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Pet Medicine- Is it Safe to Order Online?

By Gabrielle Linzer
WebMD Feature from

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In an age where all of your pet's necessities can be purchased online, it only seems natural that its medication should be available through the click of a mouse. While a multitude of online pharmacies provide a convenient and often inexpensive way to obtain prescriptions you'd normally purchase at the vet's office, many veterinarians warn against using them.

Risk #1: Pharmacy Could be Selling Counterfeit or Inferior Medicine

A major concern for most veterinarians is the source of the medications sold by online pharmacies. "Many online pharmacies are not well regulated," said Dr. Michael Farber, Practice Owner and Chief of Staff at West Chelsea Veterinary. "Not all of these sites are licensed to sell drugs. Some sites are not based within the United States, so many of the medications they're selling are foreign-made or bootleg, and may not be exactly what has been prescribed by the vet." 

Counterfeit products, expired products, and "products replaced with lesser products under the same name or category" may put your pet's health at risk, warned Farber.

Risk #2: Even High Quality Products Can Degrade During Shipping

Quality control also worries many veterinarians when their clients purchase medication from online sources. "There is no real quality control that I'm aware of with most online pharmacies," said Dr. Alan Stewart, Internal Medicine Specialist at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists. "When medications are shipped under the correct conditions, they're safe to use, but medicines shipped improperly in extreme hot or extreme cold may become damaged."

Smarter Bargain Hunting

If you still want to buy online -- either for convenience or price -- there are ways to help protect yourself. "Make sure [the online pharmacy] is U.S.-based," said Farber. "You should also be sure that the pharmacy is willing to honor the manufacturer's guarantee. If the pharmacy is only willing to guarantee the product themselves, and not through the manufacturer, they may not be selling the drug legally."

Though professionals advise against using most online pharmacies for prescription medication, flea and tick medications, as well as heartworm medications may be safer to purchase online than other prescriptions, according to Stewart.

You can also consider seeking out alternative local providers. For example, rare medications, or those not regularly stocked by veterinarians can be obtained by specialized pet pharmacies, like Best Pet Rx in New York City, suggests Farber.

Pet owners looking for better prices may opt to purchase their pet's medications from places like Costco or Walgreen's. "I'm usually comfortable [with sending patients] to these places for medication," said Stewart. "They usually have some sort of deal." Another important factor to consider, says Stewart, is that the majority of medication prescribed to pets is made for humans. These medications may be obtained from any trusted pharmacy and may also offer more competitive pricing.

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