Handling Medications

Handling Medications

in a pet care facility

By Outstanding Pet Care University

In today’s society, our pets are enjoying longer life spans largely because of advancements in veterinary medicine. Because our pets live longer, a larger percentage of the pets we care for will come into our facility with some kind of medication to be administered during their stay.

Having education and systems in place to handle and administer medications properly is not only important for the health and wellness of the pet, but also for the owner’s/manager’s peace of mind. Knowing medications and all of their administering needs is essential. Quality pet care providers should understand how to appropriately monitor and track medications used in your facility.

Staff Considerations
You would think that giving a drop of oral medication or a pill to a dog or cat would be easy. Actually, in many cases, it’s a time when your staff is at the highest risk of injury. It’s essential that you consider who is administering medication and if they are properly trained to do so.

Most pets tolerate being given medications quite well, but others will not. Some things to consider:

  • Who on my staff will be permitted to administer medications?
  • How will I know they are qualified and trained to perform this function safely?
  • How will I hold them accountable?
  • How will I know if the medication is secure and I am not at risk of medications going missing?

Having systems set up to assure that there is consistency and accountability for the timing of administering medicines is essential to assure accountability. In addition, leaving this schedule up to the staff’s discretion can be a recipe for disaster if medicating is time sensitive.

It’s best to have a designated time once a day when medications will be administered. This is usually done first thing in the morning, and then as indicated during the day by the veterinarian’s instructions. Medications may be given once a day (every 24 hours), twice a day (every 12 hours), three times a day (every 8 hours), or more often.

For example, administering the medication three times in 10 hours is not the same thing as providing it three times in a 24-hour period – or every 8 hours. When given incorrectly, the pet is receiving an overdose for part of the day and no medication for the remainder of the 24-hour period.

Of course, the exact schedule will depend on the hours the pet care facility is open. For example, if an antibiotic is to be given three times daily, it should be given every 8 hours (e.g., 6 AM, 2 PM, 10 PM). If the pet care facility is open from 7 AM to 7 PM, the schedule needs to be modified (e.g., 7 AM, 1 PM, 7 PM). Be sure the pet owner understands that the medication schedule will need to be altered.

Some medications, particularly insulin, anti-seizure, and heart failure medications, should be given as near to the scheduled time as possible to minimize the chances of disease symptoms worsening.

Medications for pets can come in many different forms. Each one may require a different method of administration. It is important to stock the appropriate palatable food or treats and equipment so your staff can safely and accurately administer any medications.

Oral medications such as pills, capsules and liquids are best given by opening the pet’s mouth and dropping the pills, liquid or capsules in the back of the throat or tongue. This ensures the medication is given and the pet has ingested it. Another option may be to hide the medication in a highly palatable food, cheese, or Pill Pockets™. When administering medication this way, it is very important that the staff member ensures the pet consumes the medicine. The medication should not be simply put on top of the pet’s regular food and left in the enclosure. You must be able to confirm and document that the medication has been administered and swallowed by the pet; the owner is entrusting you to do so.

If liquids must be given in food, either because of a pet’s temperament or by instruction, offer the medication in a small amount of highly palatable food prior to feeding the full meal. Staff should confirm that the food has been completely eaten prior to feeding the pet’s meal.

Please note: When pilling a cat, some veterinarians recommend following the pill with water dropped into the cat’s mouth with a syringe. Because a cat’s esophagus does not have the swallowing mechanism called “peristalsis,” a pill can become stuck on the sides of the tube causing esophageal ulcers. The water will ensure the pill moves quickly into the cat’s stomach.

If your facility will administer medications that require injections you should confirm that you have enough syringes for the pet’s stay. Syringes for injections should only be used once. You will also want to have the proper receptacle available to correctly dispose of used syringes. Proper medical waste (“sharps”) receptacles are available through medical supply houses, pharmacies, or veterinary hospitals. Your veterinarian may also be willing to dispose of any used needles and syringes for a small fee.

Keeping Records
The pet’s medication record should indicate the type of medication to be administered, when it should be given, and the proper dosage. Some forms may also inform you as to the nature of the pet’s condition and what, if any, symptoms or abnormalities you should be looking for.

