Measuring Your Pet’s Medication

Medical professionals, veterinarians included, speak to each other in our own language, more difficult to understand than either ancient Latin or Greek. This language is confusing to pet owners and often results in question about medication administration.

This weekend was a case in point. An owner called while she was out of town on vacation. I had completely confused her with my instructions on how much medication to administer. She was hours away and unable to drop by The Animal Medical Center for a refresher course. In giving instructions, I forgot pet owners are not always well versed in scientific weights and measures and the sight of an oral dosing syringe can induce paralysis in even the most educated client. Here are the definitions for some of the most confusing terms.

Milliliter (ml) is a measure of volume and a liquid medication dose is commonly given in milliliters. A milliliter is the same as a cc (cubic centimeter). But a milliliter does not tell how much medication is being given. Medication is typically measured in milligrams (mg). For example, a tablet of the antibiotic amoxicillin contains a set number of milligrams, but the milligrams contained in a milliliter of amoxicillin depend on the particular antibiotic brand’s strength. In other words, all liquid medications are not created equal. Veterinarians will always talk about how many milligrams your pet needs when you want to know is how many milliliters to squirt down the throat of your dog who has its teeth clamped shut and has just slipped under your king sized bed.

A diabetic pet presents a special set of challenges, one of which is how much insulin to give. Based on the comments above, the careful reader would surmise insulin is given in milliliters – it is a liquid medication after all. But no, it is given in units and double no, 1 unit does not equal a milliliter. If you have U 100 insulin, 100 units = 1 milliliter. If you have U 40 insulin, 40 units = 1 milliliter. To complicate matters more, each insulin needs its own special syringe matched to the type of insulin, ie, U 100 syringes for U 100 insulin. Understanding these seemingly trivial differences means success or failure in treating your diabetic pet.

Decimal points are another prescription predicament. The numbers 5.0, 0.5 and .05 are 100 fold different and yet when they appear on a prescription label they can be confusing. Proper prescriptions use zeros to highlight a decimal point. Numbers should have a leading zero before any decimal point, ie 0.5 is correct. Numbers should not have a trailing zero, ie 5.0 is incorrect. These differences highlight how carefully pet owners should read a medication label before administering a new medication.

Finally, because of the obesity epidemic in pets, veterinarians are making pet owners more conscious of how much pets eat. One cup is easy to understand, but calories per cup vary dramatically. One cup of Eukanuba puppy food contains 503 kcal and one cup of their weight control product for large breed dogs contains 272 kcal. Some foods list kcal per kg (kilogram) of food. Converting kilograms (a measure of weight) to cups (a measure of volume) requires advanced math, or a scale from your local cookware shop.

So when it comes to medicating your pet, ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to call your veterinarian’s office for clarification, because a microgram of prevention is worth a milligram of cure.

Have you ever encountered problems with your pet’s medication dosing? Tell us your story by commenting below!

This blog may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.

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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

One Response to Measuring Your Pet’s Medication

  1. […] Medication Madness Several months ago, I blogged tips for getting your sick pet to eat and take his medications. […]

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