Whole Dog Journal's Blog April 4, 2019

Access to Information About Drugs for Dogs is Complex

Posted at 11:12AM - Comments: (13)

Published in the March 2019 issue of Whole Dog Journal was an article headlined, “Reporting Dogs’ Adverse Reactions is Your Duty.” In the article, longtime WDJ contributor Barbara Dobbins discussed the various reasons that dog owners and veterinarians should report any sort of adverse event or negative side effects they observe in their dogs or their clients’ dogs to the agency that provides oversight of whatever substance they think has caused harm.

openFDA database open api

Dobbins also provided instruction on and links for sending adverse event reports to the appropriate agencies; for example, animal drugs are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA CVM); topical pesticides are monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); animal vaccines are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Veterinary Biologics (USDA CVB).

We complained about one thing in that article – that the CVM’s cumulative database of adverse drug event (ADE) summaries offers only reports that were collected by the agency from 1987 through April 30, 2013. More recent reports have been collected electronically – and ironically, these more technologically modern reports have not been made available to the interested public, except through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The problem, as it was explained on the CVM’s website, was that the project of collating the (old) paper reports with the newer, electronically submitted reports was not complete. A note on the CVM website stated, “We anticipate having updated adverse event information available in late 2017 or early 2018.” (But the note, and not the updated adverse event reports, was still present on the website in January 2019!)

openFDA database open api

On April 3, 2019, the FDA issued a press release, announcing that it is making the adverse event reports related to animal drugs and medical devices used in animals available online – including all the reports going back some 30 years. The reports “will be available electronically on openFDA.gov, an agency-run digital platform used by researchers, statisticians and other academics to access large, valuable public health datasets collected by the FDA.”

Hurray! The project is complete! This giant new step in transparency makes it possible for a dog owner or veterinarian to research what sorts of adverse effects to a certain drug (for example) have been experienced by dogs, and how many dogs have been affected in those ways! Wow! Cool!

But before we celebrate our new ability to check out the past ADEs, we will have to master some new and tricky (although certainly not impossible) application programming interfaces (APIs).

openFDA database open api

What the Heck is An API?

According to Wikipedia: “In computer programming, an application programming interface (API) is a set of subroutine definitions, communication protocols, and tools for building software. In general terms, it is a set of clearly defined methods of communication among various components.”

The computer programmers among our readers may just be as happy with this news as my dog Woody with his Planet Dog Squeak ball. Alas, I am not a computer programmer, and my initial excitement over the FDA news release has been thoroughly squashed by the hour or so I spent trying to learn about APIs and how to construct queries and, oh, by the way, when doing so, please note that the system makes use of British English spellings of words like “diarrhoea.”

My squashing, I hope, is temporary. I’m sure I know someone who can walk me through and past this technological challenge – perhaps to a point where I could explain to others how to access all of this valuable information on animal drugs. If you think that person might be you, take a look at the launch site, and get back to me?

Comments (13)

My dog is on a LOT of meds and I would love to know the adverse effects ~ why is this such a difficult thing to acquire? I could probably teach a class on some of the drugs she has taken, sadly. Also, is there some reason this is not readily available? WholeDogJournal does such an outstanding job of offering vast information on almost every subject & is read avidly by both my husband and I. Thank you for all you do!

Posted by: queene3 | April 9, 2019 9:53 AM    Report this comment

Well I tried it and managed something; then I unleashed DH (retired SW engineer and prof of data science) on it with the name of 1 of the meds we use with 1 of our dogs. He has been able to search with success. He tells me it is only because he has a lot of background, tacit knowledge on how to frame and reframe queries and it would be hard for him to help a non-geek do that easily. He also says the data sets are very messy (example, searching for a list of all active ingredients in the data produces results that include things like tablets, malate and other things that are not active ingredients; breed is similarly unreliable; there is confusion among primary brand, active ingredient name and generic brands, etc.). He compared it to the FDA human drug site which is a model of clarity and accuracy by comparison.

Posted by: SAnd | April 5, 2019 3:01 PM    Report this comment

I don't agree. It's just an issue of accepting the parameters of "syntax" for making an inquiry. This is not much different than entering a "search" at your local library, and becoming aware of the various ways that the particular system employed filters information as it responds to "tags" that the data entry is done with. You find yourself getting results that are too broad until you hone the words you enter to do a search. It's not much different than setting up an alternate Email address and being "forbidden" to use certain characters, or, being required to ensure for lack of "blank spaces," etc. As far as using unfamiliar spellings of words, anyone used to interacting with people of differing nationalities would not find that challenging.

Posted by: JEMast | April 5, 2019 8:30 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, I created one example for you and added it to my public gist on github, let me know if that helps, to access it you have to take the following text and change the [:][/][/] to ://

https[:][/][/]gist.github.com/srimoyee/be7cba7db17fb11cb1f0e4157ad2309b

Posted by: srimoyee | April 4, 2019 7:55 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, I can definitely help you here, but you will have to give me some information you are looking for and I can use that as an example and try to help you walk through it.
I took a glance at the API documentation and looks like the dedicated api for animal/Veterinary only deals with animal drugs, no food related information there. With the generic API, I tried running some queries, and I found results for human brands, e.g., pepsi, but nothing for dog food brand names like purina.
For example, /food/event.json?search

Posted by: srimoyee | April 4, 2019 7:46 PM    Report this comment

Leroy, you made my day! 😎🐾❤️

Posted by: TerriBelle | April 4, 2019 6:40 PM    Report this comment

I work with other OpenFDA datasets all the time. Using APIs is not that difficult. I will be willing to offer some guidance.

Posted by: Mocjjhil | April 4, 2019 6:32 PM    Report this comment

If anyone figures out how to find adverse events by dog food brand name and kind associated with diet related dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs would you share it?

Happy to however sadly we are not allowed to put links, even FDA links, in the comments.
Maybe Nancy Kerns or someone with authority can help you out.

It’s a research in progress with veterinary cardiologists reporting, collecting data and analyzing the information.

Posted by: K9srule | April 4, 2019 4:49 PM    Report this comment

Like you said, good news and then the bad news for access. Someone will figure it out at some point.

Posted by: WileyCoyote*2019 | April 4, 2019 4:36 PM    Report this comment

If anyone figures out how to find adverse events by dog food brand name and kind associated with diet related dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs would you share it?

Posted by: Molly's Pack | April 4, 2019 4:20 PM    Report this comment

Of course it's difficult to use! I wouldn't expect anything less from the FDA. I'm frankly surprised they've made it available at all!

Posted by: Feistdog | April 4, 2019 3:54 PM    Report this comment

Not to rain on your parade but my company works with APIs all the time in connecting with our client's order management systems. We have an on staff programmer who programs these interfaces for us. I don't think it's a simple thing and perhaps that's why the FDA made it that way. Hopefully someone who reads this will have a simple way to accomplish the task.

Posted by: YIKMDLF | April 4, 2019 3:30 PM    Report this comment

Where is Timothy McGee when you need him?

Posted by: Leroy | April 4, 2019 3:27 PM    Report this comment

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