Medication mix-ups don’t happen just to people — they can happen to Fido or Felix, too.

For example, a vet using the wrong abbreviation for a medication or penning the prescription in a messy hand can lead to your pooch or kitty getting the wrong pill or taking it too often (or not often enough). "SID" (once daily) might be misinterpreted as "BID" (twice daily) or "QID" (four times daily, for example. Or a 0.5 milligram dose written as “.5mg” could be mistaken for 5 mg if the decimal point isn’t clear, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But pet owner vigilance can go a long way toward catching mistakes so medicine prescribed by your veterinarian heals, rather than harms, your pet.

Here are five ways to protect your dog or cat (or hamster, ferret or iguana) from medication errors.

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1. Update your vet on your pet’s medical history. Vets should know about any chronic condition your pet has, any medication he’s taking now and any bad reactions he’s had in the past, according to the FDA. It’s more common for mix-ups to happen when you’re going to a new vet who doesn’t know your pet, says Carol Millman, a Vancouver veterinary technician and quality control officer for the clinic where she works. Ask your vet, “Is this medication OK with Fluffy’s heart murmur?” or “Is it alright for Rover to take this with his Rimadyl?”

2. Question your vet about the meds. When your vet tells you she’s prescribing something to treat your pet’s problem, ask:

  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • What kind of medication is it? For example, is it an antibiotic?
  • How does the medication work?
  • When should I see results, and what should I see?
  • What kind of side effects should I look for?
  • How do I administer the medication?

If you don’t know how to give the medicine, ask for a demo, Millman says. This is especially important with ear infection meds, which can be tough to give correctly, she notes.

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3. Use caution with drugstore pharmacies. Filling your pet’s prescription at a drugstore creates an opportunity for mistakes, the FDA says, because abbreviations used by veterinarians may be misinterpreted by a pharmacist trained to give out medicine to people. That can lead to incorrect dosages — and possibly an overdose.

Some pet owners go to human pharmacies to save money or because their vet doesn’t have a certain medication in stock. If you do, make sure you understand exactly what medication and dose you’re supposed to get, Millman says. And tell the pharmacist the medication is for your pet because some medications for humans might contain a flavoring ingredient, such as xylitol, that could be harmful to your furry friend.

4. Read the label. When you get the medicine, check the label. Make sure the label has your pet’s name on it because it’s possible (though rare) for one pet’s meds to get mixed up with another’s in a busy clinic, Millman says. Verify that the drug name, dosage and administration instructions match what the vet told you. The label also should specify whether the medication should be taken with food or on an empty stomach, Millman says.

5. Count the meds. If the person filling the prescription miscounts, you can wind up with too few pills for your pet, Millman says. “That’s the most common error,” she says. With a liquid medication, make sure the clinic is giving you a little bit extra because your pet might spit some out, she says.

One last tip: If you have your prescription filled at the vet’s office, only a vet or vet technician should fill it, Millman says. She tells this story from a past job to illustrate why. At one clinic, a kennel staff member stepped in to fill a prescription on a busy day. The staffer misunderstood the vet’s instructions and typed a label instructing a skin medication to be sprayed into the dog’s mouth. Luckily, the dog’s owner knew the medication was supposed to be sprayed onto the skin and pointed out the error before any harm was done.

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Allie Johnson is an award-winning freelance consumer writer with a degree in magazine journalism. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two dogs.