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How to Read Your Pet’s Prescription Labels

April 6, 2010
Is This Okay

VirtuaVet’s: How to Check Your Pet’s Medications

Check your pet’s medications when you pick them up!  Mix-ups, mistakes, mistaken identity, wrong count, wrong meds, wrong directions, expired medications, or just plain old unclear, confusing directions can leave you out some money and your pet not feeling any better.  Be sure you understand the label and the label is clear and correct before you take that medication home with you!

You’d be Surprised How Easy It Is to Misunderstand

The doctor says, “Mom, if I gave you a prescription and told you to give your cat two pills every 12 hours, tell me what you would put in your cat’s body.”

“Okay,” says mom,” I’d give a tablet in the morning at about 8 am and another tablet at night at 8 pm. That’s two tablets every 12 hours, right?”

Can you see the problem with this?  Some people do, about 20% of people (1/5) do not find the glitch.

Most technicians will print “2 tablets every 12 hours on the label”  or worse, “Two tablets twice daily.” The twice daily thing ends up with busy people giving the meds at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., and then going off to work a 15 hour shift.  That medicine has just cost them money, maybe injured their pet and done nothing good for the pet.

Writing “two tablets in the a.m. and 2 tablets in the p.m.” is better.  The best label would be printed after consulting the pet parent about their schedule and their life.  Then, “Give 2 tablets by mouth at 8 a.m. and two tablets by mouth at 8 p.m. for 2 weeks,” would be a perfect prescription direction.

Twice daily means every 12 hours. {In doctor prescription speak “BID” (pronounced bee eye dee)}

Once daily means every 24 hours.  It does not mean giving pills before bed on Thursday and when you get up on Friday and then you are covered for Thursday and Friday.  The biology and processing in the body do not work that way, even if you hope you are clever and getting the job done!

Three times a day means every 8 hours.

Four times a day means every 6 hours.

This Stuff is Complicated: Do Not Hesitate to Ask for Help

If you must give a medicine more than four times a day, and you cannot calculate the hours, you should get a helper, or board your pet at the vet’s hospital.  The likelihood of an inadvertent mistake goes up in proportion to whether you understood the word inadvertent just now.

I’m not being facetious.  This stuff is tricky.  We use treatment sheets at the hospital and double-check the treatment orders with the doctor.

Check the Prescription

  1. Correct name (yours and pet’s)
  2. Correct date
  3. Name and strength of the medication
  4. Do the directions explain how much to give, whether the meds are by mouth, in the ear, on the skin, in the eye, or what?
  5. Do the written directions match what the technician or doctor told you?
  6. Check the expiration date on the bottle.

What to do if you have a concern about the prescription

  1. Ask if the nurse can double-check the expiration on the bottle.
  2. If some pills look different, ask why (sometimes different generic meds look different).
  3. Read the label to a technician and check if you got it right.
  4. Ask the nurse to teach you how to administer the medication.
  5. Ask for a non-child-proof container if you do not have children and cannot open the containers.

Another frustrating, common misunderstanding

If the label does not specify “by mouth” or given “orally,” double-check!

“Doc, those ***** pills didn’t do anything for his ear infection,” says frustrated, somewhat irate gentleman.

Doctor looks in ears to see why the infection is still bothering the dog.  Uh-oh!  The ear canal was full of pills!  This dog’s dad put medication right where the infection lived.  The doctor sedated the poor dog and picked the pills out one-by-one like ticks!

“Doc, those ***** pills didn’t help his diarrhea at all.”  That’s strange.  Usually they work great.

“Did you give them twice a day like I told you?” said the Doc.

“Well, it was hard to hold him still, but I finally got ’em up there,” he said.  Scratch of needle on record, rrrrrr?

“What do you mean, ‘up there?'” asked a befuddled veterinarian.

“Well, you know, them suppositories,” said the dog dad.  Really?

“Do you really think I’d prescribe a suppository for your dog?  And put you through that?” Doc Truli asked.

“Well, I didn’t know,” he said.

So, don’t assume or you’ll be hurting your pet and giving yourself way too much work.  Just ask, even if you think everything seems clear!

How to Know When You’ve Gone Around the Bend

Ask a receptionist to take the pills out, count them, and then tell them you want new pills because the receptionist just touched them. (This happened! Can you see how this would be a never-ending cycle?)

Read more pet prescription advice: VirtuaVet’s Real World Pet Medication Questions

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