Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Pitfalls of Buying Pet Medication from Someone Other than Your Veterinarian, by Dr. Dana Lewis

April 27 - dog medicine
Internet pharmacies and big box store commercials would have you believe that you're just throwing your money away if you buy your prescription medications, or heartworm and flea preventatives from your veterinarian. But these pharmacies have some drawbacks that you should be aware of: You still need a prescription from your veterinarian in order to get your medications, some pharmacies use questionable products, products might not be guaranteed by the manufacturer if complications arise, if you purchase non-prescription medications from an online pet pharmacy or any other pharmacy or pet store you need to make sure to talk with your veterinarian to avoid harmful medication interactions, and one more thing that is going to surprise a lot of people- these other pharmacies are making veterinary care more expensive , not less. Let’s start with that shocker first.

Pharmacies are making veterinary care more expensive – not less

Running a veterinary hospital is a business. Yes, we love animals, and yes we want to take care of them and make you happy but it costs money to pay the staff, the rent/mortgage, utilities, all the infrastructure (anesthesia machines, blood analyzers, microscope, computers, etc.) that makes a hospital run smoothly. We do nearly all the medicine and surgery stuff done in human hospitals but without the headaches and profits from having to deal with insurance companies.

Unfortunately, some things have changed in veterinary medicine that makes other costs go up, including losing a lot of the pharmacy revenue; changes in vaccine recommendations which eliminated some of the yearly vaccination revenue, and drug companies selling directly to pet owners rather than through veterinarians (this is why you see flea medications that you used to get only through your vet being sold in big box stores).

How veterinarians used to pay the bills: Get as many pet owners in the door as possible by charging a small fee for an office visit to keep the costs to access to veterinary care low. If an animal was ill and needed diagnostics or procedures to work-up a problem, procedures and diagnostics were performed and pet owners with sick animals were charged accordingly. If medications were needed, they were dispensed to the pet owner at a reasonable profit. The veterinarian had a lot of clients and patients coming in and bonding with the practice, ensuring the bills would be paid, and pet owners came to the vet for minor problems. The quicker a problem is dealt with, the less it often costs because it has not grown in significance to a much bigger issue.

But since people are filling more of their prescriptions outside our offices, the fees have to change. The office fee has gone up. Procedures, diagnostics, and preventative care are more expensive to help defray the costs previously recouped by selling medication. Or the vet feels they cannot afford to keep those diagnostic machines in office anymore and refer you to a specialty hospital, costing you time and more money.

What does a prescription mean?

Per the guidelines of the American Veterinary Medical Association, "Veterinary prescription drugs are to be used or prescribed only within the context of a veterinarian- client-patient relationship." This means that you and your pet must have a valid relationship with a veterinarian in order for them to prescribe medication for you. As a result, when veterinarians get faxes for pet pharmacies requesting medication for animals we have never examined, or haven't examined in over a year, these requests will be denied. Human medicine works the same way. Your doctor is not going to risk your health and their license and call in a prescription for you if they don’t see you first. Veterinarians need to know your pet and what we are treating before we prescribe.

Beware of foreign and counterfeit products

Some online pet pharmacies are more reliable than others. If the pharmacy is offering you a deal that seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Some online pharmacies have sold medicines that are counterfeit, outdated, mislabeled, incorrectly formulated, or improperly made or stored. These medicines may not contain the actual drug, may contain contaminants, or the incorrect amount of drug, may not work as well due to age, or being stored in conditions that were too hot, cold, etc. Be aware of the pharmacy’s return or refund policies. The pharmacy should be easy to contact- an address, phone number and an e-mail address should be listed on the website. One way to check an internet pharmacy's reputation is to look for the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) seal of approval. It is a service of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. The VIPPS web site ( lists qualifying on-line pharmacies.

Some disreputable pharmacies may sell foreign or counterfeit products. Items like flea and heartworm preventatives are more common targets for this problem. Luckily this isn't too widespread at the moment but it does still happen. On more than one occasion I’ve had a client complain about a flea product that didn't work, and when they showed me the product, it was a counterfeit.

Another problem with on-line pharmacies is that they may not be selling drugs approved in the US. These products have different strengths and labeling than US products. Look closely at medicine ordered online. I had this happen when someone ordered heartworm prevention and they were confused because the weight limit on the medication was in kilograms instead of pounds. They brought it in for me to see and the pharmacy was dispensing product from Australia. This is illegal in the US.

Use caution combining prescription and over the counter medications.

Just like when you go to the doctor and then to your pharmacy, inform your veterinarian if you give your pet any natural, holistic, homeopathic, or other over-the-counter (OTC) medications or supplements. It is important to avoid any harmful medication interactions with prescriptions your pet is already taking, or that your veterinarian may prescribe in the future.

An example of what can go wrong: a client administered the prescription that we recommended for her dog’s arthritis. What she failed to tell us, was that she was giving her pet an OTC product containing a salicylate, which is related to and has side effects like aspirin. She didn’t think of that as a medication because it was not a prescription. Luckily for her dog, it didn’t cause a fatal gastrointestinal bleeding ulcer because we found out when the dog started vomiting that she was giving this other product. As your pet’s health care advocate, you lovingly assume responsibility for their welfare and provide them with the best care possible, so, medicate them wisely.

See article in print publication -->
(Jump to pages 10 and 11)

Dana Lewis, DVM

Read more or contact Dr. Dana:
Dana Lewis, DVM
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice
Raleigh, North Carolina  |

Dr. Dana assists families with Pet Hospice and Euthanasia in the Raleigh North Carolina area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle, as well as Wake, Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.

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