Pet Medication Scare In The News
By Lyn Lewis D.V.M.
Wayside Animal Clinic
This Monday, Channel 2 Action News ran a story on a heartworm product Trifexis killing dogs. What a sensational story, a scandal, something that could cause widespread panic. In fact we have gotten many phone calls on this issue since they started advertising this story last Friday. It has really stirred the pot getting a lot of pet owners concerned. This whole story’s basis comes from a Facebook page, not scientific literature, someplace for people to come together and bash a product without having to provide any proof. When I looked at this page, the most recent post tells how they have kicked off and blocked some Facebook users for defending the product! Overall it doesn’t seem very fair to me.
But there has to be a shred of truth to almost every rumor right. I had our office manager pull up the amount of Trifexis and Comfortis we have sold which is just a little above 10,000 doses.
We also searched for adverse reactions in our clinic and found that vomiting is common with this drug, which we knew, but found NO severe problems. After this I went to a paid subscription service for veterinarians called the Veterinary Information Network or V.I.N.. This website gives us access to specialists in all fields of medicine.
Once again found that vomiting was common, dogs that have seizures were more likely to have more seizures with this medication, and that dogs who are on Ivermectin (a different insecticide) in combination with Trifexis/Comfortis could lead to seizures. Every death report that was linked with Trifexis was found to have a different cause of death when sent in for a professional autopsy. No posts were written about widespread serious side effects with this medication. The active ingredient in Trifexis/Comfortis is Spinosad. This is an organic product produced by bacteria. If you eat organic produce you probably ingest Spinosad all the time. It is the top selling organic insecticide used by farmers. I bet you have never heard of any problems there. Dr. Parker, many of my staff, and my own pet use Trifexis, we have used it for years in many cases. All my research with the company, the FDA, and pharmacology specialists since the announcement of the Channel 2 News investigation shows there are no abnormal safety concerns for the use of Trifexis.
While I have no doubt that some animals have died taking this medication, I can also say with the same amount of confidence that deaths have happened with most of our other medications. Severe reactions can happen with any medication, even over the counter drugs especially with the very young and very old. In our pets, unfortunately, reactions are not caught until very late. A great example of this is the Pfizer product Rimadyl. This is probably the single most prescribed medication used in dogs. We use it to treat arthritis and general pain. There is a very small (well under 1%) chance that this medication will cause ulcers or liver/kidney problems. While we recommend bloodwork be done if medications are used chronically, typically the cost is too much for many owners so they ignore the request. In the early stages of ulcers, liver, or kidney damage the pet feels that something is wrong but will hide the symptoms and act fine. People on the other hand will notify their physician getting the problem rectified much sooner.
It is our pets’ nature to hide illnesses, and it persists until it has gotten so severe that the pet cannot hide it any longer. By the time we see them for the problem the ulcer is about to perforate the gut or they are in full blown liver/kidney failure. This makes the drug look dangerous even though the complication rate is much lower than human NSAIDS. Do a Google search of Rimadyl and you will read horror stories. It is unfortunate because it is the most widely studied and safest of all of the pain medications we use, it has become a victim of its own popularity.
The internet has both positively and negatively changed our lives. It has given people a voice who previously had none. It is a superhighway of knowledge. But… the biggest problem with the internet is that facts are not required, people can say anything that they want. Knowledge on the internet is a good thing, when you understand that fact. Research multiple sites before forming any opinions on your own. Peer reviewed articles are the best, because they are fact checked and are not just simple conjecture. Use your health care professionals not just “Dr. Google” when trying to find information.
In closing, when discussing with your vet about starting a new medication make sure to go over both the positives and the negatives of that medication. Ask if routine exams or blood work are necessary to protect your pets. Ask what to look for when trying to see if your pet may be having an adverse reaction. The symptoms may be very subtle. Remember, most veterinarians are always available by phone, so call if you have any questions or concerns.