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Veterinary Drug Identification

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Veterinarians may prescribe medications they deem necessary to the health of their patients. Veterinary clinics, hospitals and practices have an array of prescription and non-prescription drugs available for the treatment of patients. Correct identification and labeling procedures are in place to prevent the mishandling and wrongful administration of veterinary drugs.


Veterinary drug identification serves to correctly identify the drug for use by staff and clients. Identification serves to tell people what the drug is, what the dosage is, how it is given and the frequency it is given. Prescription labels also give the information of the prescribing doctor, the contact information of the clinic or pharmacy and the patient's name and information.


Drug identification serves to prevent mishandling, abuse and the wrongful administration of prescription and over-the-counter veterinary drugs. Different patients may need different doses of the drug--a mislabeled drug may lead to an overdose or death. Some drugs are not suitable for administration to certain species. For example, the drug phenylbutazone is prescribed for pain relief in horses or dogs, but produces toxic effects when used in cats.


Each state has a different set of laws regarding the labeling and administration of veterinary drugs. It is the responsibility of the staff members working with the pharmaceuticals to know the laws and how the laws apply to them within their specific geographic location. It should be noted that knowing how to label or identify drugs is important for all members of a veterinary practice. Veterinary technicians and assistants are unable to prescribe veterinary drugs under the law, but they may administer them under the direct order of a veterinarian. While it is the responsibility of the veterinarian to determine the correct drug needed, the staff may be responsible for the administration and correct identification and labeling of the drug.


Prescription drugs and non-prescription drugs are labeled differently. It is possible to identify whether a veterinary drug is prescription or non-prescription simply by looking at the label. Prescription drugs are required to have a statement printed on the label that reads "Caution: Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian." It may also have an Rx symbol to indicate its prescription status.

An over-the-counter medication does not have the "Rx" symbol or a statement. It does still require a clinical label stating precautions and instructions for use.

Expert Insight

When working to identify veterinary drugs, it is essential for workers to remember the five rights of drug administration: right patient, right drug, right dose, right route and right time. By remembering these five rights, it is possible to accurately identify and label veterinary drugs for use by staff and clients.

  • "Clinical Calculations: With Applications to General and Specialty Areas"; Joyce LeFever Kee RN MS, Sally M. Marshall RN MSN; 2008
  • "Clinical Textbook For Veterinary Technicians"; Joanna Bassert, Dennis McCurnin; 2009.
  • "Clinical Veterinary Advisor: Dogs and Cats"; Etienne Cote DVM; 2006
  • "Applied Pharmacology for Veterinary Technicians"; Boyce Wanamaker; 2009
  • "Veterinary Office Practices"; Robert Kehn; 2003

Elizabeth Tumbarello has been writing since 2006, with her work appearing on various websites. She is an animal lover who volunteers with her local Humane Society. Tumbarello attended Hocking College and is pursuing her Associate of Applied Science in veterinary technology from San Juan College.