Internet pharmacies, 800 numbers, catalogs, big box stores, and retail chains have all, to one degree or another, gotten into the pet drug business. These changes have left both pet owners and veterinarians confused and a little worried: Will human pharmacists get pet prescriptions right? How can you tell if a website offering medications is legitimate?
People typically seek out alternate sources of medications in order to save money. Veterinarians often can’t compete with other suppliers because, like mom and pop human drugstores, they frequently have to pay more wholesale for drugs than chain pharmacies charge for them retail.
Making the situation even more complicated, there are plenty of unscrupulous businesses using the internet to sell mislabeled, expired, and outright fraudulent medications to consumers. But even if you’re using the same reputable human pharmacy that supplies your family’s medications, no human pharmacist is an expert in veterinary drugs – a reality that can come with a lot of risk.
So what’s a pet owner to do? Here’s a guide to your options:
1. Your pet’s veterinarian. This is the traditional source of veterinary drugs and, in many ways, the most familiar and hassle-free for everyone involved. Your vet examines your pet, works out with you what testing will be done, and packages and dispenses any prescribed medications. You pay for everything on your way out the door.
But there are reasons other than habit and convenience to get your pet's medications from his vet. Unlike your local pharmacist, your vet is an expert in animal health. She can give you information on side effects, contraindications, and how to administer the drug that a human pharmacist is not likely to have. (If you've ever picked up a prescription for your pet from a human pharmacist and read the sticker warning about not operating heavy machinery or drinking alcohol while taking the medication, you'll know what I mean.)
Your pet's veterinarian will also be able to ensure that the drugs she's dispensing are properly stored, handled, and labeled, and that they're not expired. While that's certainly also true of a reputable human pharmacy, it's not something you can take for granted when shopping online, from an 800 number, or through a catalog.
2. A human pharmacy. The price difference between human and veterinary medications can be substantial, particularly if the medication is one of those available at loss-leader prices at a chain pharmacy, or if you have a discount card. I once paid a veterinarian $60 for a pain medication that, when I refilled it at my local pharmacy, cost me $8. Particularly with medication for chronic conditions, or even a one-time prescription for a large dog, the savings can be substantial.
Of course, you won't always save money at a human pharmacy, but for long term prescriptions, expensive drugs, and medications for which there is a less expensive human alternative, it's well worth discussing your options with your veterinarian.
Just be aware that some human pharmacists have made dangerous changes to pet prescriptions without consulting the prescribing veterinarian, simply because they lack veterinary training.(?)
Internet pharmacies, catalogs, and 800 numbers. Blindly ordering prescription drugs off the internet without your veterinarian’s knowledge is a recipe for disaster. Even a veterinarian who is happy to write a prescription to be filled at the drugstore down the street may not feel the same if she knows her clients will be filling it through certain internet, catalog, or 800 number pharmacies — often with very good reason.
There are websites selling prescription human and veterinary drugs without requiring a prescription. While many human-drug sites offer their own online consultations with doctors who rubber-stamp the prescription, some veterinary drug sites don't even bother with that formality. They may be located in other countries which may or may not have the same standards as the United States, or they may be entirely fraudulent.
The bottom line is this: Pet owners need to do some research before buying medications online. If you're using a human pharmacy, make sure it has received Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) certification from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. These pharmacies "must comply with the licensing and inspection requirements of their state and each state to which they dispense pharmaceuticals." You can check if an internet pharmacy has this certification on the NABP website.
VIPPS certification is not available for veterinary pharmacies, so you'll have to do a little more homework for those, just as you will for catalog companies and 800 numbers. Start by searching online for consumer reviews, legal notices, and your state's board of pharmacy listings of companies that have had legal and regulatory actions filed or taken against them. Make sure the pharmacy is licensed to do business in your state and check with the Better Business Bureau in the area where the company is located.