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A Micro-Ounce of Prevention

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A  Micro-Ounce of Prevention

By Terry Spencer, DVM

(Fair Warning:  This blog post includes MATH! If you are math phobic, please relax.  There is no test at the end!)

My son is learning to cook. After one memorable mistake, he learned the difference between a teaspoon (t) and a tablespoon (T) of salt.  That tiny difference in
measurement was very noticeable in the recipe.  Thus, he learned that accuracy can avert disasters.    I hope he applies that lesson to many other aspects of life.

Accuracy is vitally important for preventing medication errors. You certainly wouldn’t want your veterinarian to make any errors in dosing your pet’s prescriptions.  Because it is so easy to transpose a number or misread a prescription, medical professionals have multiple safeguards in place to help prevent dosing errors.  Quality control systems include requiring two staff members to approve a prescription, counting pills twice, and completing annual continuing education courses in pharmacy rules and regulations.  Safeguards also include training staff to answer the 4R’s before giving medications;  1. Is this the right drug to give?  2. Is this the right patient?  3. Is it the right amount to administer?   4. Is this the right route?  Math is very  important for dosing medications accurately.  Calculating a correct dose of medication requires basic algebra.  Multiple times each day I convert pounds (lbs) to kilograms (kg), and then calculate the number of milligrams (mg) or millilitres (ml) required to give an animal based on the strength of the drugs I have  available to use.

For example, to give a 15 mg/kg dose of antibiotic to a 50 lbs dog, I use the following formula:

(50# / 2.2 lbs/kg) 15 mg /kg = 340 mg dose to give.  So if I have a 100 mg/ml solution to use, then I need 340 mg/100 mg/ ml = 3.4 ml.

I don’t guess.  I do the math each time.  No shortcuts allowed.  And I usually triple check my calculations because I worry about making an error.  After
all, a misplaced decimal point could mean the difference between drawing up 3.4 ml and 0.34 mls in a syringe.  Only one dose is correct.  The other dose could  result in harm.  The veterinary oath implores me to “First do no harm.”  I take that seriously.

If I go through these gyrations each  time I give a dose of medication to your pet, why would a pet owner be willing to take short cuts?  It seems like a risky choice.

This week, I learned of just such a risky choice that resulted in a trip to the veterinary emergency room for two pets.  It was a penny wise, but prescription foolish choice.  The pet owner opted for “do-it-yourself” veterinary medicine to save some bucks.  I don’t blame them for trying.  Prescriptions are expensive.

This pet owner noticed that the active ingredient in popular prescription heartworm prevention for dogs was also sold over-the-counter in feed stores for use with livestock. The difference was that the dog medication is dosed in micrograms (mcg) and the livestock medication is dosed in milligrams (mg).  The difference is a thousand fold.  It is the same difference between a thousand dollars or a million dollars—just three little zeros.   While the active ingredients in the two medications are the same, the strengths are completely different.  The pet owner gave what looked to be a very tiny amount of the cheaper livestock drug to each dog.  A few hours later, both dogs began to seizure and nearly died.

This was a disaster that could have been averted by simply checking with a veterinarian first.  Perhaps the pet owner should go to my son’s cooking class.
A micro-ounce of prevention is better than mega-bucks spent in the emergency room because of a dosing error.

I’m happy to report that both dogs survived due to the skill of the emergency veterinarian who earned every penny that night.    Let livestock take their medicine.  And let small animals take their own medicine.  Remember, accuracy can avert disasters.

Dr. Spencer
practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey

Ready Yet?

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Ready Yet?

Every morning this week I anxiously checked my blackberry patch, looking to see whether the berries were ready to pick.  I taste-tested a berry just yesterday, but it was still too tart.  Before testing this morning, however, a neighbor told me that the blackberries are ripe and ready.   I guess both the neighbors and the birds have been checking, too!  It is good to have support in such matters.  Berry season comes and goes very quickly.

Readiness for other matters in life is a bit more predictable.  June 1st is an important annual readiness date because this date marks the beginning of Hurricane Season.  On June 1st, I check my family’s Disaster Readiness Kit.  Florida is a disaster-prone state.  Not only do we Floridian’s need to be ready for hurricanes, but we must also be ready for brush fires, floods, tornadoes, and every other natural plague.  A few years ago there was even an earthquake in the Gulf of Mexico.  Can’t a Florida family get a break?

So, am I ready yet for a disaster?  Do I have enough supplies to support my two-legged and four-legged family members for at least 72 hours without power or water?  Do I need to update my family evacuation plans?   Now is the time to check.

Every June 1st, these are five items I check in my Pet‘s Disaster Kit:

  1.  Vaccine Records   Do I have proof of current vaccines for each pet?
  2. License Tag   Do I have a current license for each pet and is that tag attached to the collar?
  3. Microchip   Does each pet have a microchip inserted? Have I scanned for it lately?
  4. Registration   Is the registration information for each microchip updated in the registration database? (A microchip only works if it is properly registered so someone can find an owner of a lost pet.)
  5. Photo   Do I have a current photo of each of my pets? 

I keep proof of these important items in a water-proof file box that includes my other important family papers.  This box goes with me if I evacuate.  I also keep these items on a free application called Paw Card in my SmartPhone. Yes, there is an app for that!    The Paw Card application lets me instantly send an e-mail of my pet identification and health information anywhere it might be needed.   If you don’t have a SmartPhone, check with your veterinarian.  The veterinarian’s website might have a Pet Portal you can use to store your important pet ID and health information.  Pet Portal access is free to clients of most veterinary practices.

Every June 1st I also update my Family Evacuation Plans.  The plans must include my pets.  Notice I said PLANS.  You need more than one evacuation plan for when the one you had planned is not possible when disaster strikes.

                1   You need one plan for sheltering in place and supporting your family completely for 72 hours  without electricity or water.  (Visit for help with making a family plan and a business plan.)

                2.  You need another  plan for sheltering out of the evacuation area, preferably just a bit inland  so you won’t have to drive too far while the rest of the citizens of the coast are also jamming the roads.  This could be with a friend, a family member, a fellow church/club member, or a pet-friendly hotel.  (Visit   for a list of pet-friendly hotels, but remember  these spaces fill quickly.  Also check with your church or other community organizations to see whether they promote match-ups between members who need a safe place to evacuate and those with space to share. )

                3.  Finally, you need to plan for which Red-Cross Evacuation Shelter you would go to as a last  resort.  Does that shelter allow pets?  If not, where can you safely board your pets?  (Visit to find the locations of the Red Cross Public Evacuation Shelters in Pasco County.)  Don’t expect a public shelter to be your first plan, though. Public shelters should be your last resort.  And most public shelters still do not allow you to bring your pets.  Check with your veterinarian about recommendations for pet boarding  facilities located outside of evacuation zones. 

 Be safe.  Check your Family Disaster Kit and update your Family Evacuation Plans on or before June 1st every year.   If you need help getting ready for a disaster with your pets, always check with your veterinarian for advice. 

Are you ready yet?

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey     727-863-2435