Ten Tips for Managing Your Senior Pet’s Medications

by Nancy Kay, DVM

Has your tabby transitioned into his teens? Is the hair on your retriever’s muzzle now a lovely shade of gray? If so, it’s likely that some medical issues have accompanied your pet’s aging process.

Examples include:
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Allergies
  • Digestive issues
  • Kidney failure
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Cushing’s disease- an overproduction of cortisone that occurs primarily in dogs
  • Hypothyroidism- an underproduction of thyroid hormone that occurs in dogs
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Urinary incontinence- urine leakage that occurs primarily in dogs

  • Fortunately, many of these maladies can be successfully managed with long term if not life long medication. Here are ten tips to ensure that, as a conscientious caregiver, you are doing the best job possible with your pet’s medications:

    1. Learn as much as possible
    When a new medication is prescribed for your cat or dog, talk with your veterinarian to gather answers to the following questions:
  • What is the medication supposed to do?
  • What signs of improvement should I be looking for?
  • Is this medication compatible with other drugs and supplements my pet is receiving, and can they all be given at the same time?
  • What are the potential side effects and what should I do if I observe them?
  • Does the timing of administration need to be exact?
  • Do I need to take special precautions when handling the medication?
  • What happens if a dosage is accidentally skipped?
  • Should I give the medication if my pet is having an “off day”- lethargic or not eating well?
  • How long should the medication be administered? Just because the pill vial is empty, doesn’t necessarily mean that your veterinarian wants it discontinued.

  • 2. Read the label
    The prescription label often contains useful information intended to ensure that the medication works well. Read the label carefully to find instructions such as:
  • Keep refrigerated
  • Shake well before using
  • Administer on an empty stomach
  • Discard after a particular date

  • 3. Get the help you need to achieve compliance
    Some dogs and cats are real stinkers when it comes to sitting still for eye drops or swallowing a bitter tasting pill. Rely on your veterinary staff members to provide you with their tricks of the trade. Often, a simple suggestion can dramatically reduce the amount of “medication stress” for you and your pet.

    4. Play by the rules
    It is in your pet’s best interest to give medications exactly as prescribed. If doing so isn’t feasible because of your schedule or simply doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, rather than skipping dosages or discontinuing treatment, have a frank discussion with your veterinarian. Almost always there will be other options to consider.

    5. Refills
    Keep in mind that, in addition to authorizing refills for your pet’s medications, your veterinarian is juggling a whole host of other job responsibilities. For this reason, don’t wait until you are down to the last pill to request a refill. Provide at least two to three days notice.

    6. Double check refills
    Accurately filling a prescription requires several steps: selecting the correct medication off the shelf, selecting the correct dosage, dispensing the correct amount, and typing accurate information on the label. With so many steps, it’s easy to understand how prescribing errors occur. Whenever you pick up a refill of your pet’s medication, double check that everything is accurate. Any change in what you are used to, such as the size or color of the tablet, warrants a call to your veterinarian.

    7. Set up a system
    If you are giving multiple medications to your senior dog or cat, it makes good sense to create a system that prevents missed doses or double dosing. Such goofs are easy to make, particularly when more than one person in the household is responsible for administering medications. Use of a chart that can be checked off when medications are given or a pill organizer (the plastic box with individual compartments) can cut down on dosing errors.

    8. Online pharmacies
    Purchasing prescription drugs on line comes with its plusses (cost and convenience) and minuses (incorrect formulation, improper storage, dosage inconsistencies). If you are interested in purchasing your pet’s medications on line, talk about this with your veterinarian and ask for a recommendation for a reputable company.

    9. Air travel
    If you and your pet travel by plane, be sure to keep his medications with your personal belongings in the cabin rather than in the baggage compartment. Otherwise, a lost suitcase can translate into a huge hassle trying to refill medications on the fly.

    10. Biannual exams
    Any dog or cat who has achieved the rank of “senior citizen” is well served by a veterinary exam at least twice a year. This is particularly true for those who receiving medications. The office visit provides an opportunity to discuss how the drugs are working and how well they are being tolerated. Blood testing can gauge the effectiveness of some medications as well as screen for harmful side effects. Lastly, a significant change in your pet’s body weight may warrant a dosage change in his medication.

    Have you encountered any medication issues with your senior pets?

    Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
    Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award

    Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
    Website: http://speakingforspot.com
    Spot’s Blog: "http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog
    Email: dr.kay@speakingforspot.com
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