By CHUCK SCHULTZ
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
A Solvang woman and hundreds of other pet owners nationwide
recently received lawsuit settlements from Pfizer Corp. because
they allegedly were not warned that giving a certain arthritis
drug to dogs could be fatal.
Lillian Seldeen said her English springer spaniel Murphy
died in November 1997 after being administered the drug Rimadyl
periodically for several months.
Convinced that side effects from Rimadyl caused the dog's
death -- even though her veterinarian strongly doubts there
was a connection -- Ms. Seldeen joined in a class-action suit
against Pfizer filed in October 1999 by Jean Townsend of South
Ms. Townsend's Labrador retriever allegedly developed severe
internal bleeding and suffered from liver failure after being
administered Rimadyl for 14 days. The dog was put to sleep
in October 1997. The lawsuit claimed neither Ms. Townsend
nor her veterinarian were adequately warned of Rimadyl's potential
However, no such adverse reactions appeared during the limited
testing of Rimadyl required by the federal Food and Drug Administration
before the drug hit the market in 1997, according to Bob Fauteux,
a spokesman for Pfizer Animal Health in New York.
"This drug was so enthusiastically received that very
quickly after its launch, hundreds of thousands of dogs were
on Rimadyl," he said. Only then "did Pfizer become
aware that serious side effects could occur, but very rarely.
We did indeed get some reports of serious side effects, which
we promptly reported to the FDA."
Warnings on Rimadyl packaging were modified in 1998, including
listing death as a potential consequence. Information sheets
about possible side effects were also distributed to veterinarians,
Mr. Fauteux said. Information about Rimadyl, also known as
carprofen, is available online at www.rimadyl.com.
In the past seven years, the drug has been administered to
about 10 million dogs, Mr. Fauteux said. "It is far and
away the leading medication for canine pain and inflammation,
offering the overwhelming majority of dogs safe and effective
relief without serious side effects."
Ms. Seldeen, who owns Singing Dog Ranch in Solvang, said she
received a settlement from Pfizer in July for $971, which
included her veterinary expenses and attorney fees. She hopes
the suit will make owners more aware of the potential dangers
of treating dogs with nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs) like Rimadyl.
Another of her English springer spaniels died last month,
she said, after being administered a similar drug called Deeramax
only five times.
"Far more dogs are helped by these drugs than are hurt,"
she conceded. "I'm not on a crusade to get these drugs
off the market. I just want people to be aware of the potential
Her veterinarian, Dr. Ronald Faro of St. Francis Pet Clinic,
said he frequently prescribes Rimadyl for dogs and believes
the drug "had absolutely nothing to do with" the
death of Ms. Seldeen's dog in 1997. "I have not had any
instances of problems with Rimadyl," he said.
However, "there is no question in my mind," he
added, that use of Deeramax caused the death of her other
Deeramax is made by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and a company
spokesman said Friday that side effects resulting in death
are extremely rare.
"Deeramax has helped safely control arthritis problems
in millions of dogs," said Joe Burkett at Novartis Animal
Health in Greensboro, N.C. "As with any drug, adverse
events can happen. Whenever an adverse event is reported,
we do investigate it completely."
Pfizer agreed to settle the South Carolina lawsuit rather
than go to trial, Mr. Fauteux said, "strictly as a more
efficient way to resolve these claims. Pfizer never admitted
any liability whatsoever in this case."
According to Ms. Townsend, Pfizer made cash offers averaging
more than $1,000 apiece to settle claims for injury or death
from about 300 dog owners nationwide. "I am pleased that,
through this suit, hundreds of other pet owners will be reimbursed
for veterinary expenses and the loss of their pets,"
she stated in a written release. An even more important result,
she noted, "is the growing public awareness that medications
we give our pets can have serious side effects."
Reprinted with permission from the Santa Barbara News-Press
RAFAEL MALDONADO / NEWS-PRESS