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Pill-popping pets

MagazineSeptember 2012 (Vol. 23 Issue 6)Pill-popping pets

Not surprisingly, given their inappropriate diets and vaccination overkill, dogs and cats aren't very well these days

Not surprisingly, given their inappropriate diets and vaccination overkill, dogs and cats aren't very well these days. Both species suffer from a range of modern degenerative illnesses not often seen in earlier generations.

However, modern medicine has stepped right in with a vast arsenal of drug-based treatments to sort out everything from allergies to compulsive licking.

Pharmaceutical companies have now declared open season on pets. In the main, dogs and cats are treated like mini-human beings. Most of the primary drugs given to humans have been adapted for dogs and cats, offering pharmaceutical companies a giant new market of acquiescent patients.

Indeed, there are even drugs

to take care of the side-effects of drugs. For instance, mitotane is used to treat Cushing's disease, which includes the moon-faced side-effect usually brought on by the use of steroids. Dogs given NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are begin-ning to suffer from ulcers and ulcerative colitis, requiring yet more drugs, such as powerful immunosuppressants, to treat the gut problems.

Believe it or not, dogs are even being given psychiatric drugs like tricyclic antidepressants to treat 'obsessive-compulsive' licking.

Do drugs help or hinder?

Although some drugs can be life-saving in the short term, as with humans, the chronic use of drugs can cause a range of side-effects, which can be even more serious in pets.

Every new discovery or break-through drug can have serious consequences. Indeed, many cases of immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia (IMHA)-a growing problem in dogs whereby the immune system starts attacking red blood cells-are being traced back to the administration of prescription drugs.

As dogs and cats become more ill with autoimmune illnesses, supposedly of unknown causes, vets are becoming bolder about trying out drugs in ever more powerful combinations.

Lately, vets and drug companies have been experimenting with powerful immunosuppressive drugs, such as cyclosporin (often used with steroids), to treat these puzzling new illnesses.

Most drugs given to your

pet are given at inappropriate dosages. These are usually doses that would be used for a 70-kg (154-lb or 11-stone) person. It's not surprising, then, that animals react so quickly to drugs. Breaking up the drug is no guarantee that you will be giving your pet the right dosage.

If your pet must take medication (and there are many alternative treatments to allopathic medicine), make sure that you ask your vet:

  • to choose drugs specially formulated for your animal's species and size
  • for a suspension, or have the medicine reformulated into one, as this form is easier for your pet to take
  • if your animal's dosage is based on studies specifically on dogs or cats
  • if the dosage should be adjusted, if your pet is obese, to reflect the lean body weight of an animal that size.

In addition, be very wary of giving your pet two drugs at the same time. Drugs that interact in humans are likely to interact in animals as well. For example, heart drugs like digoxin and beta-blockers like propranolol interact.

Keep a close eye on your pet and watch out for any side-effects. If any arise, make sure to write them down and call your vet immediately at the first sign of a problem or a change in behaviour.

Drugs and their side-effects

Here are some of the main types of drugs used for animals, along with their side-effects.

  • Antibiotics

Typical drugs: Amoxicillin, penicillin, sulphatrimethoprim combination drugs.

Use: All manner of bacterial and respiratory infections.

Side-effects: Diarrhoea, vomiting, excess gas, constipation, lack of appetite, dehydration, potassium deficiencies, intestinal problems such as colitis (severe inflammation of the colon), irritable bowel (or even perforation), increased white blood cell count.

Penicillin can trigger severe allergic reactions, including sudden death. Watch out for drugs like enrofloxacin, a broad-spectrum fluoroquinolone that can affect cartilage and joint development in young animals, and for the sulphatrimethoprim combinations, which can cause liver damage, dry eye, vomiting, hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid) and immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP), in which there is a decrease in the number of platelets in the blood.

Chloramphenicol has been linked to aplastic anaemia in several animal species. Amikacin and gentamicin, both aminoglycoside antibiotics, have been shown to cause deafness and kidney failure.

As with humans, enrofloxacin and tetracycline should never be given to young pets, as these drugs can get into the bones of growing animals and can also stain teeth.

Special warning: Doberman Pinschers should avoid sulpha drugs, as they will cause joint inflammation.

  • Paracetamol (acetaminophen in the US)

Use: Pain relief.

Side-effects: Causes liver damage.

Special warning: This should never be given to cats, as liver damage is extremely likely.

  • Acepromazine

Use: As a sedative and anti-stress agent, this is often used before an operation.

Side-effects: Evidence suggests that it can lower the seizure threshold in animals. It's also been associated with hypo-tension (abnormally low blood pressure), breathing problems and bradycardia-when the heart beats slower than normal.

Special warning: This should not be given to Boxers or to pets with seizure disorders.

  • Antifungals

Typical drugs: Ketoconazole, griseofulvin, itraconazole, flu-conazole, terbinafine.

Use: Ringworm and other fungal infections.

Side-effects: Anorexia, vomiting, diarrhoea, pruritus (itching), alopecia (hair loss) and liver damage.

Special warning: Use over the long term may cause your animal's coat to lighten in colour.

  • Antihistamines

Typical drugs: Diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine.

Use: Atopic allergies of all varieties.

Side-effects: The biggest problem is that, as with humans, these drugs are very hit-or-miss and a particular brand may not work. Also, they can cause sedation and behavioural changes.

Special warning: Avoid anti-histamines if your animal has had epileptic seizures or eye problems such as glaucoma.

  • Diuretics

Typical drugs: Furosemide.

Use: Congestive heart failure and other heart problems as well as certain kidney diseases.

Side-effects: Excessive dehydration and thirst, increased or decreased urine production, muscle weakness, dizziness, hypokalaemia (a lower than normal amount of potassium in the blood), anaemia and rapid heart rate. In cats, furosemide may affect hearing or balance, or cause tilting of the head.

Lynne McTaggart

Next month: Steroids, worming agents and more, plus alternative ways to deal with disease


WDDTY vol 23 no. 6


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