Veterinary pharmacology is a branch of pharmacology, the study of drugs, which is concerned with medications which can be used with animals, ranging from topical flea management medications for cats and dogs to antibiotics which can be used to treat infections in elephants. Veterinary pharmacologists work for pharmaceutical companies, veterinary schools, zoological parks, and organizations which conduct research which is intended to advance veterinary science. People who work in this field have advanced degrees in pharmacology and veterinary science.
Like pharmacologists who study drugs which can be used on people, veterinary pharmacologists are interested in the molecular structure of drugs, how drugs work, safe drug dosages, side effects associated with drugs, the discovery of new drugs, new applications for existing medications, drug treatment protocols, and a variety of related topics. Veterinary pharmacology is much more complex than human pharmacology, because it involves the application of pharmacology to a number of species, instead of just one, and the reactions to pharmaceuticals in many animal species is poorly understood.
The major market in veterinary pharmacology is in drugs for domestic pets and animals used in agriculture. Pet owners spend large volumes of money each year on their cats and dogs, with pets such as hamsters, rats, and birds also being quite popular, and some of this money is spent on pharmaceuticals. Routine drugs such as over the counter flea medications are steady sellers in the veterinary pharmaceutical industry, along with drugs used in medical treatment and the management of disease. Pet owners are also continually demanding new treatments and standards of care, which often involve pharmaceuticals.
Veterinary pharmaceuticals are also important to the agriculture industry. Drugs which keep cattle, chickens, and pigs healthy are utilized all over the world, along with pharmaceuticals which are designed to improve performance, such as growth hormones. Each of these species requires a different approach; drugs which work in a cow, for example, might be dangerous to a chicken, or ineffective in a pig. Other farm animals like goats, sheep, ducks, geese, and horses also routinely require pharmaceutical products like dewormers and antibiotics. Formulating safe medications for farm animals is a complex task in veterinary pharmacology.
Developing safe pharmaceuticals for animals in conservation parks, as well as wild animals, is another aspect of veterinary pharmacology. Zoos are often at the last frontier of veterinary science, as they have rare and exotic animals which can present unique challenges, ranging from formulating milk for a baby koala which has been rejected by its mother to finding a safe general anesthetic for a tiger. Developing pharmaceuticals for animals in zoos is especially complex because some are endangered and very valuable, making it critical that the medications used are safe, reliable, and effective.