How To Avoid Scammy Online Pet Drug Merchants

It’s tempting to skip an expensive visit to the vet’s office when you can just order the same drugs online. Sites offer the exact medications that the vet’s office sells–at much lower prices, without a prescription. It’s not such a good idea, though. Much like buying human drugs online from shady sources (no prescription needed) you may not get exactly what you ordered. The medications that show up on your doorstep could be ineffective, or may even harm your pet.

Ed writes that when his family ordered the non-prescription flea and tick medication Frontline Plus from a site based in Canada this past spring, they ended up with the correct product… for the wrong continent.

They sold a product that we later find out was not formulated for the Americas and should have been used by pet owners in Australia. And by the end of July we realized we had a problem, for the first time in years the cats had fleas.

FLEAS!

I had just heard a story on reddit.com about someone that was having flea issues and was using Frontline. The commentors were able to find out the product he was using had an expiration date. FrontLine plus sold in the US doesn’t have a expiration date, only a lot #. This is what ultimately led me to look at the product we were using and finding that dreaded expiration date.

I contacted Merial about my suspicions and advised that I was indeed correct that we had been swindled. Merial was not happy about this and set out to make it right. We provided to them the receipt and the unused product ( by this time it was only a 2 of the original 12 units left). To my amazement they sent a full replacement of the order with what we should be using on the cats. We’ll be applying it today..

That’s a great happy ending that Ed had submitted as an “Above and Beyond” story about Merial. As happy an ending as you can have in a flea-infested house, at least. But how can you keep yourself out of the same situation if you prefer not to buy medications from your vet?

The Food and Drug Administration has a Center for Veterinary Medicine that researches these things. They have a catchy acronym for the things you should be careful about when shopping for pet drugs online. It has a catchy acronym: A.W.A.R.E.

A– Ask Your Veterinarian

Your vet, or the assistants and billing/reception workers at your vet’s office, should know which sites other patients have successfully used in the past. Of course, some people won’t trust what the vet’s office has to say, since they’re a direct competitor. Leahanne, a Consumerist reader and veterinary student, wrote in about this issue, noting:

At the clinics I’ve worked for in the past years, we’ve cautioned our clients against the very same things the FDA mentions in their article, but as we happen to be a competitor for these pharmacies as well as an advocate for pet health, sadly sometimes people perceive it as greed on our part.

W–Watch for Red Flags

Here are some online pharmacy red flags, according to the FDA:

  • Site does not require veterinary prescriptions for prescription drug orders.
  • Site has no licensed pharmacist available to answer questions.
  • Site does not list physical business address, phone number, or other contact information.
  • Site is not based in the US.
  • Site is not licensed by the State Board of Pharmacy where the business is based.
  • Site does not protect your personal information.
  • Site’s prices are dramatically lower than your veterinarian’s or other website’s prices.
  • Site ships you medicine that you didn’t order or that looks very different from what your pet normally takes.

A–Always Check for Site Accreditation

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy accredits reputable veterinary online pharmacies just as they do pharmacies for humans. You can find a list of accredited pharmacies on their site.

R–Report Problems and Suspicious Online Pharmacies

If you find a shady animal druggist, the FDA would like to hear about it.

E–Educate Yourself about Online Pharmacies

See above.

Protect Yourself and Your Pet: Be Online Pet Pharmacy A.W.A.R.E. [Thanks, Leahanne!]
Vet-VIPPS [Official Site]

Comments

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  1. ssm316 says:

    I use an online pet drug place. However they require written documentation for the fleas. My vet just faxes them exactly what my dog is supposed to have.

  2. humphrmi says:

    Our veterinarian’s office doesn’t like any online pharmacy, even the ones with a good reputation. They make us sign a waiver if we don’t buy our pet meds directly from them. Of course, they get a huge markup on the meds that they sell.

    Also one more note, about making sure that the online pharmacy requires a veterinary prescription: Frontline Plus is not a product that requires a veterinary prescription in order to buy it, so your online pharmacy not asking for a veterinary prescription for that product isn’t a good indicator of good vs. bad pharmacy.

