Ten years ago, if you were in the market for school supplies or small electronics, you probably drove to the nearest Staples or Radio Shack. If you were looking for pet supplies, from pet toys and beds to foods and flea control, you went to your veterinarian or more recently to a super store.
Today, information availability has allowed pet owners to research pet needs, pet treatments, product prices, brand names and even the color of the box. Increasingly, pet owners are requesting prescriptions for their pets just as we do for our family. These prescriptions can be filled by the veterinarian or often at a human pharmacy.
[Editor’s Note: Never use human drugs for your pet, unless your veterinarian has specifically prescribed them. Click here for more.]
Alternatively, there are online and compounding pharmacies available. While online pharmacies are sometimes supervised by boards of pharmacy, they often self regulate. It can occur that these online sources of pet and human drugs can be mishandled, adulterated or even counterfeit.
Online pet pharmacies on the rise
Many pet parents are seeking lower prices for medications needed by their pets through the use of online pet pharmacies. The advantage to the consumer has been reduced pricing and the convenience of home delivery, rather than having to visit a veterinarian’s office to fill or refill prescriptions. The disadvantages, which are often unapparent or simply overlooked, include the risk of these online medications being counterfeit, expired or nearing their expiration date and potentially being improperly stored (e.g., too hot or too cold), damaging the drug and reducing the effectiveness and even the safety.
“These days, buying prescription drugs from the Internet is easy,” says the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy website, “but finding a safe source for those medicines is not.” E-commerce has been experiencing an unparalleled expansion for the last decade and the internet has become a major sales channel.
While traveling in China some years ago I was introduced to a USDA-affiliated veterinarian who showed me four identical vials of an antibiotic in wide use here in the U.S. They looked the exact same, down to the registration mark on the package insert. One vial contained product as manufactured in the United States, one vial contained 25% of the purported active ingredient, another contained just enough to impart a bitter flavor and one contained little more than milky water. Visually, texturally, and based on the accuracy of the label they were all indistinguishable from the product in my pharmacy.
Another time, I was on a flight from Miami and took something to help me get to sleep. The man next to me asked what I took and said in response, “Oh we can make those for you cheaper. We can make any product in identical packaging and make it available for 10% of the U.S. cost.”
This gentleman was from India and showed me dozens of tablets labeled for the U.S. and packaged in blister packs identical to those obtained from U.S. pharmacies. It was frightening. The packaging even said “Made in U.S.A.” I defy anyone to identify counterfeit or adulterated drugs produced in these factories.
Why are there so many counterfeit drugs?
Why bother to counterfeit drugs? Money. For counterfeiters, the profits are staggering.
Counterfeiting can apply to both brand name and generic products. Counterfeit drugs may be contaminated, worthless (not help the condition or disease the medicine is intended to treat) or actually poisonous (cause dangerous side effects). They may even contain the wrong active ingredient or no active ingredient at all. These drugs are often packaged in phony packaging that looks legitimate. We all accept that the inexpensive Prada purses sold on the street corner are not really Prada so why do we so often overlook the possibility that cheaper drugs sold on the ‘corners’ of the internet might also be less than they appear?
The drugs are not always fake, but most reputable manufacturers will not (and currently cannot legally) sell their products to online pharmacies, according to animalmedicalcenter.com. For Veterinarians, on the other hand, it is not illegal to sell these drugs. The Animal Medical Center of Southern California says on their website, “It is not illegal for veterinarians to sell their supplies to these companies, however, it is violating their contracts with the veterinary pharmaceutical companies to sell their drugs to these online pharmacies. The veterinary pharmacies do their best to police the situation, but it is obviously difficult to determine which veterinarians are violating their contracts by diverting drugs and supplies.”
How should you protect yourself?
These products are commonly advertised in the online pet drug marketplace. The safest way to make sure you’re getting the medicine and medical products you need is to buy them only from a reputable source. You want to be sure that the chain of handling has been safe, correct and secure at each step of the manufacture and distribution process.
Human dispensing pharmacies are reputable sources of human products and can also safely fill your veterinarian’s prescription. Online pharmacies may or may not be reputable. If you choose to buy online, be sure the websites are licensed by the Board of Pharmacy in your state.
