Advertisements for online pharmacies and drug discounts – for humans – abound. Order your drugs cheaper and get them delivered to your door, the ads promise. Companies are springing up that offer the same deals for your pet’s medications. Should you take advantage?
Not necessarily, warns a report out from the California Veterinary Medical Association, the largest state vet association in the United States. While this group does have a vested interest in making sure you get your pet’s prescriptions straight from your vet’s office, they bring up some good points.
“Without the involvement of their pet’s local veterinarian, pet owners could be inadvertently giving their animal incorrect, if not fatal, doses,” says Dr. Peter Weinstein, CVMA president. “We urge all pet owners to be aware of the potential problems of online prescription drugs to ensure the best possible care for their animal friends.”
Some of those areas to be cautious about include:
- Giving medications that your vet may not know about. Keeping your prescriptions in one place means a health professional can monitor the entire group of medications given. This means fewer side effects from mixing incompatible pills, and help with setting a schedule for best results.
- Ordering from an unlicensed pharmacy. It goes without saying that such an establishment may not have the experience or ability to provide top-notch products or product information.
- Receiving drugs that are not the correct potency. Pets can get too much or too little of a medication.
- Buying drugs that have been stored or shipped incorrectly. Prescriptions that need to be kept in a controlled environment should always be purchased at your vet’s office, but other substances may suffer from being kept in a cold warehouse or hot delivery truck.
- Not receiving information with the drugs about how to store and dose them.
The best drugs to buy from online or mail order veterinary pharmacies include flea and tick treatment, heartworm medication, and drugs for bone and joint care. Non-prescription items like pet nutritional supplements can also be good deals online, but you may not get the same kind of help that you can at local businesses that sell vitamins and supplements.
Even when you order these basic medications through the mail, you need to be diligent about checking that you received the right product and the right dosage. Flea medication, for instance, could be fatal if a dog’s dose was given to a cat, or if Frontline was given to a rabbit.
Do your homework if you do buy online. First, make sure that the cost won’t actually be comparable to your vet’s office. After you add in shipping and handling charges for online stores, you may be paying close to the same. Plus, you have to wait for the drug to ship – which may not be as preferable to your pet’s care as starting the medication the same day, easily picked up from the local vet.
Prices can vary from online store to store, as well. To check this, I looked up the cost of Baytril, an antibiotic just for animals, and Heartgard Plus on several Web sites. The Baytril ranged from 70 cents a pill when purchased in a 100-pill bottle from VetMedDirect.com to 99 cents a pill purchased individually at 1800PetMeds.com – a 30 percent difference. The heartworm medication (I checked the Blue pack for dogs from 1 to 25 pounds) cost $18.99 at 1800PetMeds.com but only $13.50 at VetMedDirect.com. I also checked PetRx.com, PetCareRx.com and PetOptions.com, which all had prices for the two products in the middle of that range. PetOptions.com did not even carry the Baytril.
I also noticed that many online stores that seem to be independently selling will have a small logo or other reference to another, larger company (notably 1800PetMeds.com). That means that you are paying one company to send you something from another – often not an inexpensive option.
It may be that the time you would spend comparing prices and policies online cancels out any financial savings.
As with any health care decision involving your pets, it’s best to weigh the pros and cons of making a change carefully. Don’t let your vet tell you that you can’t order your pet medications from any pharmacy, online or otherwise – but don’t let your quest to save a few cents end up sacrificing your pets’ well-being.