Understanding Dog Medications: Common Conditions and Prescriptions
Whether it is a heartworm preventative, medications for chronic conditions such as thyroid or heart disease, or medications for short-term use such as for ear infections or post-surgical care, all dogs will be on at least one type of medication during their lives. Your veterinarian will help guide you through the medications needed to ensure your dog has a long, happy, and healthy life.
If you suspect your dog needs medications or you’ve recently been prescribed dog medicine and have questions, contact a local veterinarian to get the answers you need.
Parasite Preventatives for Dogs
The one type of medication nearly every single dog should be on is parasite prevention. These parasite medications for dogs help prevent infection with heartworm; intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms; and external parasites such as fleas and ticks. There are many safe and effective forms of these preventatives available, and often the heartworm and intestinal parasite preventatives are combined into a single medication. Most of the heartworm medications are a flavored tablet given once monthly, though some veterinarians may also have an injection available that is a six-month heartworm preventative. Flea and tick preventatives can be oral, topical, or in the form of a collar. Talk to your veterinarian about which preventatives will provide the best protection for your dog in your particular part of the country.
Medications for Chronic Conditions in Dogs
For some diseases, daily medications may be needed for the remainder of your dog’s life. Conditions like epilepsy, thyroid disease, diabetes, moderate to severe heart disease, and arthritis may require medications to be given once or twice daily in order to manage the disease and keep your dog healthy and pain-free for as long as possible. Most of the medications will be in the form of a pill, but diabetes management requires an injection of insulin under your dog’s skin twice daily. At your dog’s annual or semi-annual wellness exam, your veterinarian will screen for those conditions and advise you on the best course of action should your dog be diagnosed with a chronic condition. And of course, be sure to reach out to your veterinarian if you think your dog’s health has changed since their last visit.
Pain Control Medication for Dogs
Pain medications for dogs can be used for both short-term and chronic conditions. For instance, your dog could be on pain medications for at least a few days after surgery or a dental procedure in order to help him or her recover better and be more comfortable. Most of the time, your veterinarian will prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) for post-operative pain, and may also add in some other classes of pain relievers depending on the invasiveness of the surgery.
NSAIDs are often used long-term in dogs with conditions such as arthritis or hip dysplasia, but there are other options available that may work better for your dog. The goal of your veterinarian is to find the single drug or combination of drugs at the lowest possible dose that will allow your dog to live comfortably. By working with your veterinarian and letting him or her know if you are seeing a difference in your dog’s comfort and mobility with a particular medication, you can help achieve that goal.
Never give pain medications intended for humans to your dog except as directed by your veterinarian. Many of the human pain medications have the potential to damage your dog’s stomach or intestines, cause bleeding and ulceration and, in some cases, they can cause potentially fatal liver and/or kidney damage.
Medications for Ear Infections in Dogs
Many dogs will get an ear infection at some point during their lives, and some breeds are particularly prone to them. This is true of Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and Poodles. There are two major causes of ear infections in dogs; one is yeast, and the other is bacteria. The medications for treating those infections are different, so it is important to have your veterinarian diagnose which it is by collecting a sample. The correct course of treatment will help your dog’s discomfort be relieved more rapidly. The medications for treating ear infections are generally a liquid or cream instilled into the ear canal, though your veterinarian may prescribe oral medications for a particularly serious and extensive ear infection.
It’s important to bring your dog in for a recheck after an ear infection so your veterinarian can determine if the infection is completely gone, or if it needs to be treated for a longer period of time or with a different drug. If you have a dog that has a history of chronic ear infections, talk to your veterinarian about what you can do at home to help prevent or minimize future ear infections.
Medications for Anxiety in Dogs
Unfortunately, some dogs do suffer from anxiety and fear issues, or noise-related fears. While behavior management strategies or calming wraps may work for some dogs, medications may be necessary for other dogs to help manage their anxiety or fears. There are some long-term medications specific for separation anxiety while others are for generalized anxiety and fearfulness. There are also medications for sensitivity to noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms, and are short-acting and given only as needed. Your veterinarian will work with you in determining which drug may be the best to try first, depending on how your dog’s anxiety or fearfulness manifests.
