Pet Medication costs -- online, at the vet, at the pharmacy (long)


Dec 30, 2007
I thought this article was very informative and should be passed along to all of my fellow pet lovers, so they could ensure the safety of their pets' medications.

How much is that pet drug in the window?

A guide to the rapidly changing world of veterinary drug prescribing

By Christie Keith, Special to SF Gate
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I hear it all the time: Pet owners grousing that their vets are ripping them off with high prescription drugs prices, and veterinarians worrying that the shift to Internet and chain pharmacy use by their clients is threatening their ability both to survive economically and to protect their patients' health.

Ten years ago, while a doctor handed patients a prescription to take to the drugstore, a veterinarian sold drugs for pets directly. But things are different now. "I write prescriptions left and right. I must have written five prescriptions today," Florida veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly told me. "That never used to happen."
Behind the change is an explosion of new places to buy both human and veterinary drugs: Internet pharmacies, 800 numbers, catalogs and chain stores that offer some drugs free or for a few dollars just to get you in the door. Those changes have left many veterinarians overwhelmed and pet owners confused.
Some pet owners believe the reason vets are resistant to the changes is that they don't want to lose the revenue from drug sales, but that's an over-simplification of a complex issue. Caught like everyone else in rising costs, a weakening economy and staggering amounts of student and start-up debt, veterinarians are also struggling with the loss of some bedrock revenue streams, including sales of prescription drugs and "vet-only" products.
And just like in human medicine, there are plenty of unscrupulous businesses using the Internet to sell mislabeled, expired and outright fraudulent medications to consumers . Veterinarians worry that their patients won't get the right drugs or dosages if the pet owner isn't savvy enough to avoid those sources — something pet owners should be equally worried about.
What's making this even harder is that today's veterinarians didn't create the old system of vet-as-pharmacist; they inherited it. Plenty of them would love to be out from under the burden of maintaining an expensive inventory of drugs. And like the corner drugstore, they frequently have to pay more wholesale for drugs than chain pharmacies charge for them retail, leaving the veterinarians at a sharp disadvantage on pricing.
But pet owners are caught in a squeeze, too. They are affected by the same weakening economy and rising costs, and to add to the problem, increasingly sophisticated — and expensive — veterinary diagnostics and therapies are pushing the ceiling of what can be done for their pets ever-higher.
Because changes are happening so fast, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to where to get your pet's medications today. The best source for drugs is going to vary from pet to pet, from veterinarian to veterinarian, and even from day to day. Here's a guide to help you make your decision.
Your 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.
A few notes on pharmacy laws: Your veterinarian, like your physician, cannot dictate where you fill her prescriptions. Nor can she charge you a fee for writing a prescription unless she charges that same fee for her clients who buy their drugs directly from her. And no, your vet can't fill a prescription written by another vet; the law only allows her to dispense drugs to her own patients. And while some veterinarians may take back dispensed medication and refund your money as a courtesy, they can't re-sell those drugs — even if the package was never opened.
Also, veterinarians cannot legally prescribe medication for pets they have never examined, nor pets they haven't examined in a long time. That's not their sneaky way of getting an exam fee out of you before prescribing your dog's heartworm preventative; it's the law.
A human pharmacy
It comes as a surprise to some pet owners to find out that they can fill many of their veterinarians' prescriptions at a human pharmacy. While some drugs are for veterinary use only, many are the exact same drugs as are used in human medicine, or close equivalents.
The price difference between the human and veterinary medications can be substantial, particularly if the medication is one of those available at loss-leader prices at a chain pharmacy. 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.
Internet pharmacies, catalogs and 800 numbers
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 them through certain Internet, catalog or 800 number pharmacies — often with very good reason.
As is the case in human medicine, there are Web sites selling prescription veterinary drugs without requiring a prescription. While many human-drug Web 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. Blindly ordering prescription drugs off the Internet without your pet's veterinarian knowledge is a recipe for disaster. Consumers should avoid such businesses entirely.
But other businesses have spotty ethical and legal histories, sometimes fill or re-fill prescriptions without veterinary approval, and may fax or phone requests for authorization and then complain about the vet to the client when turnaround isn't as fast as they'd like it to be. While these are not the only reasons veterinarians can be reluctant to work with some companies, they're part of the problem.
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 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 Web site.
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 (in California, you can do that here) and check with the Better Business Bureau in the area where the company is located.