Record the amount of medication given and the time it is administered. Many facilities also have the person recording the medication initial the chart or document to indicate that they were the one dispensing the medication.

Some pet owners will count pills prior to leaving them with you, and will be very upset if they think any dosages were missed. By recording the date, time, and medication given, a clear record is established. This is especially important when a pet has multiple medications that may be given on different time schedules. It also eliminates the possibility of missing doses, or of overdosing a pet by giving a second dose because the first one wasn’t recorded.

Most pills and capsules should be placed in a dry environment. They easily absorb moisture, even when in prescription bottles. This means the enclosure door is not the ideal place to store medicine, although it is convenient. In addition, by accessing medications at the enclosure door you risk staff dropping pills or bottles and potentially losing medication, or allowing a dog to inadvertently have access to something they shouldn’t have. Consider a shelf in the facility kitchen or other area more suitable for medications as storage.

Some medications will need to be refrigerated, especially insulin and oral antibiotic liquids. Other medications that have the potential for human drug abuse or theft may need to be kept in a locked area (for example; in the manager’s office).

All medications should be labeled with the drug name and milligram strength. Owners will sometimes place pills into a secondary container without appropriate labeling. Label the bottle with as much information as possible, such as the drug and strength, owner’s name, pet’s name, and the veterinary facility prescribing the medication. This way anyone handling the medication knows exactly which pet it is for, what the medication is, and what disease or condition the medication is being administered for.

Monitoring Medications
Another step is to monitor any pet receiving medication. If the medication is short-term for a specific problem (e.g., antibiotic for skin infection or pain medication for muscle strain), the facility staff may want to record whether or not the symptoms are resolving and if the pet seems better.

In rare instances, some pets may have an adverse reaction to a medication, such as hives or difficulty breathing. This is most common when the prescription is being started during a lodging stay and if the owner or facility took the pet to the veterinarian immediately prior to, or during, their stay. If you are concerned regarding an adverse reaction to a medication (allergic reaction, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.), contact the pet’s veterinarian as soon as possible.

For pets on a variety of medications for chronic conditions, such as heart disease, liver disease, epilepsy or cancer, a record of the pet’s health and attitude should be maintained. Note any signs of a worsening condition (e.g., seizures for an epileptic, coughing for a dog with heart disease, or excessive urination for a diabetic). This information may be extremely helpful if the pet requires veterinary attention.

Keeping detailed records demonstrates the professionalism and attention to detail of the pet care facility. Not only is it the best thing for the pet placed in the facility’s care, but good records build a trusting relationship with the pet parent. Be sure to record any calls to the veterinary office and any advice received. Remember, “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.”

Controlled Drugs
Sometimes the pet care facility will have lodging pets that are on controlled drugs. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) has designated drugs that have the potential for human abuse and addiction as “controlled.” Controlled drugs that might be encountered in the pet care facility include pain medications (codeine, hydrocodone, and morphine), cough medications (hydrocodone), seizure medications (phenobarbital), and antianxiety medications (alprazolam, diazepam). These medications should ideally be kept in a locked safe to which only the facility owner, manager, and supervisors have access. Other medications which are controlled in some states include tramadol and phenylpropanolamine.

Properly administering medication is an important part of quality pet care. Pet parents are entrusting you with their pet and, in many cases, their furry companion has special needs that include maintaining a schedule for administering medications. Paying extra attention to properly administering and monitoring medications will set the level of care your pet care facility offers ahead of that of other pet care options.

Outstanding Pet Care University, www.opcuniversity.com, is dedicated to protecting and growing the Pet Care Industry through World-Class Pet Care Training and Education. OPCU’s curriculum:

  • Delivers necessary pet care training in the convenience of your facility.
  • Saves training, time and energy of owners and managers.
  • Provides convenient, technically advanced format for immediate access.
  • Offers immediate on-line testing to give you assurance that the material was understood.
  • Reduces potential injuries to your staff and guests.
  • Can increase health and happiness of the pets in your care.
  • Protects you, your staff, and your bottom line.
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