Veterinarians are Starting To Look for Drug-Seeking Behavior

Part of what makes addiction such a corrosive disease is that it often has consequences that extend beyond the addict, reaching family, friends, and—in some instances—even pets.

Prescription Pills

Veterinarians around the U.S. have started to sound the alarm after encountering pet owners who attempt to mislead them, or intentionally harm their pets, in an effort to obtain prescription painkillers such as Tramadol, an opioid prescribed to pets for moderate to severe pain.

Candace Joy, the executive director of the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association, told ATTN: that these cases are relatively infrequent—but it's happened more often as the opioid epidemic has continued to worsen.

"I've been here for a long time and I didn't hear [about these cases] before five years ago," Joy said. "We've had instances where a pet owner brings in a dog—and we can't say for sure they're harming their dog because we don't know what they do before they bring them into the clinic—but they do ask for Tramadol for their pet and it's really for them. It does happen."


When veterinarians suspect that a pet owner is being deceptive or hurting their pet to get painkillers, they will alert law enforcement as well as other practices in the area, Joy said. There's an increased awareness about the trend in the national veterinarian community that has led clinics to adopt more cautious prescribing practices.

In the last five months alone, veterinarians in states from New York to Michigan to Massachusetts to Florida have reported on abusive, drug-seeking pet owners.


"We would never think of people using or abusing these drugs," Dr. Duffy Jones, the owner of an animal hospital in Atlanta, told CBS News. "We typically believe what people tell us and we don’t want a pet in pain, but now we’re taking a bit more of a critical look at exactly what the client is like and what the dog is like — does it fit?"

Though veterinarians are taking precautions to ensure that an animal isn't being deliberately abused, it's important to note that these instances are not widespread. The recent uptick in cases does seem to coincide with rising rates of prescription painkiller abuse in the country, but because the trend is recent, there's no way to tell for sure how often it's happening.

Still, the anecdotal accounts are troubling. In 2014, a 23-year-old in Kentucky was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison after she was found guilty of cutting her dog using a razor blade in order to obtain painkillers, for example.


There are a few signs that veterinarians can look for to identify potential addictive behavior, Joy said. Pet owners who jump from veterinarian to veterinarian, change the pet's name, ask for medication by name, or request multiple refills ought to be scrutinized—similar to how physicians identify drug-seeking behavior in human patients.

"It's been in our veterinary news enough that veterinary practices are aware of the possibility that it could come in through the front door," Joy said. "I do think there is awareness out there about the problem, so they just take measures to make sure they're paying attention and documenting and alerting others when it does happen."