Online Pharmacies – Fact or Fiction?

I am biased on the subject of Online Pharmacies.  I admit it.  However, I did want to try to approach this subject with a little bit of objectivity in order to bring out the truth of the situation.

Online pharmacies are now over-running the internet with their specials on pet medication that is “just like you get from your vet,” and discounts on shipping or special pricing.  It seems like they are too good to be true.  Years ago, we would hear horror stories of people being sent the wrong medications, expired medications and medications from other countries.  1800pedmeds seemed to be the biggest offender.  If you call a lot of the manufacturing companies of these medications (Merial, Pfizer etc), they will tell you that they do not sell their medications to online pharmacies.

I have learned of situations where these online pharmacies are getting products black-market or from veterinarians selling them illegally.  This isn’t that hard to track.  The manufacturers put tracking codes on their products.  If they get their hands on a box that was sold by an online pharmacy, they can track who they first sold it to in the first place.  I’ve also heard of stories where clients are getting medications without a veterinary prescription.  This is potentially extremely dangerous for the pet.  There is a reason why medications need a client-patient-doctor relationship.

Despite their poor business practices, the thing that burns me up even more is the fact that in their commercials they trash the veterinary industry as though we are ripping off pet owners.  News Flash.  Veterinarians and their staff do not make a lot of money.  In order to have a successful business, medications cost money.  Since these online pharmacies can get products in bulk, they often have to pay a lower amount for those same products.  Thus, they can sell them faster.  Plus, they don’t have to employ people to manage the inventory since a lot of their management is online.

Keeping all this in mind, I’ve noticed an interesting trend since online pharmacies first started.  They appear to be outwardly “cleaning up” their act.  I’m noticing a plethora of faxed online pharmacy request forms flooding our fax machine (so they are sending them out), and if you go onto their website, they have stamps of approval by different governing bodies for pharmacies.  This makes the tight knot clench in my gut.  Despite the fact that they appear to be ‘trying’ to make improvements, it doesn’t feel right.  I don’t think that this is entirely because they are stealing business or are able to provide medications at lower costs.  I like to think of myself as a bigger person that that.  I want the best for pets in general. If I believed that purchasing medications at a lower price online benefited them (because people would be able to afford medications they previously might not have) without consequences, I would be all for it.

The major sacrifice that is made, that I completely believe is not worth the extra savings is the relationship you are losing with your veterinarian.  We are completely invested in your pet.  Oftentimes, we will see the little bouncing puppy you bring to us that you rescued from the street.  We are there for the joy and frustration of potty training and vaccinations.  We educated on the best ways to medicate that frustrating ear infection.  We provided life-saving treatments when he got into that bottle of aspirin.  We’ve performed countless heartworm tests, intestinal parasite screens and body condition evaluations.  We counseled on the merits of early detection testing when he wagged gracefully into senior-hood, then celebrated when you made that great decision for him.  We’ve kept a close eye on his blood-work values over the years.   And finally, after a long, full life of love and care, we held your hand when he slipped away to the Rainbow Bridge.

All of this is a sorely abbreviated summary of a life that represents millions of family pets.  There’s so much information that we need to impart that we rely on even the smallest things like the pet owner coming in to get that refill of medications.  Since we only ideally see each pet twice per year, we rely on those in-between visits to see how Star-Power is doing, how medication administration is going, if there are any side effects that need to be discussed.  We can remind about the Summer heat, inappropriate people-foods and a variety of other topics.  Introducing another entity to help manage your pet’s care only has the potential for confusion.  If there is a problem with that medication, we’ll never know the extent of the problem because we don’t know where they got the medication, if they kept it at the right temperatures during storing and shipment.  We won’t be able to give you the best possible advice for your pet because a big chunk of your pet’s care (the medication) we won’t have control over anymore.

There’s also that trust element.  Despite the exterior of improvement, I don’t trust the online pharmacies.  I don’t know if I ever will.  They lead pet owners to believe that they are working with the veterinarian closely for the benefit of your pet.  I don’t think they always do.  The pet owner believes what they are told because it is more convenient and cheaper.  They equate saving money to caring.

I know this won’t reach everyone.  Price will sometimes, always be the only bottom line.  For those people.  Please use caution.  Other than online pharmacies that are directly controlled through a veterinarian (they work through distributors that vets get their own medications through, so they are trustworthy), I don’t even have a pharmacy that I would feel good recommending.  Use this website put out by the FDA for some helpful tips. Just keep in mind that if your pet gets sick on a medication from an online pharmacy, most manufacturer guarantees are voided.  This is especially true for heartworm preventatives where a portion of treatment can be covered if your pet turns up positive and you can prove constant administration (payment receipts).

Are they worth it?


I think so…

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