Ten Tips for Managing Your Senior Pet’s Medications

Photo Credit:  Jeffreyw,

Has your tabby transitioned into his teens? Is the hair on your retriever’s muzzle now a lovely shade of gray? If so, it’s likely that some medical issues have accompanied your pet’s aging process. Examples include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Allergies
  • Digestive issues
  • Kidney failure
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Cushing’s disease- an overproduction of cortisone that occurs primarily in dogs
  • Hypothyroidism- an underproduction of thyroid hormone that occurs in dogs
  • Hyperthyroidism- an overproduction of thyroid hormone that occurs in cats
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Urinary incontinence- urine leakage that occurs primarily in dogs

Fortunately, many of these maladies can be successfully managed with long term if not life long medication. Here are ten tips to ensure that, as a conscientious caregiver, you are doing the best job possible with your pet’s medications:

1. Learn as much as possible

When a new medication is prescribed for your cat or dog, talk with your veterinarian to gather answers to the following questions:

  • What is the medication supposed to do?
  • What signs of improvement should I be looking for?
  • Is this medication compatible with other drugs and supplements my pet is receiving, and can they all be given at the same time?
  • What are the potential side effects and what should I do if I observe them?
  • Does the timing of administration need to be exact?
  • Do I need to take special precautions when handling the medication?
  • What happens if a dosage is accidentally skipped?
  • Should I give the medication if my pet is having an “off day”- lethargic or not eating well?
  • How long should the medication be administered? Just because the pill vial is empty, doesn’t necessarily mean that your veterinarian wants it discontinued.

2. Read the label

The prescription label often contains useful information intended to ensure that the medication works well. Read the label carefully to find instructions such as:

  • Keep refrigerated
  • Shake well before using
  • Administer on an empty stomach
  • Discard after a particular date

3. Get the help you need to achieve compliance

Some dogs and cats are real stinkers when it comes to sitting still for eye drops or swallowing a bitter tasting pill. Rely on your veterinary staff members to provide you with their tricks of the trade. Often, a simple suggestion can dramatically reduce the amount of “medication stress” for you and your pet.

4. Play by the rules

It is in your pet’s best interest to give medications exactly as prescribed. If doing so isn’t feasible because of your schedule or simply doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, rather than skipping dosages or discontinuing treatment, have a frank discussion with your veterinarian. Almost always there will be other options to consider.

5. Refills

Keep in mind that, in addition to authorizing refills for your pet’s medications, your veterinarian is juggling a whole host of other job responsibilities. For this reason, don’t wait until you are down to the last pill to request a refill. Provide at least two to three days notice.

6. Double check refills

Accurately filling a prescription requires several steps: selecting the correct medication off the shelf, selecting the correct dosage, dispensing the correct amount, and typing accurate information on the label. With so many steps, it’s easy to understand how prescribing errors occur. Whenever you pick up a refill of your pet’s medication, double check that everything is accurate. Any change in what you are used to, such as the size or color of the tablet, warrants a call to your veterinarian.

7. Set up a system

If you are giving multiple medications to your senior dog or cat, it makes good sense to create a system that prevents missed doses or double dosing. Such goofs are easy to make, particularly when more than one person in the household is responsible for administering medications. Use of a chart that can be checked off when medications are given or a pill organizer (the plastic box with individual compartments) can cut down on dosing errors.

8. Online pharmacies

Purchasing prescription drugs on line comes with its plusses (cost and convenience) and minuses (incorrect formulation, improper storage, dosage inconsistencies). If you are interested in purchasing your pet’s medications on line, talk about this with your veterinarian and ask for a recommendation for a reputable company.

9. Air travel

If you and your pet travel by plane, be sure to keep his medications with your personal belongings in the cabin rather than in the baggage compartment. Otherwise, a lost suitcase can translate into a huge hassle trying to refill medications on the fly.

10. Biannual exams

Any dog or cat who has achieved the rank of “senior citizen” is well served by a veterinary exam at least twice a year. This is particularly true for those who receiving medications. The office visit provides an opportunity to discuss how the drugs are working and how well they are being tolerated. Blood testing can gauge the effectiveness of some medications as well as screen for harmful side effects. Lastly, a significant change in your pet’s body weight may warrant a dosage change in his medication.

Have you encountered any medication issues with your senior pets?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.



