When you pick up a prescription from your veterinarian, do you know that it's likely a "people med" your pet is getting? It's true! Aside from flea- and tick-control products and some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, most of the medications your pets receive are crossovers from human medicine.
And when I say "most," I mean "almost all." Some 80 to 90 percent of the drugs used in veterinary medicine come from human medicine. This so-called "off-label" use of human drugs allows veterinarians to treat medical conditions (and species) that aren't always priorities for drug companies when it comes to developing and selling medications.
Some of the medications may be used for different health conditions in animals than in people. For years I'd get raised eyebrows when talking about dogs prescribed Viagra (in dogs, it can be used to treat a heart condition) or Botox (used to treat problems caused by deep skin folds in some dogs). More routinely (and less surprisingly) prescribed are "human" antibiotics, anti-anxiety medications and many other drugs that pretty much treat the same issues in both people and pets.
The practice of veterinary medicine is challenging, that's for sure. We have to work with multiple species, none of whom can say, "It hurts here, Doc!" And we have to know more about pharmacology than our physician counterparts. After all, in human medicine, all drugs are FDA-approved, meaning that they have undergone significant scrutiny for safety and efficacy -- but only in one species: ours. The guidelines for use are fairly clear.
But when a veterinarian believes a particular human medication can help an animal, she'll prescribe based on information that's often not quite as regulated with regard to its use in animals. This has been the case for decades, of course, but the practice has only really been legal since 1994, when Congress passed the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) regulating the conditions under which "off-label" use is acceptable.
Even before the legislation was in place, however, there was a working system for prescribing human drugs to pets. Veterinarians relied on peer-reviewed studies, clinical trials and published formularies that included suggestions for safe uses and dosages of human medications given to companion animals.
Today, with the legal issues cleared up, veterinarians and their patients have more options and better access to medications. Veterinarians have always been glad to provide in-house pharmaceutical services, and general pharmacists, too, have usually been willing to fill prescriptions written by vets. But recently, online retailers and specialty pharmacists have recognized that pets are an expansion market. These developments open the door to even more changes, including discussions on generic meds and walking out of your veterinarian's practice with a prescription instead of a pill bottle.
Chances are you won't be taking a prescription for Viagra or Botox with you the next time you go to the veterinarian's office, but you should still talk with the doctor about your pet's treatment options. A good veterinarian will discuss what medications your pet will need, tell you what screening tests may be required for safety beforehand, what side effects to look for after you get home and answer all your questions before you go. Your veterinarian should also encourage you to call with questions or concerns.
Good communication, after all, is as important a part of good medicine as, well, medicine.
Online bonus: Dr. Becker reveals the 30 best pet-care products of 2011 (vetstreet.com/dr-marty-beckers-top-30-pet-products-of-2011).
How to stop
a chewing cat
Q: My cat has developed this really weird habit of sucking on fabric. She seems to be in some kind of a state while she's doing it, almost like she's on a drug. The throw at the end of our bed seems to attract the most attention, and it has three places where there are "sucked-up" areas that are pretty much ruined. Before I replace it, I'd like to cure her of the habit. Should I use that nasty stuff to stop pets from chewing on the areas? -- via email
A: The behavior you've described is generally called "wool-chewing," and it's not uncommon, especially in the so-called "Oriental" breeds such as the Siamese. While the target is often a soft fabric such as wool, some cats prefer other objects, perhaps plastic grocery bags. No one's really sure what causes the behavior, but since it is more common in some breeds than in others, it is suspected to have a genetic component.
People have long believed that wool chewing was a result of a kitten who was separated from the mother too soon (probably because the behavior looks like nursing) but that's no longer believed to be the case. Best guess: It's one of those habits that relieves stress and brings comfort.
Unfortunately, there is no 100 percent effective cure for it. Things to try:
-- Put away the heirlooms and cashmere. If your cat prefers soft wool, put your finest away and keep the drawers closed. Keep bedroom doors closed to protect your good blankets.
-- Use deterrents. Set out some "decoy" blankets (along with the already ruined one), and apply Bitter Apple, Tabasco, hot pepper oil or a similar product. Spraying fabrics lightly with perfume is also a common recommendation.
-- More exercise. Daily play with your cat may also help -- and it certainly won't hurt. In addition to interactive play, bring in food puzzles to keep your cat busy and entertained. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
can be pet killer
-- Need help with a New Year's resolution to stop smoking? Do it for your pet. Three separate studies at three different veterinary colleges showed that dogs and cats whose owners smoke are more likely to develop health problems from secondhand smoke, including cancers of the nose, lung and lymphatic system. If you do quit for your pet you'll not be alone in doing so: Another study suggests people are more likely to quit for a pet than for a spouse.
-- As deer populations continue to grow, so do the numbers of ticks and cases of tick-borne illness. Of concern to both physicians and veterinarians is the discovery of a new tick-borne bacterium causing ehrlichiosis that has been discovered in Wisconsin and Minnesota. According to DVM360.com, researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin, more than two dozen people have contracted the disease. So far, despite the testing of thousands of ticks, this particular strain has not been found outside of the two states yet.
-- Animal bites should never be taken lightly, even if they seem minor at first. Even "minor" cat bites are like a hypodermic needle jamming bacteria deep into the flesh, and they can become a severe medical crisis. Pet rodents could also be carrying deadly disease. If bitten by an animal, immediately head to the sink for a lot of soap and water, and keep the lather and rinsing coming for about three minutes. Then call your doctor for treatment advice -- you may need antibiotics. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.