Treating pets can get expensive. Vet visits aren’t cheap and neither is pet insurance, and that’s before factoring in the cost of any medicines prescribed. This has led to an increasing number of people who are facing economic hardship using drugs designed for people to treat their pets, as well as attempts at repurposing other medicine for various reasons.
Of course, you should never give your pet any medicine without first consulting with a vet or trained professional and you should also never assume that because a drug is safe and effective in humans it will also work for pets. Sometimes, however, there are instances where a drug intended for a human condition can be utilized for other purposes; this type of use is known as ‘off-label’ use.
What Is ‘Off-Label Medicine’?
When a new drug is brought to market the pharmaceutical company behind it have a very good understanding of what the drug does in the body, how it works, and how it is able to alleviate any symptoms of illness. Usually, the way a drug works will mean that is has other unintended effects on the body. We call these side effects. They are an unavoidable part of the process of designing new drugs. In general, these side effects are minor and secondary to the primary effects, which are the ones they are designed to cause. Sometimes, however, the side effects of a drug can be almost or just as prominent as the main effects and drugs that fall into this category often have what is known as off-label uses.
An off-label use is any legitimate, medical use of a drug other than its intended one. For example, codeine is an effective painkiller, being an opioid and structurally related to morphine. Opiates, via the same biological mechanisms that underpin their painkilling properties, also cause constipation and are effective cough suppressants. Because of this, codeine is also widely used in cough medicine and is sometimes prescribed by doctors for this use.
What Kind of Medicines Are Used Off-Label?
There is an almost endless list of drugs that can be used off-label and to review them all would take far too long. However, it is worth looking at some of the more common and prominent examples. There is a relatively new drug available called Maropitant.
Maropitant works to reduces nausea and vomiting by inhibiting a substance known as ‘Substance P’. Substance P is believed to be involved in mediating a number of processes in both humans and animals. Consequently, some vets are prescribing Maropitant off-label for other conditions such as skin allergies and joint diseases, which are mediated by substance P.
Another example is the prescribing of amphetamines for dogs. Amphetamines are not generally prescribed for animals, but some vets are writing prescriptions to help combat narcolepsy and ADHD in dogs.
Is It Safe?
This is a very broad question and not one that can be given a blanket answer. You should always consult with a vet before administering anything pharmaceutical to your pets.
Using medicines off-label means that we are now able to treat a number of conditions in our pets that previously there were no treatment options for. If your pet is sick then ask your vet about any drugs that could potentially make a big difference to their quality of life.