Do Your Clients Know to Dispose of Pet Pharmaceuticals?

April 7, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

Discarded pharmaceuticals and personal care products have a major environmental impact, and veterinary professionals are in a prime position to do something about it.

More than 60% of veterinary care professionals do not advise their clients on how to dispose of pet pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP), say the authors of a new survey study from Oregon State University (OSU). While this finding is certainly troublesome with regard to environmental stewardship, the authors believe it also presents veterinarians with a great opportunity to educate their clients.

“There’s not much communication going on between veterinary care professionals and their clients on how to dispose of expired pet medicines,” said study author Jennifer Lam, MS. “Veterinary care professionals can serve as role models for other pet owners on environmental stewardship practices.”

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Survey Results

The OSU research team surveyed 191 environmental educators and veterinary care professionals, all of whom owned pets, regarding their methods of disposing of human and pet PPCP. Nearly half (46%) said they disposed of unneeded products by simply throwing them out in the garbage.

According to Sam Chan, a watershed health expert with the Oregon Sea Grant program at OSU, chemicals from PPCP, such as anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, and antibiotics, are being found more commonly in groundwater and surface water—in part because of the growing number of pets in American homes.

“PPCP are used by almost everyone,” Chan said. “Most people tend to throw extra pills or personal care products into the trash and, in fewer instances, flush them down the drain. It seems like the right thing to do but it’s not the best thing for the environment…. Most wastewater treatment plants are not able to completely deactivate many of the compounds they include.”

The research also revealed that 61% of the 103 veterinary professionals surveyed did not share information about proper PPCP disposal with clients. And the 39% who did bring up the topic did so only with about 1 in 5 clients.

Client Education

The researchers propose that veterinarians can help immensely when it comes to reducing the amount of watershed contaminants; all pet owners need is education.

Advise clients on how to dispose of PPCP properly by sharing the following information with them:

  • Do not flush unused medications down the toilet, unless recommended by the FDA.
  • Crush medications or dissolve them in water, then mix them with an absorbent material—such as kitty litter, dirt, or sawdust. To prevent leakage, place the material in sealable plastic bag before throwing it in the garbage.
  • Advise clients about any local or state hazardous waste collection programs, or pharmacies that will take back unused medications.
  • Before discarding prescription bottles, remove all personal identification information.