Recent research from Oregon State University (OSU) found that more than 60 percent of veterinary professionals do not instruct their clients about proper disposal of medicine used by their companion animals.
“People are just starting to understand the impact that discarded pharmaceuticals and personal care products have on the environment,” said the study’s corresponding author, Jennifer Lam, who worked on the research while a graduate student in marine resource management at Oregon State University.
“This study opens the door and shows a communication gap, shows where there’s an opportunity to help educate people. There’s not much communication going on between veterinary care professionals and their clients on how to dispose of expired pet medicines, meaning there’s a lot of potential for those professionals to help their clients learn what to do.”
Lam and other OSU researchers surveyed 191 pet owners and almost 50 percent placed unused veterinary care products and medicine in the garbage.
Researchers surveyed 88 environmental educators and 103 veterinary care professionals. The survey revealed 61 percent of the veterinary professionals did not share information about proper disposal with their clients. The 39 percent who reported sharing that information did so 19 percent of the time—roughly one appointment in five.
“It’s not a popular topic to bring up,” said Lam, who added that those surveyed listed a number of barriers to communication, including lack of knowledge about proper disposal, time, cost, and lack of concern on the part of both client and care provider.
“Survey respondents said their professional organizations, such as their veterinary associations, are their top source for disposal information,” Lam said. “This shows that veterinary-care professionals can serve as role models for other pet owners on environmental stewardship practices.”
“ … You can count on one hand the number of studies that have been done on what people actively do with the disposal of PPCPs—pharmaceutical and personal care products—for both themselves and their pets,” said Sam Chan, a watershed health expert with the Oregon Sea Grant program at OSU. “PPCPs are used by almost everyone and most wastewater treatment plants are not able to completely deactivate many of the compounds they include.”
Chemicals from PPCPs for people and pets are being found at low levels in groundwater and surface water; anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, antibiotics, estrogens, insect repellant, antimicrobials, and sunscreen compounds are among what’s being detected.
The national Sea Grant program is partnering with the American Veterinary Medical Association to promote proper PPCP disposal: Dropping them off at a take-back event or bringing them to a depository such as those in place at some police stations and college campuses.
“This study is one of the first to really show a baseline on the environmental stewardship of pet owners regarding their use and disposal of personal and pet medicine and care products,” Lam said. “It also shows the correlation between what pet owners do with their own medicine versus their pets’—both types of products are being disposed of in similar ways.”
The research was funded in part by Oregon Sea Grant; findings were published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.