    • GolferTrav says:

      Yes, we do make money by selling you an Rx. It’s our right as a business owner, but you’d be surprised to find out that most of these online places are selling them at or below our costs. My drug reps can’t explain that to me. The closest of an explanation I’ve gotten is that they might be ‘short-dated’ product, meaning there may only be 3 months left before expiration and the drug company wants to unload them versus the stuff I get that is good for at least a year.

      It always baffles me how some people will spend the money to have the vet diagnose something, but won’t pay a couple bucks more to make sure they get the right medication.

      • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

        If it was only a matter of a couple bucks, you might have a point. When I started buying flea meds for my cats, it was about 25 dollars per cat per dose, plus the vet appointment, which could total more than 150 dollars. I don’t need a vet to tell me when my cats have fleas, or which medication to use, or how to apply it. I know all that already. I can get a box of EPA approved Frontline from a decent EBay seller for less than forty dollars, and it treats all three cats.

        • cortana says:

          Or buy a dog set of Frontline and treat all three of your cats with one dose!

          • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

            Three doses. I wish I could give one dose of medication to cover all three cats, especially when it’s pill time. Cat flu at my house after the Hurricane Rita evac was no fun, no fun at all.

            I’m not confident that the dog formulation is safe or effective, for reasons I’ve given in a couple other posts.

          • Dieflatermous says:

            Frontline for dogs will kill cats. It is a different formulation completely, giving people this advice WILL kill their cats. I’ve seen three cats killed by using dog flea drops on them, it is a horrible and tragic thing.

            • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

              I did some research on this. Frontline Plus is not a totally different formulation. It is a slightly different formulation. The proportion of methoprene to fipronil is a little different. This means that if you give a cat the same amount of dog formula that you would give of cat formula, you are underdosing one chemical and it may not be effective. If you give the cat more, then you are overdosing one chemical and it may harm your cat.

            • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

              Bu the way you are referring to the cases where the treatment called BioSpot was used on cats. BioSpot is a totally different formulation and can kill cats.

      • Chmeeee says:

        Also, as anybody involved in the pharmacuetical industry will tell you, the expiration date on drugs is rarely important. They don’t go “bad,” per se, like a dairy product, rather they slowly lose their effectiveness. Furthermore, while most drugs have a 1 year expiration, it’s typically much longer than that before the drop in effectiveness is even significant. Of course, the manufacturer has no interest in researching a true expiration when it might be more like 3 years, as a shorter expiration has a financial benefit to them.

        • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

          The actual expiration date depends on a number of factors, like storage temperature, ambient humidity, and formulation. You can’t just say “This medicine lasts X years.” It might last 3 years under controlled conditions in an unopened bottle as a pill, and only 1 year or less in home conditions as a liquid when opened and exposed to air. As I pointed out below, the OP could conceivably have bought one of the common kits that contain the dog formulation, and saved the remainder of the opened package. The dog formulation is supposed to give 8 doses, and the OP said they originally bought a 12-dose package, so I don’t necessarily think that was the case, but it is an example of the sort of thing that affects dosage and longevity.

      • Alvis says:

        And it’s a consumer’s right to shop for the best deals – lose the butthurt attitude or just lower your prices.

      • Yentaleh says:

        I like a Vet that is ok with some “healthy competition”. When our Shepard was being treated for allergies, our vet told us to put him on their program after a month of buying their food, we barely had enough money for our other expenses. We talked to them about other options and they reluctantly sent us over to DARWIN PET FOODS. (They make raw food that is tightly controlled on the ingredients. No grains, no bi-products.) Not only did we save an extra 200$ our dog loves the food. He’s had his testing and its come back negative, but because he loves the food we are continuing him on the diet. Sure its 50$ more than a bag of dog food, but compared to what we were spending for the allergy food, it was the better way to go. Our vet is flexible, obviously you are not. I hope you learn that some healthy competition will actually help your business than hurt it.

  3. dulcinea47 says:

    Just don’t buy your pet’s meds online. Please. It’s just too chancy, I have a friend whose cat died after she used what turned out to be counterfeit flea meds. Shell out the extra few bucks to get them directly from your vet.

