What Is a Veterinary Compounding Pharmacy?

Veterinarians prescribe everything from antibiotics to parasite preventatives and anti-seizure medications on a daily basis.

But what happens if none of the available drug options are appropriate for your pet’s unique condition, or if your pet just won’t take pills?

That’s when your veterinarian may choose a compounded medication to ensure that your furry family member gets the medication she needs.

You may have already been prescribed a special compounded medication, or maybe you’re looking for a different way to give your cat his daily medication because he hates taking pills (and you hate giving them).

Here’s what you need to know about compounding pharmacies and why they might offer the best options for some pets.

What Is a Compounded Medication?

A compounded medication has been altered from its original form. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), drug compounding is “the process of combining, mixing, or altering ingredients to create a medication tailored to the needs of an individual patient…Compounded drugs are not FDA approved.”

This means that a compounded drug is a customized form of a human or animal drug. Veterinary compounding must be done either by a veterinarian or a compounding pharmacist who has received a prescription from the veterinarian.

Why Do Some Pets Need Medications from a Veterinary Compounding Pharmacy?

When none of the available medication options are suitable for your pet’s condition, your veterinarian may discuss using a compounding pharmacy to create the best compounded medication for your pet’s individual needs.

For example, maybe your cat needs a daily pill to treat hyperthyroidism but rejects tablets that are hidden in her food or given by mouth. Or perhaps a dog requires anti-seizure medication, but his required dose isn’t available in tablet form.

Compounding pharmacies can customize a medication into specific doses and formulations that are easier to administer.

Here are some of the reasons why veterinary drugs are compounded:

  • To create a medication that has been discontinued or is no longer commercially produced.

  • To mix one or more drugs together for easier administration.

  • To customize the strength of the medication.

  • To change the drug’s route of administration.

Forms of Compounded Medications for Pets

The most common forms of compounded drugs used in veterinary medicine include transdermal gels, capsules and flavored suspensions.

Transdermal Medication 

This is a topical treatment that is made by suspending the active ingredient of a medication in a gel or cream. The medication is administered by rubbing a measured amount onto a hairless area of the pet’s body, such as the inner ear, where the active ingredient is then absorbed. This type of compounded medication is typically chosen for pets that refuse to take pills.

Oral Capsules

These are used to combine several ingredients, or to create a new form of a discontinued medication. The capsule itself may be easier for certain pets to swallow, compared to other types of medications.

Flavored Suspensions

These are modified to make the medication more palatable for the pet. Popular flavor enhancers used for pets include beef, chicken, fish, peanut butter and banana.

Compounded Tablets and Chews

These can also come in flavored forms. Some flavored options, such as “Medi-Melts®” are designed to dissolve on the tongue for pets that have difficulty swallowing pills or capsules. Soft chews are easier to administer than pills because they are more like treats.

What Types of Conditions Can Compounded Medications Treat?

Many medications are available in compounded form. Here are some of the most commonly compounded drugs and what they treat.

Cisapride is used to treat GI motility disorders in dogs and cats. Compounded forms of this drug may include an oral capsule, an oral suspension and transdermal forms.

Methimazole is commonly used to treat hyperthyroidism in cats (an overactive thyroid gland). Unless a cat is treated with radioiodine therapy or surgery, treatment for hyperthyroidism is typically a lifelong effort. Therefore, many pet parents find that compounded transdermal creams or oral suspensions are easier to administer compared to oral tablets.

Metronidazole is an antibiotic used for bacterial and parasitic infections, particularly those within the gastrointestinal (GI) and reproductive tracts. Due to its bitter taste, many pets reject metronidazole pills; therefore, this drug is frequently compounded into capsules, flavored suspensions or flavored chews.

Prednisolone is an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat a variety of pet conditions, including autoimmune disorders and allergies. Many of the diseases requiring prednisolone treatment are chronic in nature, so compounding may allow for easier long-term dosing, particularly in cats.

Potassium bromide is an anti-seizure medication used to help manage canine and feline epilepsy. While this drug is available in tablet form, some pet parents find that the compounded liquid suspension form is more convenient to administer.

Are Compounded Drugs FDA-Approved?

Compounding is usually reserved for cases where existing drug options are not successful or suitable for your pet’s individual needs. A compounded drug can be a life-saving option for pets that are difficult to medicate, or in cases where all other treatment options have failed.

But it’s important to remember that compounded drugs are offered by prescription only and must be filled by a pharmacist or veterinarian. They are not the same as generic drugs, which are FDA-approved.

Compounded preparations are not FDA-approved because the drug is changed to a different form, such as a gel rather than a tablet, and the drug’s strength may be altered. Compounded drugs are not monitored or tested by the FDA, so their efficacy, safety and potency may vary.

It’s best to discuss compounding options with your veterinarian, who understands your pet’s unique needs and can recommend the best course of treatment for your pet.

Featured Image: iStock.com/SDI Productions

Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD


Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD


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