Why Self-Medicating Your Pets is a No-No

From time to time as a private practitioner I often encounter pet owners that self-medicate their pets. As a veterinarian, you’d be shocked to learn about this. It’s not always that they go about telling it openly during vet visits, but by simply asking some questions they would admit to it casually as if its not a big deal. I would understand if you are a medical or another health related practitioner — at least you got the pharmacologic principles right and you are quite practical (although this is still dangerous for various many other reasons). But for pet owners with very little or zero knowledge about how drugs work with the animal’s body, sometimes the results would be very catastrophic.

Liver and kidney damage, red blood cell damage, severe vomiting, and diarrhea are the most common results of wrong medication given to pets. All these could ultimately lead to death in dogs and cats.

For example, one of the most commonly given over the counter drug is paracetamol (Biogesic). This drug is used to treat fever or pain in humans. Under very careful dosing, dogs can be given paracetamol as a pain reliever (although I don’t readily use this drug on my patients). But when this same drug is given to cats, this is highly toxic and could kill a cat in a matter of 4 hours. Cats cannot synthesize this drug in their liver, resulting in serious reactions such as damage to the liver and red blood cells.

Another class of drug that is commonly given are antibiotics. Antibiotics are supposed to be prescription drugs but for some reason, some pet owners can readily buy it without prescription and give it to their pets. It may not immediately kill your dog or cat, but it may lead to antibiotic resistance later on if improper dosage is given and it means that your dog or cat will not respond anymore to a certain type of antibiotic.

Do you have a left over vial of antibiotic eye drops? If your dog or cat has red, painful, and gunky eyes would you give it to him? Think again. Your human prep eye drop may have added steroids in it (ex. Tobramycin + Dexamethasone eye drops). Painful and gunky eyes that were not examined by a vet may have corneal abrasion or ulcer (basically a wound on the surface of the eye). An antibiotic eye drop with added dexamethasone will not heal the wound but will only make it worse.

There is a scientific process that we have to go through before deciding what drug needs to be given on a certain disease. Even as a veterinarian for thirteen plus years, I still rely heavily on physical examination and laboratory work before giving treatment to my patients. Without proper examination (i.e., self-medication at home) chances are, your dog or cat may be receiving improper treatment and will only make matters worse.

And please, don’t tell me you Googled it first. If something wrong happens to your dog or cat, Google cannot be held responsible. Plus, there is so much dynamics involved (history, age, weight, physical exam, proper lab work, diagnosis, proper dosing, etc etc.) that you have to put into consideration before giving any treatment. All these information cannot be processed by Google in order to come up with the right medication. That being said, it is best to leave the problem into the hands of a veterinary professional. Vets are highly trained to deal with these problems much as a pilot is highly trained to fly a plane.

Bottom line is, stop self-medicating your pets. Our dogs and cats deserve so much better. If you have your own medical problem, would you let your neighbor the carpenter examine you?

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