    • mrp says:

      “Just don’t buy your pet’s meds online. Please…Shell out the extra few bucks to get them directly from your vet.”

      It isn’t an extra few bucks — it saves a visit to the vet as well. But I’ll follow you advice if you’ll agree to pay the difference. I gotta warn you, you’ll be on the hook for hundreds of bucks a year.

    • ElBobulo says:

      Died exactly from what, hmmm?

      • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

        Counterfeit meds could be anything. The cat could have died from any of the symptoms of chemical poisoning. Why do you ask?

  4. huckle says:

    For any readers who might be considering using an online pet pharmacy, I have had excellent customer service over the years from SmartPak. I have also been happy with the service from Drs. Foster and Smith.

    One thing to consider when filling a pet’s prescription: Check to see if the medication prescribed is also available for humans. If so, it can be filled at a pharmacy, and depending on the medication, may be cheaper than ordering from a pet med pharmacy. It never hurts to ask. We get our dogs’ medication — tramadol ($10 for a 3 months’ supply!) and the occasional antibiotic — at Target.

  5. Skellbasher says:

    I wouldn’t buy medications for myself from an online store without doing extensive research into their credibility. My pets deserve the same.

  6. RandomHookup says:

    Are Australian pets that much different from American pets? Blame the dingos?

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      Australian cat fleas are the same species as American cat fleas. Incidentally, fleas that infest dogs are usually cat fleas, too. The difference between Australian topical flea meds and United States topical flea meds is based on regulatory compliance, not on how effective the meds are.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Is the Australian version weaker? The OP reported that they got fleas because they didn’t get the American formula.

        • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

          The Australian formula works the same on my cats. The OP probably bought the cheapest crap from a lowball vendor and wound up with a counterfeit.

          • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

            I should say that a lot of online vendors are selling a “kit” that has the DOG formula, along with a vial and a measuring dropper, so you can parcel out the doses for cat use. The active ingredient is the same, but I believe the dosage is slightly weaker, and besides, you’ve opened the package. If you only use part of the package and you save the rest for three months, it’s probably going to be acted upon by the air, with unpredictable results.

        • Hitchcock says:

          Also note he got the fleas in July. I don’t know where OP is from, but the hotter it is the more fleas you will have. Could just be July this year lead to a bumper crop of fleas. I know where I live we ran into this in July. Even with a fresh dose of flea treatment (not from Australia) we were having a bad time keeping the fleas off our dogs. Now that the weather has changed we’re back to normal.

  7. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I’ve been using Australian Frontline Plus bought on EBay for my cats for over ten years without issue. (Who can afford to pay full price and more at the vet’s?) Of course, I don’t just go for the cheapest possible option. I check that the seller has been around for a long time and has dozens of recent positive reviews specifically for Frontline Plus for cats. Fleas are a bad problem around here (Houston); it never really gets cold enough to kill them off, and we have a colony of ferals near where I live. I cleared up a bad flea issue the first year and I dose mine at the first sign of flea bites every summer. I’m pleased to say that we have NO fleas this year.

    • Julia789 says:

      I ordered the overseas version for dogs through a Canada vet service as well, 10 years no problem. It’s made by Bayer pharmaceuticals, and years ago I confirmed through Bayer the lot # and packaging was genuine. I also took the box and tubes of flea meds to my vet and asked him to look over the ingredients. Vet said it’s fine. It’s not close to the expiration date or anything. It’s only $10 – $15 cheaper online than through my vet, but I also liked the convenience of having it mailed to me.

      However, I recently switched to buying it through my vet when I signed up for a vet care plan that gives me a 15% discount on any products or medications I buy through his office, as well as free vet visits. So now it’s not worth it to order online any more, because I have the discount plan.

  8. mxmerc says:

    As a veterinary student, I can tell you that it can never hurt to ask your veterinarian to try to match a price on something you’ve found at an online pharmacy. Things like Frontline and Advantage will have some markup, but drugs that are dispensed by any pharmacy like Wal-Mart may be scripted out and not necessarily carried by the veterinarian anymore.

