The Importance of Finishing a Prescription

(Photo by Octavio Fossatti)

A Note from Dr. John:

Depending on the demeanor of your pet, giving medications could be a breeze, or it could be a nightmare.  For many conditions, your pet’s symptoms and/or behavior may seem to have improved after only a few doses of the medication prescribed by your veterinarian.  In other cases, you may not see any obvious improvement in your pet’s heath after days or even weeks on a medication.  Many clients are tempted to stop giving the remainder of a prescription once one of these scenario occurs.  What most people don’t realize is that doing so can be extremely detrimental to your pet’s health and recovery.  Here are a few of the most common prescription problems encountered in veterinary medicine:

  • Antibiotics.  Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance have gotten a lot of attention in the human medical field as bacteria have emerged that are resistant to all known antibiotics.  One of the noted causes of this phenomenon is failure to complete antibiotic regimens prescribed by doctors.  The same outcome is frequently discussed in the veterinary medical field.  It is not uncommon to see resistant ear infections and skin infections in dogs due to failure to properly finish medications.  Usually, this is due to difficulty administering the medicine or an overly busy schedule for pet owners.  If you run into problems medicating your pet, talk to your veterinarian about alternative forms of medication that might be easier to administer.  Putting in the effort to complete an antibiotic regimen will effectively kill off harmful bacteria rather than creating more resistant strains.
  • Steroids. Pets are treated with steroids for a whole host of reasons.  Whether for something as simple as itchy skin or for something as involved as an autoimmune condition, steroids are an integral part of the veterinary medical field.  Whereas antibiotic regimens are usually very straight forward and dosed once a day or twice a day, steroids are dosed on tapering schedules. This means that the dose is started highest in the beginning and then gradually decreased over a period of time before being fully discontinued.  Tapering schedules allow the body to restart making its own natural steroids.  If steroids are discontinued too rapidly, your pet’s body will not be able to recover this ability.  This can lead to what is called an Addisonian crisis during which your pet can experience dangerous drops in blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, and other very serious side effects.  It is much safer to finish the medications as prescribed than to end up at the emergency hospital from stopping steroids too quickly. 
  • Anti-depressant medications. Anti-depressant medications are being prescribed more and more frequently as separation anxiety and other anxiety-related behaviors are reported by pet owners.  Some of these medications are long-acting, such as fluoxetine and amitriptyline.  These medications must be given for a minimum of 1-2 months prior to reaching the therapeutic levels in the blood stream.  This means that you may not see results in your pet’s behavior until you have consistently administered the medication for two full months.  Many times, failure to improve on medication is due to pet owners discontinuing medicine before allowing this to occur. 
Our information is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.  Do not use this information for diagnostic purposes. Always take your pet to your veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis and course of treatment.