When Your Veterinarian Plays Drug Taster…

Dr. Patty Khuly

Veterinarian Taste Tester

It’s true. I’ve tasted almost all my patients’ oral medications. I’ve also sampled supplements, nibbled at nutraceuticals, downed dewormers, and previewed vitamins on behalf of pets. I’ve even dined on dog food, choked down cat chow, and tried out treats for good measure.

And why not?

How else would we decide whether to offer a dewormer of one variety over another? Which brands of augmentin and clindamycin (antibiotics) to stock? Which version of glucosamine and chondroitin leaves no bitter aftertaste and disappears best into kibble or canned? Which oral rinse doesn’t taste like a rancid, clove-infused vinaigrette?

I know it sounds eccentric but I’m by no means alone in this. The guys I work with –– both old timers –– engage in the exact same behavior. “It’s the least we can do if we expect them to eat it!” is how they explained it back when I was their teenaged volunteer.

It no doubt helps that I harbor an Anthony Bourdain-style willingness to consume almost anything somebody somewhere deems edible. I once even downed a whole bowl of dog food on a dare (though it was lacking some salt and scraped the upstairs of my mouth like Cap’n Crunch might, it really wasn’t terrible). But even a willing palate like mine is rarely pleased by the results of pet product experimentation.

Which is the point. Since so many of the products I try are more often terrible tasting (bitterly atrocious, even) than they are halfway palatable, it’s important to identify the truly horrific.

After all, medicating pets is no picnic. Which is why drug and supplement selection is so crucial. One off flavor, a single strong note, the failure to compensate for a bitter finish with a heady dose of smoke (bacon, for example), can make all the difference to my patients and their healthcare.

Indeed, it rarely fails to impress me how little some manufacturers seem to care about flavor and palatability. Clearly they’ve never tried medicating eighteen claws and thirty-plus teeth. Yet others –– sometimes the super-cheap no-name brands –– manage to get it right. So it’s not as if it’s not doable.

Still, there are limitations. Some basic ingredients are so bitter, sulphur-infused, or otherwise nasty-tasting that there’s no fixing them. Others are only fixable via sweetness (and carnivores like cats can’t taste sweet).

Which is why many veterinarians absolutely refuse to prescribe certain medications as elixirs. It’s also why some of us would rather write prescriptions for the human preparation of certain drugs than field complaints from our clients when their dogs inevitably spit out the veterinary version. And why compounding pharmacies (with all their ways of making meds palatable) are all the rage.

We veterinarians well know our patients will get no better from our ministrations if our patients won’t take their medicine. Now if only the pet drug and product manufacturers would take the hint. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to rely on palate abuse to ensure our patients didn’t suffer the same.

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