Online Pet Pharmacies

By: Christine New, DVM

TVMA Member
Dallas, Texas

Published February 2017

Not All Pharmacies Are Created Equal

Over recent years, online pharmacies such as Petmeds.com and 1-800-Pet-Meds have become prevalent in the pet industry. While drugs from online pharmacies may have the same names and packaging as the products at a veterinary clinic, these medications may not always be the same that your family veterinarian is carrying in his or her office.

When you purchase medication from your veterinary clinic, you are supporting a local small business in the community and purchasing a product that is safe, effective and guaranteed to contain the ingredients listed. Your veterinarian purchases medications directly from pharmaceutical companies. It’s possible drugs sold from online pet pharmacies may have been purchased from third-parties such as foreign countries. When drugs are purchased from third-party sources such as these, the content, safety and efficacy of the drug might not be guaranteed by the manufacturer.

Online Pharmacies Don’t Undergo Rigorous Drug Approval Process

The U.S. is fortunate in that we have the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), which closely monitors the content, safety and efficacy of medications, both human and animal. Many countries do not have such an organization to ensure that medications are safe and effective through an extensive, rigorous process for drug approval.

Products from third-party sources are not guaranteed to have been stored and shipped properly. Improper handling and storage can affect efficacy and quality of some medications. There also have been reports of owners receiving incorrect products from online pharmacies, which could result in overdoses or unsafe drug interactions for some pets. Finally, most, if not all medications purchased—including heartworm preventatives—require a prescription. It should raise a red flag if you can purchase such medications without approval from your veterinarian. When a pharmacy dispenses a medication without an appropriate prescription, the pharmacy is acting illegally.

Big-Box Pharmacies Are Considered Safe and Effective

However, there are many instances when pet medications can be purchased from sources other than your veterinary clinic. Many times, you can use the same pharmacy that you purchase your own medications from. You will still need a prescription from your veterinarian written in your pet’s name. The difference is that when medications are purchased from big-box pharmacies, such as Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens and/or Target, the medications are still regulated by the FDA and considered safe and effective. Remember the FDA does not regulate the products being sold through online pet pharmacies.

Discuss Pharmacy Options with Your Veterinarian

There is no substitute for a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Whenever in doubt, never hesitate to discuss options for your pet’s medications with your family veterinarian. Your pet’s health care team, your family veterinarian and the office staff are all committed to making sure your pet lives a long and healthy life. Most veterinarians are happy to provide written prescriptions if asked since their number one priority is your pet’s overall health and well-being.

Dr. Christine New practices veterinary medicine at the Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Dallas.