Sticker shock is a term more related to buying a car than taking care of a pet, but pet medications can be surprisingly expensive.
Discouraged by rising costs at the vet’s office, pet owners have turned to their computers to see if heartworm medication or antibiotics are cheaper online.
But is it safe to buy your pet medications online?
Prices drive options
There are a number of reasons the $7 billion pet medication industry has seen increased prices, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which looked into the issue during a daylong conference in October 2012. New and improved diagnostic and therapeutic treatments are now available, plus owners and vets have placed an increased emphasis on preventative care to control ticks, fleas and heartworm in dogs and cats. The sale of prescription and over-the-counter flea, tick and heartworm products make up more than half of all pet medication expenditures, according to the FTC.
“American consumers spend a tremendous amount of money on medications for their pets every year. High prices on these medications mean that consumers have less money for necessities,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “An increasing array of options for consumers to purchase their pet medications has begun to lead, we believe, to lower prices and increased consumer choice, certainly in a few pet medicines. It’s important that these medications are safe and effective.”
Today pet owners have options on where to purchase their pets medications that were not available in the past, said veterinarian Glenn Buckley, chief executive officer of Pet Rescue Rx.
“Today many big-box retailers and online pharmacies carry pet medications. The benefit of purchasing online is the convenience and the savings for the consumer. … Online pharmacies do not have the overhead costs of running a retail pet supply store, and as a result the prices we offer can be significantly lower,” Buckley said.
Founded in June, Pet Rescue Rx is unique in that it donates 100 percent of net profits to animal shelters and rescue groups selected by its customers.
“We are doing this because as a veterinarian and shelter volunteer, I have witnessed firsthand the tremendous job the staff and volunteers do, and they need help,” Buckley said.
Check for legitimacy
To save money, discount pet drugs — no prescription required — may appeal to pet owners surfing the Web, but FDA experts say it can be risky to buy drugs online from sites that tout this message.
Some websites that sell pet drugs represent legitimate, reputable pharmacies, said Martine Hartogensis, deputy director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. But others are fronts for unscrupulous businesses operating against the law. FDA has found companies that sell unapproved pet drugs and counterfeit pet products, make fraudulent claims, dispense prescription drugs without requiring a prescription and sell expired drugs.
Page 2 of 2 - Pet owners who purchase drugs from these companies may think they are saving money, but they may be short-changing their pet’s health and putting its life at risk, Hartogensis said.
To be sure you’re dealing with a legitimate company, “customers should check to see that the pharmacy is located in the United States and has one of the credentials of a safe and secure pharmacy as recognized by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. These credentials include LegitScript, Vet-VIPPS and Pharmacy Checker,” said Buckley.
Even though the medication is available at the vet’s office, pet owners often have a choice where to buy as long as they have a prescription in hand. Many retailers even offer generic medicines for just a few dollars with a vet’s prescription.
“In some states a veterinarian is required to give a written prescription if the pet owner asks. The American Veterinary Medical Association believes that is an ethical practice for the veterinarian to provide a prescription if requested, even if state law does not require it,” Buckley said.
Most online pharmacies, such as Pet Rescue Rx, function similarly to other online retailers. The customer selects the products for purchase and enters the required information at checkout. Prescription medications require verification from the customer’s veterinarian before shipping. The pharmacist will contact the veterinarian for approval and check all instructions for use.