Side effects and your pet

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We have all seen the commercials: There is a pleasant scene with a person or persons smiling and enjoying life. It seems to imply that the involved party are enjoying life because of the drug they are advertising. Then at the conclusion of the ad we are presented with the long list of side effects. They are usually presented by a fast talking individual who almost sounds like they don’t want you to know what they are. Another way they are presented is in the fine print that scrolls quickly across the screen faster than most people can read. Yes these are side effects! Almost all drugs have them, some more severe than others. What are side effects? How are side effects determined for a particular product? How do side effects relate to you as an pet owner? What role can you have as an pet owner regarding what side effects are assigned to a product?

If you look at an inset in any drug package you are likely to find a list of side effects associated with the drug. Reading these side effects can sometimes be scary especially if they include serious conditions or death as a possibility. Before you panic, it is helpful if you first understand how side effects are determined.

Side effects are unexpected or undesired results of a particular product outside of its intended function. In veterinary medicine these products can consist of vaccines, flea products, heartworm prevention, shampoos, anesthesia, topical medications and eye drops. The experience of a side effect can be challenging for all that are involved. Of course the pet who is experiencing the side effect is in obvious discomfort or pain. Pet owners can be fearful, upset and experience feelings of distrust or anger. A veterinarian may feel concern and anxiety since the product was likely administered or prescribed by him/her. The final entity involved, is the company that manufactured the product. They don’t tend to have an active role unless side effects are significant.

How are side effects determined from a particular product? Before most products are able to come to market, it is required that the manufacturers have significant data indicating their safety. This data is collected by testing the product on a group of animals that will closely represent the target pets. These animals are typically acquired from a source that breeds particular animals solely for research purposes. They can also be obtained by people who are willing to include their pet in a research study in exchange for some form of payment or free medical care. The product is then used on the animals and data is recorded. In many instances, the product is tested at higher than normal doses for data collection. The side effects may be assigned to the product even if it only occurs at the higher dose or only in a small percentage of the animals involved. For example, if a drug is found to cause liver damage , but only at 5 times the normal dose, it may still be listed as a side effect.

So how does this relate to you as a pet owner? Well, sometimes despite careful selection, a manufacturer cannot get a decent representation of animals for a research project. This means that some side effects may not become apparent until a product is already on the market. If your pet experiences a side effect from a product, it is important to let your veterinarian know. If it is a side effect that is not commonly associated with the product it should be reported to the manufacturer. Multiple reports from various sources would result in the condition being listed as an official side effect of the product. There are some cases where the product can be taken off the market if the undesired effects are significant. A perfect example of this happened about 3-4 years ago. A popular topical flea product was found to cause an immune mediated skin disease in dogs called Pemphigus. Because of this the manufacturer discontinued the product. Not all side effects are adverse, sometimes the product does not work at all. An example of this would be if a dog on heartworm prevention still gets heartworm disease or dog on a flea prevention still gets fleas.

If the side effects require medical attention, there are some instances where the expenses can be covered by the manufacturer. I have seen this example when a patient who has been on a heartworm preventative who comes up positive for heartworms. Sometimes the representing company has been willing to cover the cost of heartworm treatment. Keep in mind that to receive these benefits, you likely would have had to purchase the product from the veterinary clinic vs an online pharmacy or store.

In conclusion, if your pet experiences a side effect, no matter how minor or severe, reporting it can help add to the products’ database. If the side effects are severe enough, multiple reports can help a potentially harmful product come off the market. Unfortunately it can be difficult to determine what animals will have side effects. But with good communication between all those involved, these side effects can be minimized for future patients.


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