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10 Comments on “Ten Tips for Managing Your Senior Pet’s Medications

  1. My dog is getting up there in age and we have recently had to take her to the vet for arthritis in her joints. Using these tips to remember her needs will be very useful! Making sure to get those refills on time is a great point, vets have other obligations too! Thanks for the information!

  2. Hi Susan. I recommend that you google the name of the drug in conjunction with the words, “veterinary college”. This should help you get reliable information.

  3. Any recommendations on websites for researching meds? New vet suggested a new med for my older dog. Would like to read up on side effects, and whether drug has a good track record.

  4. Thanks for the information on how to manage all my dog’s medications! Sometimes I feel like I have to many to deal with that I don’t check the refills. I’ll be sure to pay more attention so if the size or color change, I can call the veterinarian. Great tip.

  5. Hi Carol. Definitely speak with your veterinarian about trying transdermal (applied to skin) methimazole (aka, tapazole). This form may be far better tolerated. No, there is no evidence that Himalayans have shorter lifespans than other breeds of cats. Best of luck to you and your kitty.

  6. 13-year-old Himalayan cat was diagnosed a few months ago with hyperthyroid condition and we have been trying to get him to take him to take aliquid medicine for it in his food.
    Most of the time he gets sick from it or won’t eat it. We try stopping it for a day or two and start the procedure again until he won’t eat anymore. We can’t afford the $1600 procedure to take care of it (per vet) and I have heard of someone giving med by way of a cream solution in ear. Vet didn’t tell of this way. Is there some reason he might be loath to try this? I worry cat will lose too much weight and weaken himself without eating days at a time. What should I do? He also has been having a black discharge from his eyes that vet says to clean with saline solution and it hasn’t been working (looks like a racoon). I finally had to pick this off (taking some of his fur with it). Is there something I could use that would work better. Never before has he had a discharge as bad as this, so black, and as hard to clean.
    Vets up north had told me that Himalayans did not last as long as regular cats. Our others had died around age 12. Vets here in south are telling me they never have heard of Himalayans having a shorter lifespan. Is this true?
    Thanks you for any info.

  7. A quick tip for those “bitter pills” that your dog may reject – try a small amount of liverwurst or liver paste. I buy the cheapest stuff I can find (“braunschweiger”) and the dogs love it. It only takes a tiny amount but the strong smell and taste work so well to mask the pill. I know “pill pockets” are great but my dogs figured those out so I had to resort to this smelly stuff . . . but it has worked for months now and the dogs just think it’s a treat! For my corgi who is prone to weight gain, I do cut down his regular food just a tiny bit to allow for the added calories.

  8. I can’t agree more with the need to have an open discussion with one’s vet. I’m pretty good at giving liquid medications but terrible when it comes to pills; I always ask if a liquid version is an option. In the case of my cat’s thyroid medicine, a transdermal cream was available and it was a godsend – so much easier than any oral medication. Meds won’t work if your pet doesn’t receive them so be honest with your vet about what you can do. I’ve never met resistance from a vet when discussing application concerns.

  9. I feel I should purchase all medications from my vet because when I need care that individual will be there for my animal. I even buy my worming medicines for my horse from the vet. Yes, I can get the horse wormers from the internet cheaper. However, I doubt the Internet is going to be very interested when I find my horse hurt in the pasture at 8pm on a Saturday night. My vet has always arrived in all kinds of weather.

  10. I try to read the label before I leave the vet’s office. The vet isn’t the one who makes the label, and sometimes the instructions are different from what I remember him saying in the exam room. I have caught one mistake that way on their part, but it’s usually me needing an explanation or review.

    Also, when I have some medicines that are 1x/day and some that are 2x/day, I set up a rule for myself when those 1x drugs are done. I do morning doses, then turn the pill bottle upside down to remind myself not to give it at night. They get very excited for their pills because I put them in little meatballs made from canned food. I don’t want to get distracted.

    For pet parents of diabetics, don’t assume you can’t leave your diabetic with anyone. I took mine everywhere and just didn’t take some work-related trips if I couldn’t drive there. After her death I found a boarding facility where the owner is familiar with pet diabetes and doesn’t even charge for medications! Also, some petsitters may be able to stay in the home and administer the shots. I think we who have pets with very special needs tend to get over protective.

    I have learned over time to keep vet records in a file-wallet type thing, and before I head out the door to the E.R. I grab that, and put every medication into a bag. When the adrenalin is flowing I might forget to tell the E.R. about a medicine that could affect their treatment plan. (speaking from experience – I know myself! I forget all kinds of things)