Walgreens Offers Vaccines: A Veterinarian’s Opinion

Two dogs in a parked car

Just recently, I went to my neighborhood Walgreens to get my flu shot. I showed them my insurance card, was brought back into a small back room and had my vaccine given behind closed doors. The benefits? It was quick, easy, free (covered by insurance) and allowed me to skip a trip to my medical doctor just for a vaccine.

Yet, when I heard that Walgreens teamed up with a veterinary company called ShotVet to offer discounted vaccines to dogs and cats in the parking lot of Walgreens, I had to think again.

Is this good for dogs, cats and pet guardians?
While this is only available in a few states (e.g., Massachusetts and Florida) right now, I think it’s definitely worth a close look. Here I weigh the pros and cons of a minute-clinic veterinary service like this:

It’s a discounted minute-clinic, so it’s an option for people with financial limitations.

2. It’s quick and convenient – no need to make an appointment, just show up!

3. They don’t charge an exam fee.

4. It’s cheap – ShotVet says the vaccines range between $18-39 per “shot.”

5. Bundle packages are offered.

6. If you have a healthy pet and are just looking for annual vaccines, it may be a great option – especially for those with financial limitations. [Editor’s Note: It’s often hard to tell if your pet is truly healthy without testing. Cats especially are experts at hiding symptoms. Click here to learn why.]

7. It increases the number of vaccinated pets in your neighborhood. In inner cities, where socioeconomic constraints may limit people’s ability to afford vaccination, there’s a higher risk of infectious diseases like parvovirus, distemper, and gastrointestinal parasites.

1. Most veterinary appointments range from 15-30 minutes. This amount of time is necessary to find out your pet’s history, do a thorough exam, talk to you about any potential medical problems and create a treatment plan that works with you. A minute clinic can’t offer this.

2. Having pets “restrained” in a parking lot can be quite difficult, especially with barking dogs around. This is especially dangerous for cats, as it’s very difficult to restrain a freaked out cat. As most Walgreens are on the corners of business neighborhoods, this makes me worried about the accidental hit-by-car trauma that can occur if a pet gets loose.

3. Having dogs and cats wait on black asphalt on a hot sunny day without adequate shelter can result in accidental heat exposure or heat stroke. While most dogs can handle this without any problem, some dogs with medical problems may be at higher risk. Some examples:

4. Lack of an exam fee. This typically means that a thorough veterinary exam isn’t actually being given, which is very dangerous. It can mean missing tumors, swelling, masses, or other underlying problems.

Two dogs in a parked car

5. Personally, I only vaccinate for core vaccines – those recommended by the AVMA and AHAA for cats and dogs — unless the pet has increased exposure to certain diseases (like being boarded which can cause kennel cough or being an avid swimmer which can cause leptospirosis). For this reason, I don’t think you get more “bang-for-your-buck” with packages like these, as it’s too much for your pet’s immune system to get all those vaccines at once! Also, some of these vaccines aren’t necessary, depending on the age or lifestyle of your pet.

6. Let’s be realistic – there are no microscopes in the parking lot or abilities to do advanced blood tests. There’s no way to do x-rays or other diagnostic tests. This limits our ability to do simple in-house tests like fecal exams and more advanced tests like a cytology (to look for skin infections, ear infections, tumorous or cancerous masses) or evaluation of the kidney or liver function (through blood tests). That said, if you’re looking for a less expensive puppy or kitten series, I’d rather you make sure your pet is well protected and finishes his whole booster series (This is one of the common mistakes I see pet owners making.)

7. Keep in mind that if your pet is geriatric (i.e., a dog over 7-8 years of age or a cat over 10 years of age), there’s a higher risk of medical problems (like kidney failure, liver disease, skin tumors, heart disease, etc.). For that reason, I’d rather you skip the vaccines and go for annual examinations at a veterinarian who you can establish a relationship with your pet and offer more advanced diagnostic testing.

My philosophy (and what I do for my own pet)?
Once my dog is over 5 years of age or my cat is over 7 to 8 years of age, I do an annual examination and vaccines every three years. For certain vaccines that only last one-year (e.g., leptospirosis), I evaluate risk (e.g., does your dog like to swim? Drink stagnant water? or is your dog exposed to doggy daycares or dog parks). More importantly, once your dog or cat approaches a geriatric age, consider talking to your veterinarian about doing annual blood work instead of vaccines.

To me, the pros of a minute-clinic don’t weigh out the cons, but it may provide a much-needed service for those who can’t afford adequate health care otherwise.

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.

Reviewed on: 
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
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