Just like with pain medications, there is no “one size fits all” approach to managing your dog’s anxiety or fearfulness. What may work for one dog in a particular situation may not work for another dog. These drugs are often used in combination with behavior management strategies; the goal is to use as little of the drug as needed to help your dog. When working to manage your dog’s anxiety, it is important to stay in close contact with your veterinarian so you can discuss what is and isn’t working, and make changes as needed so that your dog can enjoy a happy, fear-free life.
Medications to Treat Cancer in Dogs
Depending on the type of cancer your dog has, surgery may be curative and no drugs will be needed after removing the tumor. Other types of cancers may not have a single source of tumor cells, or have already metastasized, and those cancers may benefit from chemotherapy. The chemotherapy could be oral, intravenous, or some combination of both. You may be referred to a specialist in veterinary oncology, who will guide you through the treatment options available and help you reach a decision as to what would be best for your dog. This specialist will also talk to you about potential side effects of the medications and the types of monitoring that will be needed to make sure that it’s safe for your dog to receive the next dose of chemotherapy. In contrast to humans, most dogs tolerate chemotherapy very well, and your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist can answer any questions you may have about chemotherapy and how it will affect your dog.
Specialized Diets to Help Manage Chronic Conditions in Dogs
Some diseases can be better managed with a specialized, prescription diet. Working in conjunction with veterinary nutritionists, a few pet food companies have developed dog foods for specific conditions. A common prescription diet is one for gastrointestinal upset. It’s a bland diet that can be used for a few days after vomiting or diarrhea (instead of cooking chicken and rice), or it can be used chronically for conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Some diets are formulated to help prevent or dissolve bladder stones, while others are used to help manage kidney disease. Talk to your veterinarian to see if there is a prescription diet available to help manage your dog’s chronic condition.
How to Give Medication to Your Dog
Most dogs will readily eat their pills when hidden inside of a treat. There are products available at most veterinary clinics and pet stores that are ready-made to hide medications. Other options for hiding pills include peanut butter (make certain it doesn’t have xylitol, which is deadly for dogs), cottage cheese, cheese, hot dogs, liverwurst, or cream cheese. Some medications are produced as a flavored tablet. While this can make giving the pills easy, be careful to store the medications out of reach. Some dogs will get hold of the bottle and eat all the medication at once, with potentially deadly consequences.
If your dog won’t take their medication in a treat, talk to your veterinarian about other possible formulations of the drug, including compounding it into a flavored tablet or liquid. If that’s not possible, your veterinary team members can show you how to safely and easily pill your dog.
How to Get a Refill on Your Dog’s Medication
Any time your dog is on medication for an extended period of time, it is important to monitor your dog’s internal organ function with periodic blood work. For other medications like insulin, anti-seizure drugs, or thyroid supplementation, it’s necessary to have blood work done to make sure the drug dose is appropriate. Your veterinarian will let you know how often your dog should be seen for a recheck examination and lab work to determine if any change in dose or drug is necessary.
As long as there are refills remaining on a prescription and your dog is doing well, then getting a refill is as simple as contacting the office a few days before the refill is needed. The office staff will then fill the medication and have it ready for you to pick up.
Speak With Your Veterinarian About Medications For Your Dog
So while all dogs will need some form of medication throughout their lives, there is no need to be concerned. The parasite preventatives are safe and effective. Other medications may have potential side effects, but careful monitoring by your veterinarian while your dog is on those medications will ensure that the benefits outweigh the possible risks.
Reach out to a veterinarian near you to discuss any concerns you may have about any drug or diet your dog has been prescribed. As vets, our goal is to help you and your dog have a long, healthy, and happy life together.