The safest place to obtain pharmaceuticals is from your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is the only healthcare provider who is trained in the proper application and administration of animal products and is knowledgeable in side effects and interactions of drugs in animals.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
When a medication is prescribed for your pet, it means that your veterinarian has made a decision that the medication is indicated to treat your pet's health problem. Many prescription drugs are only effective for specific problems, and may be harmful for your pet if used without a veterinary examination and diagnosis. Having these drugs available as prescription-only medications ensures that they are used appropriately.
In most states, it is unlawful for a veterinarian to write a prescription or dispense a prescription drug without a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR). For more information about the VCPR, including a technical definition, see Section III of the AVMA's Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics. For a simpler explanation of the VCPR, read our "Frequently Asked Questions by Pet Owners about the Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship.
To maintain a VCPR, your veterinarian must see your pet regularly. How often they need to see your pet depends on your pet's health. If your pet is on a prescription medicine, your veterinarian may need to reexamine your pet, check blood work, or perform other tests to monitor your pet's response to treatment and determine if the medication needs to be changed. For example, a dog being treated for hypothyroidism needs to be reevaluated regularly to make sure the dosage of medication prescribed is effective.
You have several options when your pet needs a prescription medication: you can get it from your veterinarian if they keep it in stock your veterinarian can write (or call in) a prescription to a local pharmacy that stocks the medication or your veterinarian can provide a prescription so you can get the medication from an online pharmacy.
Purchasing Pet Drugs Online: Buyer Beware
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 and others like it.
Some of the Internet sites that sell pet drugs represent legitimate, reputable pharmacies, says Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M., deputy director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). 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.
Pet owners who purchase drugs from these companies may think they are saving money, says Hartogensis, but in reality, they may be short-changing their pet’s health and putting its life at risk. CVM regulates the manufacture and distribution of animal drugs, while individual state pharmacy boards regulate the dispensing of prescription veterinary products. Click to download and read the full article
Three Tips For Purchasing Pet Drugs Online
As the economy recovers, many people are still struggling to provide for both their human family members and their furry family members. Pet insurance can help cover costs associated with pet health needs, but some want to save even more by buying prescription pet medications online.
Indeed, a lot of pet pharmacies have been popping up online in recent years. These pharmacies provide a way to save money, but they can also contain hidden dangers that may put your pet’s life at risk. It’s important to become educated before choosing an online pet pharmacy. At first glance, online pet pharmacies seem like a good option, offering better pricing and home delivery. But as they say, buyer beware.
Some websites selling pet drugs represent legitimate, reputable pharmacies. Others, however, are fronts for businesses breaking federal, state, and even international laws.
Illegal online pharmacies may sell medicines that are:
– Counterfeit, outdated or mislabeled
– Incorrectly formulated
– Improperly made or stored
– Sold without a required doctor’s prescription
Other potential issues with online medicines include:
– Not containing the actual drug, or the correct dosage
– Containing contaminates
– Reduced efficacy due to storage conditions that are too hot, cold or humid
– Missing proper usage instructions
– Little to no recourse if you’re unhappy with your purchase or your pet is harmed by the drugs
If you’re still interested in buying pet prescription medications online, here how to go about it in the safest manner:
1. Compare Prices
If you have a specific online pharmacy in mind, as ask your veterinarian if he or she has any experience with it. Then, compare prices. You may be surprised to learn there’s little to no price difference between your vet’s office and the online site, especially when you consider shipping costs. And many veterinary hospitals now offer their own stores on their websites where you can order your pet’s medication at a competitive price, get home delivery, and the peace of mind knowing the source is reputable.
2. Scour the Website
Avoid any site that is willing to sell you a prescription-only pet medication without requiring a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. This is illegal, and there’s a risk of the drugs not being FDA-approved. In order to prescribe and dispense medication to your pet, most states require that there is a valid veterinarian-client-pet relationship (VCPR). This is usually defined as a veterinarian having examined your pet within the last 12 months. If the VCPR does not exist, medication cannot be dispensed.
Look carefully at all the information available on the website. If it isn’t based in the United Sates, it’s best to avoid the company. Many overseas sites sell counterfeit and expired drugs. If you can’t find physical contact information for the site, like a phone number or address, that’s another red flag. If the prices offered on a site are dramatically lower than the competition, the drug is more likely of dubious quality or origin. If you place and order and the site ships you medicines that you didn’t order or that look very different from what your pet normally takes, don’t give them to your pet and contact the site immediately. And finally, keep yourself safe from identity theft. Make sure the site you use offers a secure checkout experience.
