How much do Americans love their pets? More and more each year. In 2016, we spent more than $14 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medication, plus another $15.95 billion on veterinary care. But when pets get sick, it doesn’t matter how much the devoted owner is willing to spend on medicine if the pet won’t take it—which is not so different than with humans, if you think about it.
The most frequent pet-related question customers ask Claire Stall when she’s working at Klein’s Pharmacy in Cuyahoga Falls, is, “How can I trick my dog into taking his medicine?”
The fourth-year College of Pharmacy student is all business when she talks about compounding medicine—the process of custom-formulating a prescription to the patient’s specific needs, whether the patient is human or another species. Stall is quick to provide an example: If a dog needs the antibiotic Metronidazole, it can be given a formulation with benzoate (a salt) added to reduce the naturally bad taste—but don’t even think of giving the same compound to your cat; it’s toxic to felines.
Still, when asked why she pursued special training in veterinary compounding, Stall’s face softens like any other pet owner’s when she answers, “I’ve always loved animals.’’ Ever since she was a seven-year-old growing up in Cincinnati, begging her parents to get cats, she has had a soft spot that she may be able to turn into a niche specialty.
“In pharmacy, if you can prove your worth and demonstrate a need, you can specialize,’’ says Stall. Heart, stroke, neurology, infectious disease, pediatrics, bariatric surgery, veterinary medicine…the possibilities are endless.
Stall says there’s a niche for pharmacists with expertise in compounding for animals, because there are few FDA-approved medicines readily available for them and people increasingly treat pets like members of the family. As more people spend more money on their pets, Stall anticipates there will be a need for the skills she acquired in the Veterinary Pharmaceutical Compounding Course she completed from the Houston-based Professional Compounding Centers of America (PCCA). She is the first student from NEOMED’s College of Pharmacy to take such training.
Making the Medicine Go Down
A pharmacist needs to consider multiple factors when compounding for animals, much as they would for people, says Stall: Which compounds are safe and effective? Is the patient allergic to the so-called fillers or to dyes used in some medicines? Which medications will build up harmfully over time?
The toughest question of all: Can the owner actually persuade the animal to take the medicine?
Stall rattles off a list of preferences that pharmacists use to help prepare medicines for various pets. Parrots love spicy flavors, like cayenne pepper, while smaller birds prefer a fruity taste. Dogs love peanut butter, and a rabbit will accept medicine more readily if it’s mixed in with papayas, a favorite food.
Pursuing Specialized Training
The Ohio State University graduate will pursue extra training by doing a residency after she receives a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from NEOMED in May 2017. Though residencies are not required for pharmacy graduates—as they are for medicine graduates—Stall is one of a group of 2017 NEOMED College of Pharmacy graduates who pursued and obtained a residency placement this year. “Pharmacy school gave me all the tools I need, but a residency will show me how to apply the skills most effectively,’’ she says.
For her Post-Graduate Year One residency, she’ll be working in Lexington, employed by the University of Kentucky as part of the American Pharmacy Services Corporation, a membership umbrella for 400 independent pharmacies. She’ll work for one pharmacy through the group. After the residency, she wants to return to Ohio to work at a community pharmacy. Her long-term career goal: to save enough money to make a significant contribution to an animal shelter.
There’s a lot of talk about personalized medicine lately: “We’ve become so used to everything being personalized that nobody wants a ‘one size fits all’ answer,’” says Stall. Compounding medicine is the ultimate example—a return to pharmacy’s roots, and an example of the old becoming new. Whether it’s finding the right formulation for a pet or to serve the humans in her community, Claire Stall is eager to find the right answers.