    One thing to note is that whenever you purchase medications directly from a veterinarian, you are covered by the companies that produce the medication. That means if your pet has an adverse reaction, etc. they typically will cover the cost of the ensuing medical bills. This is not the case with most online pharmacies. Something to keep in mind.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      Yes, but they don’t cover the bill for consulting the vet in the first place. My vets are the best in the business, but I only see them for things I can’t do myself, like yearly shots and illnesses I don’t have experience with.

      My mother treated me the same way when I was a child. Constipation, minor tummy upsets, lice picked up from a school friend, temporary coughs, headaches, small injuries, she knew what to do. But she had a great sense for when things weren’t minor, and I do as well.

    • GolferTrav says:

      I agree that you can always ask the Vet to price match, but from what I’ve seen our costs are often higher then what the online places are selling them for. So if we were to price match, we’d lose money.

  9. proscriptus says:

    I’ve actually had good luck. Last year I bought Revolution for cats from Canada, online, with a prescription; this year I got it from Australia without. The Australian deal was sweet, too. Just do a little checking first.

  10. Hedgy2136 says:

    A perscription isn’t required to buy Frontline or Advantix any longer. I purchases Frontline Plus for my dog at PetSmart a couple of weeks ago over the counter. I also checked at 800petmeds.com and they don’t require a perscription either (and they are way cheaper that local pet stores). You do still have to have a perscription for heartworm preventatives, etc…

  11. Anonymously says:

    One vet (that I no longer use) publicly shamed my wife and I in front of other customers because we hadn’t purchased heart worm medicine from them in a while. They demanded to know who were were buying our medicine from. They basically accused us of neglecting our dog because we didn’t purchase from them. Frankly, that antagonistic tone helps nothing and it’s none of their damned business.

    The drug business must be so lucrative that they don’t care about alienating customers.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      That sounds horrible. My vet is very good about stuff like that. I called during my lunch time at work and I didn’t have the meds with me, so the technician read the ingredients label over the phone so I could compare it to the ingredients label on the website. It didn’t make the site any safer to use, of course, but that wasn’t my goal at the time.

    • Disappointed says:

      It is the vet’s business if you weren’t giving your dog any heartworm preventative. You hadn’t bought any from him; how was he to know, then, that you were giving your dog any medication at all?

      • Anonymously says:

        If the vet, behind closed doors, had asked me, in a pleasant way, it wouldn’t have been an issue. Instead, the front desk personnel screeched “Why haven’t you bought heartworm medicine from us lately!”.

  12. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    You can also contact the manufacturer and see if it will have a list of recommended vendors, or a sample of vendors it definitely ships to. That way, you at least know that the company you are buying from has an established (and current) connection to the manufacturer.

  13. Archergal says:

    I buy two meds for my dog online. One med is an expensive supplement to help him digest his food. The online pharmacy I use required the vet to fax a prescription, and they have vets on staff to call at need. I’ve been very satisfied with the service I’ve received, and they’ve saved me a LOT of $$ over the last ten years or so.

    The other med isn’t expensive and I could probably buy it from the vet, but since I’m ordering the other anyway, I just add it in.

    I am very sympathetic to the vets wanting to make money off their meds. That’s their right, but I also have to live within MY budget. I do buy our heartworm meds there.

  14. invisibelle says:

    oh god, cat fleas in the house… asfdjdfsgld *shudder*

  15. mikec041 says:

    For years We’ve always used pet meds for our dogs, we moved to N.C. and the Vets have REFUSE to co-operate with getting Meds from pet meds. EVERY one of the 5 vets we’ve used here keep claiming that PetMeds is violating Federal law and refuse to fax or accept their calls for medication. One vet kept making”errors” on the prescriptions, either in brand or dosage causing PetMeds to reject the prescriptions. Then i would need to return to the Vet and wait for him to re write it. For some reason he had always “just” started an exam and i had to wait until he was finished. ABSOLUTELY refused to just write the script and let me pick it up.
    New Vet i just found will meet/beat any online prices and he use to work at the office i described above. Guess they are starting to get the hint.

  16. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    My vet does recommend people medication when it makes sense. One of my cats had a problem that required him to take a lysine supplement. Lysine is an amino acid that can be easily bought for people in vitamin stores. On the vet’s advice, I broke a pill into pieces and gave him a piece each day.

