Should You Be ‘Chicken’ About Taking ‘Horse’ Pills?

Should You Be ‘Chicken’ About Taking ‘Horse’ Pills?

The cost of prescription drugs is hard for many Americans to swallow. Many people have found a different way to treat themselves in their local pet store. Along these aisles, bottles of fish antibiotics line the shelves. Is this the best way to treat your illness? Are medicines that you would give your fish safe for you to take?

Many people think that the drugs for pets are not as high quality as those for people. However, this is not true. The requirements by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for animal and human drugs are the same. They do inspections of the manufacturing process to be sure that animal medicines are safe and high quality. Many companies that make animal medicines also make the same product for humans but sell it with a different name.

On the other hand, the storage of these products may not be as well monitored at a pet or feed store as in your local pharmacy. Expiration dates are checked regularly in a pharmacy. The pet store does not have medical staff that are concerned about the medicine’s quality. The expiration dates may not be as thoroughly checked. If a drug product expires and is taken, you may have more side effects or the medicine may not work as well.

If it is the same medicine, then is it safe for me to buy the animal medicine?

Buying medicines that are not specifically prescribed for you may be dangerous. Many illnesses may not have definite symptoms and you may not know why you are suffering. A doctor is the best person qualified to make that decision.

It is never a good idea to try to self-treat any medical problem with a prescription drug. Your doctor needs to examine you and decide if it is safe for you to take the medicine. For example, if you have a cold, antibiotics will not help you…and could even be dangerous. Use of antibiotics for the wrong reasons may cause bacteria to become resistant. If you became sick in the future, your infection might be more difficult to treat. Buying animal medicines without knowing if it is the right drug for you could be dangerous for your health.

If I have had the medicine before, can I just look for that name in the pet store?

Antibiotics for animals have different brand names than the “people” drugs. There is the danger that you might have taken an antibiotic with the human drug brand name and had a reaction to the medicine. You could buy the same drug that you are allergic to because it has a different name when sold for animals. Some allergies can be deadly and the emergency care would be more expensive than buying the prescription medicine. In addition, you will not know if the animal medicine may interact with any other medicine you may take.

If I find the same drug name on the animal medicine bottle, is it ok to just take the medicine like the directions on the bottle say?

Doses for animals are very different than for humans. A hamster will need much less than you, but a horse needs more than you. Knowing the correct dose of a drug may not be easy to find. Taking not enough or too much may cause you to remain ill or have unwanted side effects. The animal drugs may have strengths listed on the bottle. Without a doctor to help you, how will you know if this is the correct dose for a human? An example is penicillin. One 250mg tablet is all that you need for a 10-gallon fish tank. However, a human will need much larger doses depending on their age, weight and why they are sick. A doctor is trained to look at all the factors that determine the dose you need. This is why you should never try to treat yourself.

What about medicines that my animals have had prescribed by the veterinarian? Can I take medicines that my pet does not need?

In 1998, the American Association of Poison Control Centers stated that there were 3,702 reports of people being poisoned by animal medicines. Not all animal medicines are tested in humans. People can be poisoned by the medicine if it is a drug that may cause harm in humans. These medicines may cause side effects or possible death.

Another reason that people have been poisoned is that many animal medicines are not packaged in childproof containers. Children are at high risk of swallowing anything they can put in their mouths. There have been reports of children needing emergency care for taking animal medicines.

The safety and quality of the animal medicine may not be less than human drugs. This is good for your pet, but there are many problems with knowing which medicine and how to take it. The risk of an allergic reaction is important to remember. The knowledge and experience that your doctor has is valuable when you need health advice. It is difficult to have complete confidence that the animal medicine you are looking at is the right drug for you. It is a good thing to feel a little “chicken” about taking animal medicines. The “horse pills” may be cheaper but you may lose a more valuable resource: medical advice.

By Michelle L. Macumber, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, 2003 Nesbitt School of Pharmacy, Wilkes University Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

© 2002 Consumer Health Information Corporation. All rights reserved.

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