Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Why Veterinarians "Just Say No" to Some Drug Requests

Pet Column for the week of July 28, 1997

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Services - Veterinary Profession

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Chris Beuoy
Information Specialist

It happens more often than you might think. Pet owners on vacation forget or lose the dog's
seizure medicine, so they call a vet they don't know to ask for the drug. Or someone sees a
new flea control product advertised on TV and wants to buy it without taking the pet in for
a visit. Why do veterinarians insist on seeing the animals before accommodating these

"There are both legal and medical reasons for taking this precaution," explains Dr. Thomas
Burke, professor of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary
Medicine in Urbana. "For one thing, veterinarians, like physicians and dentists, are covered
by a state pharmacy act that says there must be a doctor-patient relationship in order to
prescribe drugs."

The primary concern, however, is the safety of the pet. In many instances, the vacationing
owners think they know their pet's prescription but have forgotten that it was changed.
Owners could also correctly remember the color and size of the pill their pet receives, but
that same medication may be made by different manufacturers who do not use the same
color and size to denote dosages. It is in the best interest of the pet to make sure the exact
medication is given by calling the prescribing veterinarian.

"Most veterinarians will be happy to help out with enough medication to last until the owner
can return home," says Dr. Burke, "but they will ask for the name of the pet's regular
veterinarian and call to confirm the exact drug and the exact strength." It is legal to dispense
the drug if the doctor-patient relationship that exists with the pet's regular veterinarian is

"Another problem, unfortunately, is scams," says Dr. Burke. "People sometimes call and
ask for Valium or another psychoactive drug and claim it is for their animal. We always call
the veterinarian's office to make sure the request is legitimate."

In the case of the owner who requests a new product for flea care without a vet visit, there
are other safety concerns. The Food and Drug Administration conducts extensive testing to
determine whether medicines should require a prescription or can be safely sold over the
counter. An oral flea preventive--even though it is very safe as prescribed--must be given
under a vet's supervision because owners may mistakenly think it kills adult fleas, or may
decide to give their dog's pills to the cat as well, or may give the drug to an animal who is
nursing, in which case the drug could reach the offspring through her milk in much higher
concentrations than prescribed.

It could also spell trouble to let the owner diagnose the flea problem. Not everyone knows
a flea from a tick. Or the animal may have fleas and another condition, such as a skin
tumor, that goes undiagnosed and could be a life-threatening condition that needs immediate
and aggressive treatment.

If you have other questions about prescription medications for your pet, please consult your
local veterinary practitioner.