12 INVESTIGATES: Deadly pet meds mix-ups

Published: Jul. 2, 2013 at 11:15 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Dogs and cats quickly become members of the family and when they feel sick, we feel down, too.

So, imagine the horror one woman went through when she discovered a prescription mix-up led to her dog's death.

All Sarah Schuck has left of her beloved 8-year-old Labrador, Rafter, is a collar, pictures, and fond memories.

"It was really hard," said Schuck.

Hard, because it shouldn't have happened. Schuck says the drug store that filled Rafter's prescription made an error. His prescription bottle label said to give Rafter "two and one fourth teaspoon." Problem was, Schuck says, the dosage her vet called into the pharmacy was for a much smaller does,  "two and one fourth CCs." The overdose, combined with Rafter's health problems, was too much, and she says she had to put him to sleep.

"It was a tough realization," said Schuck.

Just days after Rafter's death, the FDA issued a warning about a pattern of pet prescription mistakes.

FDA investigators discovered errors stemming from simple issues like look-alike packaging, drugs with similar names, and simple penmanship errors.

Veterinarian Howard Silberman takes prescription precautions at his office. All medications and dosages are typed into a computer, only vets or vet techs fill prescriptions, and pet's pictures are printed on the label so there are no mix-ups.

"We do a tremendous amount to make sure that those things don't happen," said Silberman.

The FDA says while mistakes happen at vet-based pharmacies, when pet prescriptions are filled in "human pharmacies," like in Rafter's case, different systems may be to blame. Abbreviations are a common cause of errors, because prescription shorthand taught in veterinary schools is different than in medical schools and some pharmacists may not be as familiar with vet abbreviations.

"Currently, most of the pharmacy curriculums don't touch upon vet medicine," said Carmen Catizone for the National Association Boards of Pharmacy.

Pharmacy insiders say if pet owners shop around to find the lowest cost on pet meds, they need to do their research.

"Their primary concern should always be whether or not that pharmacist is knowledgeable in the area of veterinary medications; price should be a secondary consideration," said Catizone.

How can you avoid a pet prescription mix up? The American Veterinary Medical Association says communication is key!

Make sure the pharmacist speaks to your vet if there are any questions. The FDA advises you should verify with your vet the name and dosage of your pet's drug. Schuck says she hopes Rafter's legacy lives on to help other pet owners avoid medication mistakes.

FDA investigators also found pet medication errors stemmed from pet owners misinterpreting labels and accidentally giving pets human drugs.

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