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Animal Medicines and the Law

As vets, we regularly get stick over animal medicines. Does my dog need that vaccine? Why did you give my cat that wormer? Isn’t there an alternative treatment with fewer side effects? These are all clinical decisions, and we’re all prepared to debate the risks versus the benefits of any medicine choice. But one of the things that really hurts is where we are constrained by the law, do our best in accordance with the law, and then get slated online or in person for it. My colleague Pete has written an excellent blog about vets fees in general, but he didn't cover the medicines side. So, in this blog, I’m going to explore the UK’s medicines laws in a little more detail, and try to explain some things that people find confusing... For example, why it is that veterinary drugs are more expensive than human ones, why we can’t prescribe the cheaper human version, or why we can't accept unused drugs back into stock for a refund.
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Veterinary medicines – really a rip-off?

Earlier this week, the BBC’s “Watchdog” ran a programme on the costs of veterinary medicines. This is a perennial favourite (some readers may remember the Marsh / Competition Commission reports from the early 2000s where they concluded that there was a “complex monopoly” on veterinary medicines). The conclusion many viewers drew from the way the programme was presented was that vets were ripping off their customers by over-charging for medicines. I’m in the unusual situation of having worked in veterinary practice, but also having run a small online dispensary, and I think there are several issues we need to look at here. There definitely are significant differences in pricing strategies between different veterinary practices and companies, and it’s worth exploring why this is.
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Antibiotic resistance: should the veterinary industry be doing more to help?

Antibiotic resistance, like global warming, is a threat to our future that keeps popping up in the media. The topic moved centre-stage today, with the long awaited publication of a major report that specifies the severity of the risk, and the measures that need to be taken to avert the threat. It's a long report, at 84 pages, and it's worth reading for those with a serious interest in the subject, but here's the gist of what's being said.
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Giving medication to pets: a necessary but challenging task

Giving medication to pets is not easy. In a typical case of a dog with a skin condition, I may send the owner home with three types of tablets to be given twice daily for ten days. As I write up the final details of the patient’s file, I sometimes reflect that I have sent the owner away with a challenging task to complete.

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The Drugs Don’t Work – Or Do They?

Today I put to sleep a lovely old Collie owned by a lovely man. It was definitely the right decision, the dog was really struggling on his legs and had become very depressed and withdrawn. This is a common scenario and very often the way that arthritic pets come to their end. In fact, a very similar thing happened to our beloved family Labrador, Molly, a few years ago and although she was still trying to get about and clearly happy to be with us, she was obviously in a lot of pain which could no longer be controlled. Euthanasia in these situations is a true kindness and although still desperately upsetting, is by far the best thing for the pet. However, just as I was discussing the euthanasia of this dog with his owner, he said something that stopped me in my tracks. ‘Well, we did try him on some of your arthritis medication a few months ago but to be honest it didn’t seem to be doing anything more than the Asprin I was giving him, so we stopped it’ Now, at this stage in the process there was no point in me making any comment on this statement (or my thoughts on giving pets human medications!) and you may think it sounds like quite a reasonable thing to say but to be honest, I really had to bite my tongue. Arthritis is a very common problem in older pets but it is also very under-diagnosed because the signs can be difficult to spot, mainly because our animals are so stoical in the face of chronic pain. Even just a bit of stiffness after rest can indicate a significant problem. The medications we have to treat it are extremely effective but often, and especially in the older pets with more advanced arthritis, just one drug on it’s own doesn’t completely combat the problem and they need a combination of medicines to really keep them comfortable. (Anyone with an older relative will probably be familiar with this concept; my granny seems to be on hundreds of tablets!) Our darling Molly was practically rattling in her last few months I had her on so many medications and supplements These kept her comfortable but eventually, they could no longer control her pain and give her the strength to get around, so the kindest thing was to let her go. My message is, if you have an older pet, firstly, don’t assume that them slowing down and stiffening up is a ‘normal’ part of aging (well, in a way it is but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it!) and if the medicines your vet gives you don’t make much difference at first, don’t assume that that is because there isn’t a problem or that nothing else can be done, it may just be they need different tablets or combination therapy to give them their bounce back! This is far preferable to leaving them to struggle in silence and although, in the end, their arthritis may mean they need to be put to sleep, it will certainly give them more time and mean their final months with you are pain free and comfortable. And finally, please don’t give your pets ANY human medications without talking to your vet about it first. Drugs often work very differently in animals than they do in people and some can be actually harmful.
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