How to Decrease Medication Errors in Veterinary Practice

October 12, 2023
5 min

No matter how experienced we are—and how much we care about our patients—we’re all human. Medical errors happen. 

One study found that 5.1% of veterinary technicians in specialty teaching hospitals reported witnessing several (or more) medical errors per month.1 Another study reported that 73.8% of veterinarians had witnessed at least one “near miss”—a medical error that could have had adverse consequences but did not—over a 12-month period.2 Medical errors may occur in approximately 5 out of every 1000 veterinary medical visits.3 

Medication errors appear to be one of the most common causes of medical errors, accounting for between 55% and 69% of all reported errors in veterinary medicine.3

What type of medication errors occur in veterinary practice?

Most (57.8%) of the medication errors in veterinary practice are a result of dosing mistakes, though administration of the wrong drug (18%) and administration at the wrong time (12.2%) are also common.3

It’s a similar story in human medicine. Improper dose (40.9%) and administration of the wrong drug (16%) are the most frequently reported medication errors, though giving a drug via the wrong route is also fairly common (9.5%).4 Knowledge deficits and miscommunications are the most common causes of these errors.

What causes medication errors in veterinary practice?

There are many potential ways that medication errors can happen in veterinary practice. Veterinarians or technicians may confuse drug names, especially those that look or sound alike. There can also be miscommunications when prescription information is relayed verbally to veterinary team members or when a written prescription is difficult to read. 

Calculation errors are another potential cause of medication errors, with one study finding that 14% of medication errors in human medicine were the result of math mistakes.5  

Stress and burnout can also contribute to medical errors. This is especially worrisome because medical errors can lead to more stress and burnout, which, in turn, results in more errors.1,2,6 Distractions and interruptions can also result in medical errors.6,7 

The error rate for pet owners administering drugs at home hasn’t been well studied, but patient error rates in human medicine are between 19%-59%.8  These mainly include taking the wrong dosage or wrong drug, but storing medications incorrectly and using expired medications were other potential sources of error.8

How serious are medication errors in veterinary practice? 

Thankfully, most medical errors do not result in serious harm or death.3 However, while it’s not common for in-hospital medication errors to result in adverse drug events in human medicine, when they do, they’re likely to be serious (68.2%) or fatal (9.8%).4,9

Even when no patients are harmed, medical errors can impact veterinary team members’ confidence, concentration, and happiness and result in guilt and burnout.1,3 

How Veterinarians Can Prevent Medication Errors in Practice

Rely on trusted drug information

Having access to a trusted source of accurate drug information is key to preventing medication errors. Plumb’s™ makes this simple by putting all the resources you need on one easy-to-use platform, accessible from any internet-connected device.

All the drug information in Plumb’s™ is continually updated by our team of experts. Every drug monograph features quick links to dosage information so you can confirm dosage and administration information in seconds and confidently treat your patient.

Avoid drug interactions with a drug interaction checker

It’s impossible to remember all the potential interactions between the drugs we prescribe, but human-specific drug interaction checkers don’t take species-specific information into account and leave dangerous information gaps. 

Plumb’s™ drug interaction checker is an interactive tool that’s specific to veterinary patients. It helps you safeguard your patients against potential adverse drug interactions. Enter all of your patient’s medications at once to see how each drug interacts with each of the others.

Double-check your calculations

Plumb’s™ built-in calculator makes it easier than ever to double-check dosages and common conversions right from the drug monograph you’re reviewing. On the mobile app, the calculator even slides up over the drug monograph, so you can make calculations and reference dosages at the same time.

Empower teamwork to prevent medical errors

Medicine is a team sport, and the entire veterinary team can help prevent medical errors. Giving your entire team of veterinarians and technicians access to accurate, continually updated information means everyone has the chance to double-check prescriptions and ensure patient safety.

Plumb’s™ has team and practice plans available that put the power of Plumb’s™ at everyone’s fingertips.

Handout: Prevent Common Medication Mistakes

Get a helpful visual reminder of common medication errors and the five Rs to print and place in your pharmacy or treatment area.

Download for Free

How Veterinarians Can Reduce Medication Errors by Pet Owners

Plumb’s™ drug handouts (formerly medication guides) not only help remind pet owners of the generic and brand names of medications (making mix-ups less likely), but they also remind owners why a specific medication is being given, how to store it, and what to do if they don’t use all of their pet’s medication. (Anything that makes them less likely to hang onto that amoxicillin from 2 years ago is a good thing, right?)

Plus, there’s space for you to add your own notes, such as what order medications should be given in or tips for administration.

There’s certainly room for more research on the scope, impact, causes, and solutions for medication errors in veterinary medicine. But in the meantime, the Plumb’s™ team is committed to providing and continuing to create resources that help you keep your patients safer than ever.

Already subscribed to Plumb’s™? Find the drug handout for the last drug you dispensed.

Think you could use the support of Plumb’s™ in your practice?
Choose your Plumb’s plan today.


  1. Hayes GM, LaLonde-Paul DF, Perret JL, et al. Investigation of burnout syndrome and job-related risk factors in veterinary technicians in specialty teaching hospitals: a multicenter cross-sectional study. J Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio). 2020;30(1):18-27. doi:10.1111/vec.12916 
  2. Kogan LR, Rishniw M, Hellyer PW, Schoenfeld-Tacher RM. Veterinarians’ experiences with near misses and adverse events. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2018;252(5):586-595. doi:10.2460/javma.252.5.586 
  3. Wallis J, Fletcher D, Bentley A, Ludders J. Medical errors cause harm in veterinary hospitals. Front Vet Sci. 2019;6:12. Published 2019 Feb 5. doi:10.3389/fvets.2019.00012 
  4. Phillips J, Beam S, Brinker A, et al. Retrospective analysis of mortalities associated with medication errors [published correction appears in Am J Health Syst Pharm 2001 Nov 15;58(22):2130]. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2001;58(19):1835-1841. doi:10.1093/ajhp/58.19.1835
  5. Conner B. Drug calculations in veterinary medical education—where are we? J Vet Med Educ. 2021;48(3):252-255. doi:10.3138/jvme.2019-0118 
  6. Hewitt, P. Nurses’ perceptions of the causes of medication errors: An integrative literature review. Medsurg Nurs. 2010;19(3):159-167.
  7. Hayes C, Jackson D, Davidson PM, Power T. Medication errors in hospitals: a literature review of disruptions to nursing practice during medication administration. J Clin Nurs. 2015;24(21-22):3063-3076. doi:10.1111/jocn.12944 
  8. Mira JJ, Lorenzo S, Guilabert M, Navarro I, Pérez-Jover V. A systematic review of patient medication error on self-administering medication at home. Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2015;14(6):815-838. doi:10.1517/14740338.2015.1026326 
  9. Bates DW, Boyle DL, Vander Vliet MB, Schneider J, Leape L. Relationship between medication errors and adverse drug events. J Gen Intern Med. 1995;10(4):199-205. doi:10.1007/BF02600255