3. Check for Accreditation
Always check for site accreditation. You can find out if it’s properly licensed in the state where it’s based by contacting the state’s Board of Pharmacy. Order from a website that belongs to a Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) accredited pharmacy. This is a voluntary accreditation program of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). NABP gives the seal to online pharmacies that dispense prescription animal drugs and comply with NABP’s strict criteria. Look for the Vet-VIPPS seal displayed on a pharmacy’s website (like the one shown here) or check with NABP.
Finally, if your pet has a problem with a medicine purchased online, like a reaction to a medicine or the medicine not working, seek veterinary help immediately. Then contact the medicine’s manufacturer and report problems directly to the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. You can also report suspicious online pet pharmacy sites to the FDA and the NABP.
Pets Best Insurance plans include prescription medication coverage. See a complete list of covered medications in our Customer Center.
Why It Matters Where You Purchase Your Pet Meds
Published September 4, 2020
Many different types of pharmacies carrying pet medications are available, including retail pharmacies and online pet pharmacies, where pet owners may enjoy better pricing and convenience. However, filling pet medications through some emerging sources may put you and your pet at risk.
The Grey Market
Some pharmacies may not purchase their inventory directly from manufacturers but from “diverted” sources on the pet medication grey market. Many manufacturers set strict policies on prescription medication sales that only allow them to sell these products directly to veterinarians and authorized pharmacies. However, shockingly, some authorized buyers of wholesale pet medications may resell medications to grey market buyers.
Diverted medications could be counterfeit, near or past their expiration dates, and they may not have been stored properly which could reduce their effectiveness, according to The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 2015 Staff Report. These medications could potentially harm pets and the medications may not provide the same protection or potency of authorized products.
For a pet medication to be considered authorized, the manufacturer details not only which pharmacies can sell the product but also how those medications are shipped to the pharmacy, completing a fully supported chain of custody. Grey market products do not have a fully supported chain of custody.
Most manufacturers may not support a diverted product if a pet experiences an adverse effect or if the product is ineffective. When pet medications are purchased from an authorized pharmacy, pet medication manufacturers support their products with warranties if the product fails to perform as labeled or causes an adverse reaction in a pet. This support may come in the form of replacement medication or reimbursements directly to the pet owner for costs incurred to have the pet evaluated and treated by a veterinarian for any adverse reaction.
Buyer, Beware of Counterfeit Pet Medicine
When it comes to purchasing pet medications through online or retail pharmacies, buyers should be cautious. While the FDA reports that some websites selling veterinary drugs are legitimate businesses, others are not. In fact, FDA regulators have documented many instances of online pharmacies selling unapproved and counterfeit pet drugs, dispensing of drugs without a required prescription, and sales of expired drugs. According to The Partnership for Safer Medicines, the FDA recommends that pet owners ensure online pharmacies are Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS) accredited.
The FTC 2015 staff report says, “Vet-VIPPS accredited pharmacies [. . .] are required to demonstrate that these products are authentic and originated with the manufacturer.”
Counterfeit drugs are fake or “copycat” products that can be difficult to differentiate from the real product. With counterfeit drugs, anything goes, and you cannot be certain of the product’s ingredients. Counterfeit medications could have dangerous side effects, wrong ingredients, or contamination. The FDA works with drug manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to identify and report counterfeit drugs, and while this helps to protect consumers, it is a nearly impossible task considering the hundreds of online pharmacies available. As counterfeits and questionably purchased products exist in the pet drug marketplace, it is up to pet owners to make sure they are buying the right product.
At Essentials PetCare, we can send your pet’s prescription to an in-store Walmart pharmacy for in person or curbside pickup or to our own online pharmacy for delivery to your home. Both pharmacies receive their pet medications directly from the medications’ manufacturers and authorized distributors.
Need to refill your pet’s prescriptions? Book a visit now!
At Essentials PetCare, our mission is to offer high-quality veterinary care at an affordable cost.
We offer contact-free visits to ensure safety, while social distancing is still recommended to protect public health.