Ask the Doctors: How to Choose the Right Medications—For You and Your Pet

Ask the Doctors: How to Choose the Right Medications—For You and Your Pet

Here’s how to tell what birth control and pet probiotics are best for your family.

Q: I need to change birth control pills because the one I’m taking is giving me headaches. What’s the best way to find a new pill and do I need a month off or anything? — Marsha B., Albuquerque, NM

A: You might need to change your birth control method entirely, so see your regular GP and get a complete physical with blood tests. Your GP can review not only your past health history, but look at all other medications and supplements you’re taking and spot anything that might be combining with the oral contraceptives to cause health problems and headaches. Also, blood clots are a risk associated with taking birth control pills, so if you stay on the pills, we think it’s smart to ask your doc about taking an 81mg aspirin daily (unless you do extreme sports or have other bleeding risks).

Birth control pills are a combination of estrogen and progesterone hormones, and different brands offer different ratios and doses of each. If your doctor says to try another formulation, don’t leave a gap between ending one pill and starting another. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, you should use a condom during transition if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy. If not monogamous, condoms are always necessary with or without oral pills to help prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Finding an oral contraception that works for you has many benefits. Besides being 99 percent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy, there’s decreased cramping; less emotional swings; regular, lighter or no periods; and your risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer is cut in half. Although there was a study two years ago that claimed hormonal birth control increased breast cancer risk, a new study from the National Cancer Institute says among younger women using oral contraception, there’s no increased risk of breast cancer—and it may even reduce their risk.

But, if you try other pill formulations and still experience side effects, there are many other options, including implants, diaphragms, IUDs and injections. Talk to your doc about the risks and benefits of each. You can track your medications with Sharecare, a free app for iOS and Android.

Q: My dog is getting up there in doggy years and our veterinarian recommended adding a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement for his stiff joints. Would probiotics be a better choice for his energy level and overall health? — Jayme W., Portland, OR

A: Your instincts are spot on, Jayme. A critical 2017 Canadian review stated: “Glucosamine and chondroitin are commonly recommended by veterinarians as an alternative for treating osteoarthritis in canines unable to tolerate the adverse effects of NSAIDs, or as add-on therapy. Although glucosamine and chondroitin have benign adverse effect profiles, the clinical benefit of using these agents remains questionable.” Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. However, when it comes to giving your pup probiotics—the beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive tract and often need to be supplemented—well, that’s another story.

One study from the UK has shown that when a probiotic and a prebiotic (that’s high-fiber food) are introduced together into a kenneled dog’s diet, that can reduce diarrhea, which is a frequent cause of morbidity for those pups. 

But according to an article in Whole Dog Journal, all poochers can benefit from probiotics, “which aid digestion and modulate the immune system.” That not only puts the brakes on diarrhea, but reduces overall inflammation, which can only be good for aging and aching joints.

The article also adds that, “If probiotics are being used to help with digestion, they should be taken with meals, but otherwise they may survive better if given between meals, particularly if taken with liquid that helps to dilute stomach acid and move them more quickly into the digestive tract … Probiotics may be given short-term or long-term.”

Pet probiotics can include Enterococcus, Bifidobacteriums and Lactobacillus acidophilus. (Purina’s Fortiflora is well-respected and has good reviews.) Check with your vet for the proper doses for your dog’s weight and age.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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