Disposing Of Pets’ Unwanted Medication

Marty writes to ask what to do with leftover medication that a deceased pet was unable to use.

Our sympathy and our prayers go out to Marty in this time of loss. Every MyPetsDoctor.com reader can relate to the sad feeling of a pet lost to disease, injury or old age. To allow that pet to help another pet can be very gratifying to the grieving pet owner.

We may also experience leftover medication when a particular drug doesn’t work for a patient or illness we’re treating and we’re forced to change to a different drug.

“Disposal” is the last option we will evaluate, because there are higher and better uses for unused medications than disposing of them, though we will discuss what is safe when disposal is the only option.

Your pet’s doctor is the first place to start, as every veterinarian keeps a supply of used, returned and recently-outdated medication to facilitate treatment of pets for whom their owners cannot afford medication. Routine medications such as antibiotics, heart drugs, thyroid hormone replacement, diuretics, ointments, medicated shampoos and chemotherapy drugs may be candidates for re-dispensing.

Controlled substances, also called “scheduled” drugs, should be returned to the source from whom they were obtained. These are medications the federal government has determined have a high potential for abuse by humans. They are easily identified by the presence of a large “C” followed by a Roman numeral I-V.  Handling and destruction of such medications is strictly controlled by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Your veterinarian will have an accurate diagnosis before re-dispensing these “used” medications at no charge, so there is no danger in using other pets’ medications.

Never does a week go by that we don’t have at least one pet owner who needs help with the cost of his pet’s treatment, so free medication goes a long way to ensuring these unfortunate pets get well.

Another useful place to take your leftover medication is your local humane shelter. There is one caveat: call first to know whether they have a veterinarian on staff. If no veterinarian is in residence medications may be misused, administered for the wrong illness or even go unused because a lay staff member doesn’t know what is proper. We want our leftover medications to get put to good use, not to sit around and go to waste.

If you have specialized drugs, such as chemotherapeutics, which your local veterinarian may not be able to use, consider returning them to the oncologist or other specialist who dispensed them.

If none of the above options is available to you, consider the following.

Find out whether your community participates in a periodic Pharmaceutical Take-Back Program. These are events held to properly destroy leftover medications according to each medication’s unique characteristics. By participating in such an event you have no worries about where your medication will end up.

The federal government’s own Web sites are at odds on proper disposal. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends pouring medications down the toilet. However, such a tactic may result in the medication contaminating groundwater, surface water and potentially, drinking water intended for humans.  MyPetsDoctor.com cannot condone this approach.

A better approach is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. EPA recommends first removing medications from the original containers. Then, mix the medicine with what they call an “undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter.” Then, put the mixture into a sealable can or impermeable plastic bag before dropping it into a garbage container.

Be sure that the disposal takes place on a schedule and manner that will prevent children and animals from getting into the garbage.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.


  1. Hooray! I called the local no-kill shelter and they said they could take unopened medicines and prescription foods no problem and give them to people who can’t afford the medicines and food for their pets. THANK YOU!!!! (I don’t know about opened medicines. I just over-ordered for my cat and the medicine is expiring this month so I didn’t want it to go to waste.)

    • Great outcome, thank you. If the shelter doesn’t want the opened or expired medicine, many wildlife rehab facilities will take those. Thanks for reading, Dr. Randolph.

    • The answer depends a LOT on locality. I can’t say what the FDA would do or not do, but I doubt they have the manpower or the will to police veterinarians who are GIVING AWAY to the needy medications that are donated back by caring pet owners. There could be overriding statutes locally or in your state. Thanks for reading, Dr. Randolph.

  2. We took our dog in Friday, he deteriorate rapidly. The vet on Friday prescribe $200.00 worth of meds including Posatex andMeloxidyl. After contacting them, they refused to take the UNOPENED, UNUSED meds back, stating is was illegal. Is this true?

    • Yes, it is a violation of federal law. Unfortunately, we cannot always predict the outcome of cases, and, sometimes, medication is used only once that becomes useless. We join your sadness in the loss of your pet. Dr. Randolph.

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