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Treat Your Pets Right | Fall 2004 Out Here Magazine

Woman giving a pill to a small dog - Tractor Supply Co.
If you doctor your pet yourself, make sure to treat the correct ailment.

By Lori Cumpston

Photography by Donnie Beauchamp

Fido needs a vaccination, but that doesn't necessarily require a trip to the veterinarian. Many animal vaccinations and medications are available "over-the-counter" through retailers, such as Tractor Supply, at a fraction of the cost of a vet visit.

"There are some essential things that you still have to get from the vet," says Ashe Exum Jr., sales manager at Happy Jack Animal Health and Accessories in Snow Hill, N.C., "but most of your basic health maintenance products are available over-the-counter."

Certain vaccinations, such as the Seven Way Vaccine, an annual booster that protects dogs from an assortment of diseases including parvo and distemper, are available at retail.

A veterinarian, however, must administer the rabies vaccine.

Other over-the-counter products include worm removal, mange medicine, topical shampoos, grooming products, vitamins, and supplements to help older pets with arthritis or other bone and joint problems.

But before administering any medicine to your pet, it's important to read and understand the label. For example, flea and tick products meant for dogs should never be used on cats. Also, don't use products intended for large dogs on small dogs. The same rule applies for adult dogs and puppies.

As harmless as these medicines may seem, your pet can suffer serious consequences if you use the products incorrectly.

"We see a couple of toxicities a year from someone who had a bunch of over-the-counter flea and tick products in their drawer and just grabbed one and put it on the cat and then realized it was for their 60-pound dog," says Dr. Ken Harkin, assistant professor of small animal internal medicine at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Pet owners who self-doctor must take extra care to ensure they are treating the correct ailment, Harkin says. Some medical conditions are resolved with time, but others left untreated because of misdiagnosis can lead to bigger problems.

How do you know when it's time to take your pet to the vet? As a general rule, most young, healthy animals should have an annual vet visit.

Older pets may require more frequent visits.

"Whenever your pet is ill and remains persistently ill for more than a day, it's probably the right time to see them," Harkin says. "If they are suddenly ill and look horrible, you need to take them right away. Anytime there is a question about your pet's health, it's never the wrong thing to see your veterinarian."


Jerri Ann Head, owner of Murphi's Stay & Play dog hotel and daycare in Springfield, Tenn., frequently has to administer medication to her furry clients. She offers these suggestions to help your dog take his medication:

  • Disguise the pill by wrapping it in cheese or meat, or cover it with peanut butter.
  • Grind up a pill and sprinkle over canned food. Some dogs will eat around a pill if it's not ground up.
  • Put a treat in one hand and the pill in the other, and when the dog opens his mouth for the treat, pop the pill down his throat. Then give him the treat.
  • Once you pop the pill into the dog's throat, make sure he swallows it. Close the chin and gently rub his throat. "This makes them relaxed, and the pill will go down."

Lori Cumpston is a freelance writer from Grand Junction, CO.