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Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic Blog

Expiration Dates on Veterinary Drugs: Do They Matter?

A bulldog being given medicine

If your January purge includes decluttering your medicine cabinet, you might find yourself wondering how important those dates stamped on various pharmaceuticals really are. You have half a tube of ointment from that one time Fluffy had an ear infection, a few pills rattling around from when she was so itchy last summer, and almost a full bottle of some type of pain pill from the time she sprained a paw.

Should you keep these things, and for how long?

Don’t worry, Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic has the scoop on expiration dates on veterinary drugs, so that you can stay on task with your decluttering resolutions.

What’s in a Date?

All medications that we prescribe to our patients come with an expiration date. Typically, this date is clearly stamped or printed on the container provided by the manufacturer.

When we dispense a medication for your pet, an expiration date is also printed on the prescription label. This helps our pet parents know how to best use the medications we prescribe.

Expiration dates on veterinary drugs are important because, as time marches on, drugs lose efficacy and potency due to chemical changes that take place. Sometimes, though rarely, changes can take place that cause the medication to be harmful to your pet.

Each individual drug has its own unique shelf life determined by the manufacturer. Some last a very long time, up to several years. Others, like the Atopica for Cats liquid that we often prescribe, last only a few months.

It is not wise to rely on the drug’s appearance to assess whether or not it is still good. While some medications may change color or texture, this does not always happen.

Understanding Expiration Dates on Veterinary Drugs

Do you need to toss all those partially used medications you have stashed in your pet’s medical supplies? Yes and no.

If a medication is past the expiration date determined by the manufacturer, it is best not to use it. While it may not directly cause harm, using an expired drug may have some negative effects including:

  • Delay in appropriate treatment
  • Subpar management of the problem at hand
  • Contribution to problems, such as antibiotic resistance (hint: you should never have leftover antibiotics if using as prescribed)

Often when people utilize old medications, they are doing so without guidance from a veterinarian. This can be dangerous if there are other factors, such as different medications or supplements being used, that make administration inappropriate. It is always best to seek our help before starting your pet on any medication.

If you wish to store your veterinary pharmaceuticals, it is essential that you adhere to storage guidelines. Some medications must be kept within a certain temperature range, while others might be light sensitive. Keeping lids sealed to prevent air exposure and moisture contamination is important, as well.

Disposing of Pharmaceuticals

If you have been a pet medication hoarder, you likely have a pile of stuff to trash at this point. How does one properly dispose of expired veterinary pharmaceuticals? It may be tempting just to toss them in this week’s garbage collection or flush them, but that often isn’t the responsible choice because:

  • Over-the-counter and prescription medication exposure are a common cause of pet (and people) poisonings
  • Septic tanks and sewage treatment plants are unequipped to remove all pharmaceutical residues from the water
  • Some drugs may have abuse potential

Instead, you should take them to a facility with a drug take back program in the area or find a drug disposal facility. Your local environmental authorities, department of public health, or DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) can also be helpful in determining the best way to dispose of expired medications.

Expiration dates on veterinary drugs are there for good reason: to keep your pet safe and to treat them in the most effective way possible. Be sure to use and care for your pet’s medication responsibly, and when in doubt, throw it out! For more information, please contact us.