USE CAUTION WHEN YOU BUY PET MEDICATIN ON THE WEB:
Owners who want to save money could do more harm to their pets
By John Bowman, Staff Writer
The Tennessean, August 4, 2006
Flea and tick treatments, heartworm preventives, joint elixirs, vaccines, insulin- all those medications that used to only be available through veterinarians can now be purchased from a variety of Internet pet pharmacies.
That’s good news for pet owners but is it good news for their pets?
It’s true that savvy shoppers can find money-saving deals in cyberspace on some items. But they also do themselves – and their pets – a favor if they do their homework before buying online and understand that Internet pharmacies are designed to work in conjunction with veterinarians, not in place of them.
Gary almond, vice president of operations for the Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles, advises pet owners to make sure any online company they deal with clearly posts its address and contact information on the Web site.
“Call the consumer services number. Make sure you’re talking to someone at the company, not just an order line,” he said. “If somebody’s trying to hide their identity and sell me something, I wouldn’t be too hot on that”.
Almond said this applies even when ordering none-prescription flea and tick treatments such at Frontline and Advantage because of problems with counterfeiting. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a warning about counterfeit Frontline and Advantage products in 2004.
“Sometimes pricing will give an indication. You have to ask yourself if it’s too good to be true. Legitimate companies incorporate into their prices the cost of doing business – things like answering the phone and handling returns,” Almond said.
Gary Koesten, director of pharmacy services for 1-800 PetMeds, said a prescription from a vet who has physically examined the animal should always be required before dispensing prescription medicine.
“If I’m a consumer, and get onto a Web site that says I can get a prescription medication without needing a prescription, that would be a red flag” he said.
Franklin veterinarian Kathy Kunkle agrees. “That’s the main thing. That’s huge,” she said. “There’s a reason the medications are prescription. The animal could get sick or be imperiled. It should be examined by a veterinarian, truly examined”.
A good sign for consumers is when an Internet company has its own pharmacy and a pharmacist on hand who is available to answer any questions or concerns, Kostner said.
“If I used the number that was on the Website, and I was told there was no pharmacist on staff, that would be an issue. I would want to be able to get right through to a pharmacy,” he said.
No matter where a pharmacy is located, it must be licensed in Tennessee to ship drugs into the state. Residents can contact the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy at 615-741-2718 to verify a pharmacy is licensed, or go to www.state.tn.us/commerce/boards/pharmacy and click on “look up a license”.
Pet owners can have the best of both worlds by shopping around for the best prices while also keeping their vets informed about where they’re buying their medications, according to Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for the Humane Society of the United States.
“Sometimes people are afraid that it will be an uncomfortable situation because they feel like they’re taking money away from their vet, but it’s a conversation worth having,” Shain said.
Veterinarians often know which sites are most reliable or are themselves affiliated with an online pharmacy. Open conversations with vets about mediation costs also lets consumers compare their vet’s prices with those online.
“Prices aren’t always lower,” said veterinarian Craig Prior of Murphy Road Animal Hospital in Nashville. “A lot of times I tell people, “I don’t know why you’re buying online when we’re cheaper”.
Prior said it’s vital for pets to be tested before taking prescription heartworm preventatives like Heartguard or Interceptor.
“If an animal has not had a heartworm test, it should have one. Otherwise it could have a fatal reaction,” he said.
Kunkle, who owns and practices a Little House Animal Hospital, believes pets are better served when owners ask their vets which flea and tick treatment to use before decision on a product.
“I base my decision on what I know about that animal,” she said. “Does it go to the park? Does it go to the groomer?”
Kunkle worries that revenues lost to the Internet will cause veterinarians fees to go up because bets have traditionally used the profits from medication sales as a way to keep prices lower on other services. On a heartworm examination, for instance, the charge for the examination takes into account the profit that will be made from the sale of heartworm preventive.
“That’s how veterinarians pay their light bills,” she said. “It’s always been that way”.