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Buyer Beware: The Risks of Ordering Prescription Drugs for Pets Online

Reviewed by Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM on Monday, June 30, 2014
Posted July 02, 2014 in A Vet's Life

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 search for pet medication

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.

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.