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Are Generic Drugs Safe for Cats?
From the Editors of The Daily Cat
Lily, a mature black-and-white feline, meowed constantly and ate voraciously yet never seemed
to gain weight. After several tests, results showed that Lily was suffering from hyperthyroidism,
a thyroid gland disorder. The treatment options seemed like night and day in terms of cost: an
expensive brand-name drug or a pocketbook-friendly generic version. For Lily’s elderly, budget-
conscious owner, the choice was clear.
Lily wound up taking a drug called Methimazole, the generic version of a brand-name
medication named Tapazole. The cost difference? $4 a month for the generic version instead
of $60 a month for the branded product. Nevertheless, Lily’s owner was concerned by the
safety of “generic.”
A Human Drug Connection
Lily’s veterinarian, Dr. Kristine Hoyt, who runs Cats on Call in Scarborough, Maine, eased the
fears by explaining that both medications were developed and intended for humans. Because
there’s no equivalent just for cats, they would rather treat Lily with the generic medicine,
adjusting the dosage for the cat’s small, 13-pound body. Dr. Hoyt added that relying on
generic drugs -- mostly from the world of human medicine -- to treat companion animals wasn’t
at all uncommon.
Mary Lynch, a doctor of pharmacy at Cornell University Hospital for Animals in Ithaca, N.Y.,
agrees. “We use human drugs, including generics, very frequently in cats and dogs,” Dr. Lynch
says. Developing a drug for a major illness, such as cancer and hyperthyroidism, involves massive
costs, which often prevents companies from bringing an original, cat-specific drug to market.
Under the Animal Medical Drug Utilization Clarification Act (ANDUCA), veterinarians can use
human drugs in companion animals when the animals would suffer, or even potentially die,
What’s in a Name?
“When you buy the brand, you buy the fancy packaging,” says Arnold Plotnick, DVM, a board-
certified feline specialist in New York City. He says generic drugs work perfectly on both cats
and humans. Two key points to remember are:
A generic drug is the same as the brand-name version. It must be bio-equivalent to the
original, meaning that the active ingredients are identical. It also has to have the same strength
and address the same symptoms. Additionally, generic drugs should be metabolized by the
body in a similar way.
A human drug can be approved for use in pets, providing owners with generic medication
options. To market a human drug specifically for cats, a company must file a “new drug”
application through the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. The ingredients and
manufacturing process are tested, just as they were during the original testing of the human
drug. Dosages may then change to match a cat’s needs.
Cats Require Special Care
A generic drug made for a human might not go down so well with a stubborn cat. The few
generics on the market specifically for cats are often flavored or coated to help cats swallow
them. But because the majority of drugs that veterinarians use are of the human variety -- be
they generic or brand name -- they’re often bitter to a cat. Dr. Plotnick often chops or grinds
the pills to make them somewhat palatable for kitty. “I’ll make it up as a liquid so I can squirt it
into the cat’s mouth,” he says. “Since I know the generic works, I don’t have any fear of it not
Dr. Hoyt points to another fact about cats: They metabolize numerous drugs very differently
than many other species do, and some cats experience side effects with any drug administered.
More Options on the Horizon
Some companies are now focused on the development of generic drugs specifically for animals.
These medications usually still derive from branded human drugs, according to Jean Hoffman,
founder and CEO of Putney Inc., a Portland, Maine-based company that aims to develop
generic versions of commonly used drugs. “There is a tremendous need to bring to market
dosing and flavors that are right for cats, and we’ve focused on doing that,” she says.
Dr. Hoyt points to the June approval of Felimazole, a feline-specific drug that Lily could have
taken. It’s dosed specifically for cats, which means you and your veterinarian won’t have to
chop it up. And the pill is sugar-coated to mask the bitter taste of the drug. That should make
the cat patient a whole lot happier and more willing to swallow it.
“Now I don’t have to worry about client stress, and I know that my patient is getting a drug at
the right dose, in the right concentration,” says Dr. Hoyt.
Copyright © 2009 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Studio One Networks