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Studies Support Efforts Toward Palatability

Compounding pharmacists have always known that custom-flavored medications for animal patients are more “palatable,” not only to the pet, but also to the caregiver. Force feeding vile-tasting human medications to animals often results in stress and severe mistrust of the owner by the pet, and feelings of guilt and frustration by the owner. Providing medications in animal-friendly flavors results in easier administration to pets and far fewer medication misadventures than with human-targeted commercially available products. Recently, another possible benefit of providing palatable medications has been scientifically documented. Just as contact with animals positively affects human health, gentle contact with humans has been shown to positively affect the physiologic health and emotional status of animals. Similarly, negative contact with humans results in negative
health effects on animals. In light of these studies, it is postulated that administration of pleasantly flavored medications will positively affect the course of healing for animal patients.

Positive contact by humans, particularly tactility (e.g. petting or stroking) has been demonstrated to have beneficial physiological effects on many species. Dogs experience a 5-40 beats per minute decrease in pulse when petted by a human. Horses petted by humans also show a profound decrease in heart rate. Dairy cattle, chickens, sows, and other food-producing animals have shown higher productivity when gently handled and softly spoken to by humans. Many laboratory animal species being subjected to invasive laboratory procedures have demonstrated a dramatic reduction in mortality when petted regularly by humans. Similarly, pleasant interactions involving offering treats or desirable foods would be expected to evoke positive physiologic states in animals.

Negative human contact has been shown to have an equally negative effect on animal health and well being. Scruffing rats and other laboratory animals in order to administer procedures and therapies has been shown to cause a stress response leading to stress hyperplasia of the urinary bladder. Rough versus gentle handling of laboratory rats has been shown to elicit diametrically opposed effects on brain mRNA expression. Chickens and pigs experiencing harsh human contact also have reduced antigen responses when exposed to antigen challenge, leading to a decreased immunological response to infection.

Another factor to be considered in compounding for animals is the presence of the placebo effect in veterinary patients. Although mechanisms are still not fully elucidated, various studies have proven that animals will respond to certain non-medical (e.g. placebo) therapies with physiologic responses equal to those elicited by pharmacological agents and procedures. Currently four theories are proposed to support the welldocumented placebo effect in animals: (1) classical conditioning (e.g. Pavlovian conditioning that when a human administers a non-food substance, it will provide relief), (2) expectancy (e.g. the animal learns to expect relief of distress when certain conditions are present, (3) endogenous opiate release (e.g., endogenous neuropeptides are released which elicit pharmacological effects) and (4) the effect of human contact which is described above. Placebo effects can be positive or negative, and providing pleasantly flavored medications can enhance the positive aspects of placebo response.
In summary, it is now known that human contact affects animal health just as strongly as animal contact influences human health. An unpleasant medication experience can adversely affect animal health as much as the disease itself. Although further research is required to document exact benefits of animalfriendly flavoring of medications. compounding pharmacists can be assured that providing custom flavored medications provides positive contact experiences for humans and animals. Removing the negative contact experience of human-flavored medications will, without a doubt, result in more rapid and complete responses to medical therapy.


1. McMillan, FD. “The placebo effect in animals.” JAVMA, Oct 1, 1999 Vol 215 (7) 992-999.
2. 2. McMillan, FD. “Effects of human contact on animal health and wellbeing.” JAVMA, December 1, 1999, Vol 215 (11)1592-98
3. 3. Edney, ATB. “Companion animals and human health: an overview.” J R Soc Med. 1995; 88:704P-708P.


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