My new puppy went for her “good health” check with the veterinarian today. By the time the visit was finished, I had racked up a bill for a couple hundred dollars — most of it in pet medications. She wasn’t even “sick”!
Considering the issue of rising health-care costs for humans and animals — especially the escalating prices of medicine — it is no wonder the lure of self-diagnosis is standard practice for most people. It is explains why buying online at “cheaper” prices is so alluring.
Finding any product at a reduced price is just smart consumer economics. But is cheaper better, or is it dangerous? What are the risks and benefits if you buy pet meds without a prescription? I hope this article helps explain things.
Buy Pet Meds Without a Prescription?
By now you’ve probably already seen the bold-faced claims. For example, one online pet pharmacy, boasting that its services are “As Seen on NBC,” tries to reel in unsuspecting visitors with these alluring statements:
“Tired of your Vet controlling where you can buy your pet medications cheaper? Wouldn’t it be easier to buy your pet, animal, veterinary and livestock supplies and medications no prescription required? No Vet needed and save 70% off at the same time.”
Quite a few online pharmacies dispense pet meds, and they’ll often even offer free shipping, but buyer beware — the medicine may not arrive as it was advertised. The FDA, in fact, is extremely worried about the “dangerous practice” of pharmacies making fraudulent claims and selling unapproved or expired drugs. The agency cites particular worry over NSAIDs and heartworm medications, which can be dangerous or life-threatening without proper medical guidance.
Understand this: Prescriptions are not “magic formulas.”
If your pet requires medication, it is always best to have the appropriate drug and dosage prescribed by a veterinarian.
Be Safe: Look for the VIPPS Seal
When you are ready to purchase, make sure you are getting the correct medication by using a reputable pharmacy, especially if you order online.
Legal prescription medication is strictly regulated for your protection. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) monitors the compliance of state and federal regulations. NABP reports that as many as 99 percent of online distributors of medications do not operate within the conformity of FDA-sanctioned controls. NABP provides a Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS) seal of approval for web businesses operating within guidelines.
Check any online pharmacy for the VIPPS certification before you order.
Good examples include 1-800-PetMeds and Doctors Foster and Smith. According to Dr. Race Foster, although some outfits “merely fill and ship orders,” his own pharmacy realizes “that behind every prescription is a special companion animal who deserves the best.” Meanwhile, 1-800-PetMeds says that it will not allow you to buy pet meds without a prescrition: You “must have an authorization before they are dispensed.”
Benefits of Buying Pet Meds Online
Here are some benefits to buying from reputable pharmacies:
- Easy and convenient — particularly if your pet is on a maintenance drug. You can have the prescription sent right to your door.
- Eliminates embarrassment, perhaps more in the case of personal use than pet use.
- Provides easy online access to pharmacists to answer questions about medication.
For certain flea control products such as Frontline Plus, K9 Advantix, Advantage or Bio Spot, prescriptions are not likely required.
Beware of Online Pharmacies That Do These Things
All the advantages of online ordering are compelling, and with good judgment it is safe. But do NOT use an online pharmacy for any medication if:
- Prescriptions are offered without a medical exam.
- Prices are dramatically lower than the competition.
- Drugs are from an unknown origin or unknown quality.
- Prescriptions are sold without an order from a licensed medical professional — it’s against the law.
- Meds are sold that are not FDA-approved.
- Contact information, including a phone number and physical address, is not available and confirmed.
- The business does not publish security and privacy information.
- “Miracle drugs” or “cure-all” drugs are promoted for a variety of illnesses.
- There is no Vet-VIPPS certification.
DO look for the following FDA-recommended “signs of a trustworthy website”:
- It is located in the United States.
- It is licensed by a state board of pharmacy (a list is available on the NABP website; see “Additional Resources” below).
- It provides a licensed pharmacist to answer questions.
- It requires a prescription from a licensed provider.
- It provides complete contact information and allows you to talk with a person about problems or concerns.
The FDA cautions that many online companies offering pet drugs without prescriptions operate illegally. The products they offer are often counterfeit, they make false product claims and they sell expired drugs.
For the pet owner trying to save money, the practice of ordering unsafe medication may prove to be a very costly mistake. Some medicines produced outside of the legislation of the FDA may not contain the appropriate active ingredients, rendering it ineffective or, worse, toxic. This is especially true of nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), perhaps the most commonly dispensed type of drug from online sources.
Medications used for preventives against illness and parasites such as heartworms may not be effective. If an animal is not monitored and regularly tested for heartworms, this could be fatal. Another potentially dangerous condition will arise if heartworm medication is administered to an animal already infected with the parasites.
Watch this quick video update direct from the FDA:
The Best Rule
The best rule for your pet when it comes to drugs is simple: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
If your animal requires medication, she needs to be examined first by a veterinarian! Simple. Sure, you may pay for an office visit, but you are buying the best, most responsible care for your loved one. In the long run, you will save on all counts!
- Food and Drug Administration: Purchasing pet drugs online
- National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Vet-VIPPS: List of reputable online pharmacies