The Catalyst

Pharmacist offers care, expertise compounding vet products

By Roby Hill
South Carolina College of Pharmacy

Dr. Jessica Gaskins, a clinical pharmacist teaching veterinary pharmacy at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy, volunteers in treating a turtle and other marine animals at the South Carolina Aquarium. Photos provided

Veterinary pharmacy is a career choice for a growing number of pharmacy school graduates and traditional pharmacies are filling more prescriptions for animals, requiring more pharmacists who are comfortable with and competent in veterinary pharmacy.

A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, HR 1406 Fairness to Pet Owners Act, would require veterinarians to give animal owners a hand-written prescription that can be filled at the veterinarian’s office or at a local pharmacy. If it passes, pharmacists likely will have to fill even more prescriptions for pet patients and need to be adequately prepared to do so.

“You have to be aware of the species you’re treating,” said Jessica Gaskins, the volunteer pharmacist with the South Carolina Aquarium and an adjunct clinical assistant professor at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. “For instance, if a pharmacist is filling a prescription for an oral beta-lactam antibiotic, they need to know to ask what kind of animal it’s for. If it is for a bunny, an oral dose of this medication will cause dysbiosis that can lead to death.”

“There are a lot of differences in care between animals and humans. Legally, we are not allowed to tell patients which over-the-counter drugs to use in their animals.”

Using most OTC drugs with animals constitutes off-label use and thus requires a prescription, per the 1994 Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act.

“I wish I could send every pharmacy a big poster that says ‘Tylenol kills cats’,” Gaskins said. “As pharmacists, we need to be able to step up our game.”

At the SCCP all future pharmacists are instructed on basic veterinary calculations and offered some experience in compounding veterinary products. In addition to the experiential education the college offers, Gaskins teaches an elective that covers anatomy, physiology and pharmacotherapy of approximately 10 animal species, as well as areas of veterinary pharmacy including drug information, laws and ethics of veterinary pharmacy, various disease states and proper treatment, toxicology and parasitology and case-based medication dosing regimens.

Veterinary pharmacy was not an unusual choice for Gaskins. She grew up around horses in Charleston and volunteered with an equine veterinarian when she was in high school. She found she liked veterinary medicine and pharmacology and decided to see if she could find a career that combined the two.

After receiving her PharmD in 2011 from the MUSC campus of SCCP, she completed a veterinary medicine residency at North Carolina State University, one of just two specialty residencies in the country offering a veterinary pharmacy program. An elective course on fish veterinary medicine led to an introduction to Shane Boylan, the veterinarian with the Charleston Aquarium, and eventually her position there.

Clinical pharmacist and S.C. Aquarium volunteer Dr. Jessica Gaskins developed a novel agent for treating bacterial infections in horseshoe crabs.


As a veterinary pharmacist, she has to be able to recalibrate dosages of a human drug for administration to an animal or compound drugs to make them palatable to particular species. At the aquarium, Gaskins participates in different procedures and surgeries, and takes care of drug dosing and interactions and provides all related information.

Recently she worked on developing a novel agent, extracted from bee propolis, to help treat chitinolytic disease in horseshoe crabs. Medications for the bacterial infection have proved troublesome for crabs and other aquatic invertebrates because the medications are not waterproof; the new anti-microbial bandage she has developed is.

“All animals have different physiologies, anatomies and drug metabolisms,” she said. “You’ve got to really search the pharmacy literature and there are a lot of gray areas, especially with exotics. It’s pretty much limited to case studies. But if somebody has a sick or injured $150,000 show koi, they are not going to flush it down the toilet! They want to get it treated.”

Gaskins stands with one of her patients at the aquarium.


Gaskins played a key role in preserving the life of Chuck Norris, as she has christened a particularly rugged yellow-bellied slider. The female turtle had been run over by a car on Johns Island and a friend brought it to Gaskins’ house.

Gaskins provided initial treatment, consulting with Boylan on a late-night call, and brought the animal into the Aquarium.
Despite a grim prognosis, they operated and inserted 23 pins to rebuild the turtle’s shell. Chuck Norris is recovering well.

As a veterinary pharmacist, Gaskins is faced with a constantly changing clinical pharmacy challenge, requiring innovative thinking and an unusual interaction between patient and pharmacist.

“I love it when my patients try to bite me,” she says.

While biting, noted in reptiles and other exotic non-domesticated species, is a unique sign of recovery, it is unlikely many pharmacists share that sentiment. However, veterinary pharmacy is a needed service the pharmacy profession has to provide and can open a world of opportunities for many pharmacists entering the field.

November 1, 2013
 
 
 

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