Sometimes, when a pet’s medical condition requires treatment via a prescription drug, the veterinarian may prescribe a drug that was originally intended for human use only. This is because the medication, through extensive research, has been found to also be safely effective for use in animals.

But not every medication is suitable for use in animals. Or, a pet may need a lower dose of a drug than what it is currently manufactured. In cases like these, compounded medications are required. To get a better understanding of what compounded medications are, Diamondback Drugs (a veterinary compounding pharmacy in Arizona) has compiled this list of frequently asked questions.

Q: What Is Veterinary Compounding?

A: Veterinary compounding is a process in which a drug is manipulated in a way that changes it from what is described on the drug’s label, so it is more accessible for treating animals. Forms of manipulation can include changing a drug’s original dosage, adding flavoring to, diluting or concentrating, or mixing the drug. It also applies to mixing multiple drugs into a single-dose application, creating an oral suspension from tablets, and other formulation alterations.

Q: When Is It Necessary to Compound a Medication?

A: Not every drug on the market is approved for use in animals. When an animal requires treatment and there is no FDA-approved human or veterinary product available, then the veterinarian will use veterinary compounding in order to treat the patient. In most cases, the decision is medically necessary and made within the confines of a veterinarian-client-patient-relationship.

Q: Can I Get Compounded Medications for My Pet Through a Pharmacy or Supplier?

A: While many sources may offer compounded medications for animals, you should never consider using medications from one that is not certified or licensed. Compounding medications is a very complex process, so it requires a level of expertise that these companies typically lack. Buying medications from such companies could be placing your pet at risk.

Q: Can I Use a Compounded Medication That Was Prescribed for One of My Pets on Another With the Same Condition?

A: No, not unless your veterinarian is aware of the other pet’s condition and specifically tells you it is safe to do so. Medications that are compounded are created specifically for the individual patient. As a result, there are a lot of factors taken into consideration when compounding the drug, such as the patient’s weight, breed, health, etc. Giving  medication that’s been prescribed for one pet to another pet could place that pet in serious risk. 

Q: Are Compounded Drugs the Same as Generic Drugs?

A: No. A generic drug is a non-brand version of a brand-name drug. They are made from the exact same ingredients and consist of the exact same dosages, with the exception being that the generic version is usually somewhat less expensive.

Compounded drugs, on the other hand, are sometimes very different from their brand-name counterparts. For example, a compounded drug may be formulated into a product that isn’t available on the market. This can cause the drug to perform differently than its brand-name version. As a result, the government considers compounded medications to be drugs that they have not reviewed or approved.

Q: What Are the Most Common Types of Compounded Veterinary Drugs?

A: Veterinary compounding is a very broad industry, but there are some formulations that need to be compounded more times than others. Typically, compounding in the veterinary field consists of adding flavoring to a drug to make it more palatable for the patient, mixing two injectable drugs to make administration easier, or preparing an oral paste or suspension from crushed tablets.

Q: Is Veterinary Compounding Regulated?

A: Veterinary compounding is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and local state governments. The FDA regulates compounding as part of its Extra-Label Drug Use (ELDU) Rules. But in most states, the FDA defers the day-to-day regulation of veterinary compounding by veterinarians and pharmacists to state authorities.

Quality standards in the compounding industry are set by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a private, non-profit standard-setting organization. USP sets the compounding industry’s standards relating to quality, purity, identity, and strength.

Q: Are Compounded Medications Guaranteed to Work?

A: Unlike FDA-approved drugs, there is no assurance that a compounded medication will definitely work as intended. This is because compounded drugs are not evaluated or approved by the FDA. In order to ensure the safest and most effective treatment for an animal, a veterinarian should use an FDA-approved product whenever possible, and only prescribe compounded medications when it is determined medically necessary for the patient’s health.

Q: Are There Any Risks In Using Compounded Medications?

A: Remember, compounded drugs haven’t been tested or approved by the FDA, so there is no guarantee that they will work as intended. In addition, the risks are also relatively unknown. That’s why a veterinarian has to weigh the risk versus the potential benefits of using a compounded drug.

Q: When Is Veterinary Compounding Legal?

A: Yes, veterinary compounding is legal as long as federal and state rules are followed. The requirements include:

  • Having an established Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR)
  • A patient that has a medical condition for which a prescribed medication is needed
  • A compounded medication is needed to treat the patient (as determined by the veterinarian)

 Q: Do I Need a Prescription in Order to Obtain a Compounded Drug for My Pet?

A: Yes. Compounded medications are only obtainable via a signed prescription from a licensed veterinarian. If any pharmacy claims that they can provide you with a compounded drug without a veterinarian’s prescription, then they are breaking the law and they should be reported to the state’s board of pharmacy.

Q: Where Can I Obtain Compounded Drugs for My Pet?

A: In some cases, depending on the medication, you may be able to obtain a compounded drug directly through your veterinarian’s office (if it is legal in your state). But usually, the veterinarian will provide you with a prescription, and refer you to a veterinary compounding pharmacy.

You can validate the licensure of the veterinary compounding pharmacy you’re considering by visiting the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) website.



About the Author


This article has been researched and written by representatives of Scottsdale, Arizona-based Diamondback Drugs. We specialize in the art and science of veterinary compounding.