete crate rest, we mean that your dog must be confined to a small area where he has room only to stand up, lie down and turn around. He doesn’t come out of that space for the whole six weeks except to go outdoors to potty on his leash and then go straight back into confinement. This can be tough on people and dogs, and your dog still runs the risk of eventually tearing the meniscus, the C-shaped disc that cushions the knee.

An orthotic for the dog’s knee (called the stifle) is also a possibility. Some dogs don’t like wearing them, though, and it’s not temporary; the dog will need it for life.

If you have a young, active dog or one who competes in a canine sport or is a service dog, surgery is likely the best option. Your veterinarian can discuss the various surgical options with you, including complications and success rates. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Kids like pets

more than siblings

-- Your dog or your brother? A survey of 77 12-year-olds found that they got more satisfaction and less conflict out of their relationships with pets than with siblings. Anyone who has squabbled with a sister or brother probably agrees. The advantage of confiding in a dog or cat, of course, is that he’s not going to argue with you or say “I’m gonna tell!” Girls reported “more companionship, disclosure and conflict” with pets than boys did. The University of Cambridge study appeared in the Jan. 24, 2017, issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

-- Zelda has a new lease on life after becoming the first ferret to have a pacemaker surgically implanted. Veterinarians at Kansas State University’s Veterinary Health Center performed the surgery last month after Zelda’s owner, Carl Hobi, noticed in December that Zelda seemed lethargic and had little appetite. An EKG found that she had a low heart rate, and Hobi was referred to a KSU cardiologist. Zelda was a good candidate for the surgery, and went home after two days in the intensive care unit. The pacemaker’s battery should last approximately 10 years, giving Zelda a full ferret lifespan.

-- Alaska has become the first state in the nation to require courts to take an animal’s well-being into account in divorce settlements, empowering judges to assign joint custody of pets. With the same statute, it becomes the 32nd state to protect companion animals under domestic violence protection orders and allow courts to require abusers to pay financial support for a pet in situations of cruelty or neglect. In a blog post, the Animal Legal Defense Fund wrote, “Alaska’s new statute represents significant progress for animals in the legal system.” The law took effect last month. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.