How to prevent pet medication errors

Become a well-educated pet owner

Since 1951, the most popular accreditation organization for health care facilities has been The Joint Commission. This organization in a lot of ways sets many standards in the health care field, and helps ensure that patients are getting the highest possible quality of care in certain medical facilities. Places like hospitals, home care agencies, psychiatric facilities, and ambulatory care centers all strive to get and keep the Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval. Needless to say, The Joint Commission knows quite a lot about making healthcare safer for the human patient.

In veterinary care, we also have similar organizations such as the NABP (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy) and their Vet-VIPPS program, which also has an accreditation process. Similar to the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval, online veterinary pharmacies strive to get the Vet-VIPPS seal in order to demonstrate their commitment to their patients’ health. Other organizations such as LegitScript also give their seal of approval to facilities who have agreed to strictly adhere to certain laws and regulations. In healthcare, the patient or client who is not a medical professional is very much dependent on the trust they have in the whole system and its medical practitioners. Agencies such as The Joint Commission and Vet-VIPPS fulfill a vital role in helping the patient bridge the gap of knowledge and sort through a lot of undecipherable and confusing facts to make a selection based on proven standards rather than on the toss of a coin.

The use of abbreviations in medicine has been a big topic that is often discussed and sometimes frowned upon by many accreditation and regulatory bodies. It is easy to mistake one abbreviation for another and cause an error. The way numbers are written is also a topic of great debate. Back in 2001, The Joint Commission issued a “Do Not Use” abbreviation list that contained a few abbreviations that have a very high potential for creating error. For example, the letters IU (used for International Units) can be easily mistaken for IV (for intravenous). Mistakes can also occur if the zero and the decimal point are used incorrectly after a number. For example 3.0 could be mistaken for 30 and .3 could be mistaken for 3. The recommendation is to not put a decimal point and a zero after the number and to always put the zero before the decimal point. In the previous example, the numbers would preferably be written as 3  (rather than 3.0) and 0.3 (rather than .3) to reduce the possibility of an error.

A patient or pet owner is not expected to know how to read a prescription or to know how to interpret medical terminology; however, knowing or recognizing some abbreviations could be of interest to some. The following list is not medical advice but just a little informational trivia identifying and interpreting some of the most commonly used abbreviations:

a.c. – before meals
a.d. – right ear
a.m. – in the morning
a.s. – left ear
A.T.C. – around the clock
b.i.d. – twice daily
B.M. – bowel movement
D.A.W. – dispense as written
D/C – discontinue
ETOH – ethyl alcohol
gtt – drop
h.s. – at bedtime
IM – intramuscular (injection)
mcg – microgram
mEq – milliequivalent
mg – milligram
ml – milliliter
npo – nothing by mouth
o.d. – right eye
o.s. – left eye
o.u. – both eyes
oz – ounce
prn – as needed
p.o. – by mouth
q2h – every 2 hours
q3h – every 3 hours
q4h – every 4 hours
q6h – every 6 hours
q.a.m.- every day in the morning
q.h. – every hour
q.h.s.- every day at bedtime
q1h – every 1 hour
q.d. – every day
q.i.d. – four times a day
q.o.d. – every other day
SC – subcutaneous (injection)
sid – one time daily (used in veterinary medicine)
stat – immediately
t.i.d. – three times a day
t.i.w.- three times a week

These suggestions that the regulators make are designed to help prevent miscommunication between healthcare professionals, hopefully reducing errors. It is the responsibility of the medical professionals to keep their patients safe; however, a well-educated patient or pet owner can be integral in helping reduce potential errors. It helps to ask questions about the care being provided, know the name of the medication being prescribed, ask about the directions and possible interactions, make sure the vet knows your pet’s history, and discuss allergies or other relevant information. When you’re handed a prescription, it doesn’t hurt to look at it and question anything that seems incorrect or that you’re confused about. Know the name of the condition being diagnosed, what procedures (if any) are being done, and what medications are being prescribed.

Having a good relationship with your pet’s veterinarian or for that matter your own physician is one of the best ways to keep the whole family healthy. As always, if you have any medication related questions please feel free to call one of your 1800PetMeds pharmacists who will be happy to help answer those for you.



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  1. I have a dog with acid reflux that takes pepcid and sometimes Benadryl, can she take the Anxitane for nervous behavior as I see it’s just a supplement, with pepcid and benadryl, benadryl is only given at night if needed.

  2. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 18, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Anxitane is no problem, as is just plain L-theanine from health food store which has same active ingredient, as well as cheaper, in addition to you can dose up to 500 mg of L-theanine.

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