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Is it safe to share medication with my pet?

Just like humans, pets sometimes need prescription medications. Many of the diagnoses that result in these prescriptions (such as heartworm disease and parvo) are pet-specific. But, pets can be diagnosed with conditions that humans experience, too—like anxiety, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. In many cases, the medications used to treat these conditions in humans work for pets, too. Meaning, every now and then, pets and their humans are prescribed the same medication at the same time for an identical (or similar) condition.

If both have high blood pressure, for example, both might receive a prescription for atenolol (a beta blocker). “How convenient!” a pet owner may say. “I can just give Bailey some of my medicine so I don’t have to fill separate pet prescriptions.”

Not so fast! The practice of sharing medication with a pet is a bad idea—and one that should be avoided at all costs, says Dr. Laurie S. Coger, DVM, founder of The Healthy Dog Workshop and a veterinarian in private practice in Albany, New York. For one thing, it is illegal (according to the Title 21 United States Code Controlled Substance Act) to share medications with anyone, including pets. 

Beyond that, the practice is dangerous and can cause real harm to your beloved fur baby, Dr. Coger warns. “Don’t do it,” she says. “Even though they may be prescribed the same drug, it is not going to be used in the same way.”

Medications commonly prescribed to both humans and pets include antibiotics like amoxicillin, antidepressants such as Prozac, pain medication like tramadol, various chemotherapy drugs, certain thyroid-control medications, and prednisone.

RELATED: What you need to know about putting your dog on Prozac

Why is it dangerous to share a prescription with my pet?

Legality aside, what is the harm? Especially if a pill is split into halves or quarters, and your pet is getting the correct—or what you think is the correct—dosage? 

For one thing, dogs, cats, and other pets are not small humans, and accuracy in dosage is lost if you do this, says Trish Cook, Pharm.D., who specializes in compounding pet meds at Taylors Pharmacy in Winter Park, Florida. Plus, while prescriptions for humans are not typically weight-dependent, that isn’t the case for pets, she explains.

“With animals you have such a huge weight range, and the dosage will almost always be based on the pet’s weight and … species,” Dr. Cook says. “So a drug that may be given once a day [to] a person may have to be given every three days to a cat because they metabolize that drug a lot slower than a human would.”

Another danger is the fact that some inactive ingredients used in medications, while completely innocuous to humans, are toxic to pets. Xylitol, for example, is an artificial sweetener that is sometimes used as an inactive ingredient in prescription medications. It is lethal to dogs.

“If you didn’t know that and you were to share your [Xylitol-containing] medication with your dog, you could potentially kill them,” Dr. Cook says.

Finally, if you share your medication with a pet that means that your pet is getting a portion of a medication that is intended for you. As a result, you might not be getting the correct dosage or course of treatment—and this could affect the recovery or maintenance of your condition.

And what if you want to take a dose or three of your pet’s pills rather than fill your own prescription? The same rules apply. In other words, don’t do it, Drs. Cook and Coger say. 

Are OTC medications safe to share with my pet?

Okay, but what about over-the-counter medications, such as pain relievers and allergy medications? Just like prescription medications, certain OTC meds can harm animals. Some should never be given to a pet; others should only be given to a pet under the guidance of a veterinarian.

“With over-the-counter medications, everyone has access to them but not everything OTC can be used in animals,” Dr. Cook says, explaining that ibuprofen and other pain meds can be very harmful to pets—even in a dosage that seems correct for their size. Plus, like prescription medications, many OTC medications contain inactive ingredients (again, Xylitol) that are harmful to animals.

Bottom line: Regardless of classification, always speak to a vet before giving your pet any medication. Sometimes, the vet will recommend a human medication—but don’t make it a guessing game.

What pharmacies carry pet meds? 

In terms of actually acquiring pet meds, does it matter where you go? Do you need to visit a pharmacy that specializes in pet prescriptions (like Dr. Cook’s), or will your local community pharmacy do? Well, that depends.

Sometimes, you won’t have to go anywhere beyond your veterinarian’s office, says Jennifer Mazan, Pharm.D., an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Midwestern University’s Chicago College of Pharmacy because many clinics stock pet medications right on site. However, depending on the medication, you can also take your pet’s prescription to the same pharmacy you use for your own meds. The caveat, Dr. Mazan says, is that not all pharmacies carry all medications, so it is possible that the pharmacist will not be able to fill a particular prescription. Other times they may need to special order your pet’s prescription. This may work well for long-term medications like arthritis medications, but during an illness you may not have time to wait for a special order. Furthermore, not all pharmacists are familiar with administering medications to pets and you will not be able to consult with the pharmacist about a medication for your pet like you could with one for yourself, even if they are the same medication. 

Also, be aware that if your pet needs a topical or liquid prescription (which is very common, since pills and tablets can be tough to administer to pets), you’ll need to get their prescription filled at a compounding pharmacy. Compounding pharmacies can create medications in flavors tailored for pets like chicken or tuna. “I think that the majority of compounding pharmacies handle a good amount of animal prescriptions because [they are so] commonly needed for animals,” says Dr. Cook.

Can I buy pet meds online?

Just like prescriptions for humans, you can buy some pet medications online. But, you should always administer any treatment to your pet—OTC or prescription—under the supervision of a veterinarian. Even when purchased online, pet prescription medications will still need to be approved by your veterinarian. Make sure to check that any site is Vet-VIPPS certified to make sure it’s legitimate and safe for your pet. 

How can I get cheap pet meds? 

And as always, SingleCare is here to help you save. If your pet is prescribed a human medication, you can use the same coupons. Search for your pet’s prescription here.