Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

You may think you understand what a pharmacist does, but what about a pharmacist where the patients can range from a tiny parakeet to a 2,000-pound bull?

Lauren Forsythe earned a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Findlay, then completed her veterinary pharmacy residency at Purdue’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. She worked as a veterinary clinical pharmacist at the University of California-Davis Veterinary Medical Hospital for three years before joining the University of Illinois in 2019 where she is a clinical assistant professor and the pharmacy service head.

Dr. Forsythe plays many roles at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where the variety of patient species and the lack of commercial medications formulated to meet their needs means she is challenged in ways pharmacists at human hospitals are not and she joins us today on ciLiving.

How many patients and how many different species does the VTH serve?

We care for around 25,000 patients a year, from dogs and cats, horses, cows and pigs, to all kinds of zoo companion animals including reptiles, birds, fish, and small mammals like ferrets, rabbits, and chinchillas, plus wildlife seen by our Wildlife Medical Clinic.

How do you supply appropriate medications for patients when there is not a commercial formula on the market?

Other than the major domesticated species, there are few medications specifically approved for animals, so very often veterinarians have to prescribe an “off-label” use of medications marketed for people. In other cases we create medications specific to the animal patient through compounding. We have to take into account how to deliver the medication in a way that will be metabolized by the patient, whether that is topically, as an injection, taken as a pill or liquid by mouth, or some other way. We also add flavoring to medications taken by mouth to make them more acceptable to the patient, like tuna flavor for cats or tutti frutti for a guinea pig

Do dogs and cats pretty much get the same medications?

Oh no! Each species has a unique profile of medications that will be effective, and in some cases what is therapeutic for one species could be toxic to another.

What else does a veterinary pharmacist do?

We work with the veterinary caregivers throughout the hospital to review patient charts and ensure that medication is being delivered according to best practices. We help provide alternatives when a medication is on back order. We teach veterinary students and advise practicing veterinarians on things like state and federal regulations that they must follow, how to help animal owners learn to administer medications to pets at home, and how to manage inventory and safeguard controlled substances. We also have pharmacy students who rotate through our service during their studies.

Special precautions are needed for preparing cancer medications because of the dangers to the person handling the drugs. We have two “clean rooms” where this sort of activity can be done safely.

Connect with the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital HERE.