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