    Ask your vet about giving lysine supplements to cats when there is cat flu going around, or when they are stressed. Mine have had bloody enough of the maple-flavored goo formulation and refuse to even lick it off their paws anymore, and they wander around the house getting everything sticky.

    • feline says:

      People medication (known as “off-label use”) is a big topic in veterinary medicine. There are lots of medications that aren’t available in veterinary formulations, but that your pet can benefit from.

      What’s a little worrisome is that it’s not legal for your vet to prescribe an off-label human medication when a veterinary formulation also exists. In these cases, there may be no substantial benefit to using the veterinary formulation, which is much more expensive. For example, your vet can be sanctioned for prescribing generic meloxicam instead of the veterinary Metacam, even though both will provide the same result, only at very different price points.

      I guess in order to have the freedom to buy the human generic instead of the expensive veterinary medication, we have to be put in the position where the risk is higher of the ignorant mistakenly purchasing permethrin-loaded dog flea control medication and killing their cats. I doubt we’re ever going to have it both ways, unfortunately.

  17. eturowski says:

    One of the biggest problems about buying flea preventative from non-veterinary sources is that not all dog products are safe for cats. It’s not a big deal if you split up canine Frontline, but if you put Advantix on your cat to get rid of its fleas, you’ll a have a flea-free dead cat. You pay more to buy ethical products like pesticides from your vet because you are paying for their knowledge and training to tell you when something is a bad idea. When you get your BioSpot from Wal-Mart, it’s cheap partly because the clerk barely has to be able to form sentences to have his/her job (and partly because of volume discounting, and partly because it’s a crappy product overall).

  18. Emily says:

    I think pressuring you to buy products is a bad sign in a doctor’s office. A good vet will not do this. I buy pet medications from online pharmacies that do require a prescription, and the vet is happy to comply. I even buy prescription food from a different vet’s office because my own only offers it by mail (with a large shipping fee); my vet has no problem with the arrangement.

  19. veronykah says:

    I’ve been buying Revolution from Australia for years now, its the exact same Revolution I got from the vet initially.

  20. kennedar says:

    Our dog has severe allergies, called atopic dermititis. The only way to keep her from pulling all the fur off of her paws and butt is to give her a drug called Atopica, which is very expensive. When she was first diagnosed, we were paying more than $200 a month in drug fees. Thankfully, she is down to a 1/4 dosage now, so its only $50. We have tried to look online for meds and our vet always comes in cheaper or the same as what we find online. For the 2 or 3$ a month we would save, it is just not worth her life. In fact, the better known online sites (petmeds.com comes to mind) were actually higher than what our vet charges us!

  21. JACadden says:

    If you can find a good online store run by vets and/or animal pharmacists, you can often save some money. [Drs. Foster and Smith online is one example--they are compounding pharmacists in Wisconsin.] We have bulldogs and are already “good customers” from a financial standpoint, so I don’t feel bad about trying to save a few dollars a month on medication. Also–a big operation like this often makes legitimate generics of things like HeartGuard and Frontline, in addition to the things they compound on direction of vets.

  22. laphroaigh says:

    Just buy it from Costco or drugstore.com

  23. Xin says:

    I’ve thought about online meds, but with one of my dear ferrets having insulinoma I really want to speak face-to-face with my vet about ANY increase in dosage. These increases can either help him a little more or O.D. him. She was with Data since his first attack (and we thought it was just a peanut allergy) to the most recent ones where he had to be given oxygen/I.V drip/pure insulin shots. Doesn’t hurt too much that her office is LITERALLY right next door to my apartment.

    I’m just too much of a fuddy-duddy i think about being face to face.

  24. christoj8799 says:

    Not sure if I can plug a site but combine the word pet with where you put your gardening tools outside and a .com on the end and you’ve got a great Australian pet pharmacy. I knew what was wrong with my cat – ear mites – and I knew what would solve it – Revolution. No consult, no marked up Rx price, I just went there and ordered and had it in a week. They had rave reviews before I purchased and the product was great. My little kitty has no more ear mites and I didn’t have to fight with her to put drops in.