Dec 30, 2007
Your vet's online store
Some veterinarians have established online stores on the Web sites of large veterinary pharmacies that sell only through them. There are lots of reasons veterinarians like these partnerships. They're able to offer their clients a wider selection of drugs than is economically feasible for them to keep on hand. They can be absolutely certain that the drugs are being properly handled and labeled. They are able to give their clients the convenience of online ordering and home delivery, and they can completely control their profit margin, just as they can with their in-clinic sales. These sites are almost certain to be ethical and in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, because if they aren't, veterinarians will stop doing business with them.
On the negative side, it's not always clear just whose customer you are in the transaction. Will the pharmacy use your personal information to market to you? Will it sell or otherwise share its mailing list?
There can also be a lot of variation in prices on these Web sites. For example, one veterinarian I know barely marks up anything at all, adding just a couple of dollars to cover the bookkeeping expenses for maintaining the store. Another marks the prices up a lot more, exactly as this veterinarian does in clinic. While markup varies with point-of-care purchases too, it becomes more striking when you are the client of more than one vet practice and see the exact same product being offered by the two vets at vastly different prices. There's nothing unethical about that, but it can be confusing to clients.
The future
There's so much change in the area of veterinary prescription drugs that predicting the future is tricky. Because a lot of clients will always welcome the convenience of buying drugs at the same time as an office visit, and many veterinary drugs aren't available at human pharmacies in dosages or forms suitable for pets — or at all — it's not likely veterinarians will ever go completely out of the pharmacy business. But that doesn't mean things won't continue to evolve.
Pet owners can protect themselves and their pets by keeping a line of communication open with their veterinarians and understanding that, far from wanting to rip you off, they almost always just want what's best for your pet — including that they be able to keep their doors open and the lights on. Owners can also realize that there are often hidden costs behind rock bottom prices, and ask themselves if the savings are really worth it.
Veterinarians can make this process easier by realizing they can't turn back the clock. Being ready to get out the prescription pad and help clients make informed, budget-conscious choices is what will result in the best medical care for pets in the Internet age. And pet owners and veterinarians alike need to realize there's no one answer that's always right when it comes to where to get prescription drugs. Christie Keith is a contributing editor for Universal Press Syndicate's Pet Connection and past director of the Pet Care Forum on America Online. She lives in San Francisco.


So Sweet!
Aug 2, 2007
Born in the USA
Don't buy from just anybody, buy from a reputable, and as with anything, you should always check the expiration on stuff.

I've always bought from and have never had a problem. Now if it's something link, penicillian, or precriptive, I get it from the vet.


Dec 30, 2007
Don't buy from just anybody, buy from a reputable, and as with anything, you should always check the expiration on stuff.

I've always bought from and have never had a problem. Now if it's something link, penicillian, or precriptive, I get it from the vet.
The main complaint that veterinarians and the AVMA have with petmeds is that the company does not properly store their medications before they are distributed. You may get a product that is not expired per se, but the medicaiton has not been stored properly, so it is ineffective.
Also, a lot of veterinary medications, like heartworm preventative, have codes for expiration dates not actual dates. This makes it harder to tell the expiration dates of your meds.
Mar 24, 2007
- NyC -
Thanks for the article. Good information that pet owners should know.

I'm bought my dog's heartworm and flea/tick medicine from my vet and the bill was ridiculous compared to the prices online. I can see why people purchase from the internet, it's at least two to three times more from my vet's office. Next time will do some more research to find a reputable online pet pharmacy and probably just find another vet who hopefully won't charge as much.