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How to Ensure You Don’t Get Swindled by an Online Pet Pharmacy

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Purchasing pet meds straight from the vet often comes with an unpleasant side effect: sticker shock. With markups averaging 100 to 160-percent of wholesale prices, that clinic convenience is often offset by a hefty price tag. And, for animal lovers living on a budget, this cost can be pretty difficult to justify. This often leaves pet guardians asking questions like: is this pill worth it? Is our vet really putting our pet's health first? How much does a kidney go for on the black market? Isn’t there a cheaper way to get this stuff? In order: Probably. Maybe. Around $262,000. The internet.

Remember, supplements are important to our cat and canine companion's health, and we can buy them without prescriptions. EcoImmune, for example, is formulated for immune support in dogs and cats to help stay health and live a long life. 

Because online dispensaries often buy in bulk, they can fill Spot’s prescription at a much lower cost than our local animal clinic. But, if we aren’t careful, we might just get what we pay for: a cheap, substandard product.

What the Government Has to Say About Shopping Online for Pet Meds

Until recently, the government had little interest in policing things like tick and heartworm treatment. This all changed in 2012 when the Federal Trade Commission began to investigate the industry’s out of control costs. As the results of this report drove more and more people to online pet pharmacies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a keen interest in the quality and safety of products purchased through that channel.

How to Ensure You Don’t Get Swindled by an Online Pet Pharmacy | Vet OrganicsWhile the FDA acknowledges that reputable online pharmacies exist and that they offer substantial savings over vet prices, they urge pet guardians to be cautious; just because one retailer is honest doesn’t mean that they all are. During searches of these less-honest pharmacies, investigators found drugs for sale that were counterfeit or expired. They also found that many online facilities would dispense large, potentially-deadly doses of medication without a prescription. To a dog or cat that is already sick, such oversights could prove fatal.

Six Signs an Online Pet Pharmacy is Legit

Luckily for us, there are a few things that set reputable online pet pharmacies apart from all the new-age snake oil salesmen. Here are six characteristics of legitimate online pet pharmacies:

Your Vet Recommends Them: No one knows our furbaby’s needs better than their primary veterinarian. So, if the price of that seizure medication is a bit outside our budget, we can ask the doctor for recommendations. As many of them put the wellbeing of the animal above anything, including their own wallets, most vets are happy to give you a link to a reputable pet med distributor. If they refuse to provide the script, it may be a sign that it’s time to take Buster to a different doctor.

They Comply with VIPPS regulations: As the laws surrounding online pharmacies are tenuous at best, some dispensaries have taken it upon themselves to develop a set of strict quality standards. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) then rolled these standards into a voluntary-accreditation program known as VIPPS. Any pet pharmacy worth its salt will display the VIIPS-certified seal front-and-center. To find out if a pet pharmacy is certified, please visit NABP’s website.

They’re Licensed in Your State: Every state has its own laws about what online pet dispensaries can and cannot do. Before we place an order for Mr. Whiskers’ NSAIDS, we need to take a few minutes to see if our would-be pharmacy is certified in its state of residence. If they are, this is pretty indicative that they’re living up to some pretty high standards.

How to Ensure You Don’t Get Swindled by an Online Pet Pharmacy | Vet OrganicsThey Only Hire Certified Pharmacists: Some of those ‘cheap pet med’ dispensaries are nothing more than a ramshackle stall in somebody’s garage, and a shop like that couldn’t afford a real pharmacist’s lunch. Before sending our dog’s script to Okey Dokey Pet Meds, we should pull a few names from the company’s Meet Our Team page and run them through a database like this that let’s us check whether they are associated with and hire board certified pharmacists. If we can’t find their pharmacists, it’s a good sign that the facility is run by salesmen, not pharmacists.

They stand Up to Rigorous Research: Browse the company’s reviews on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. While you shouldn’t discount a pharmacy based on one or two bad reviews, a slew of them can be indicative of a scam. We can also verify that the company has an A+ rating with government-sponsored entities like the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

They Require Prescriptions: This one is, perhaps, the most important. No pet pharmacy on the up and up will fork over the goods without a valid prescription. Any business willing to do so is actually in violation of federal law and knowingly putting our critters at risk. Run far, far away from any dispensary trying to pass this dangerous attitude off as a money-saving tactic.

How to Ensure You Don’t Get Swindled by an Online Pet Pharmacy | Vet OrganicsWe all want our dogs and cats to be healthy, and most of us would give our left arm to see them live life without arthritis, seizures, and other chronic conditions. But, most vets don’t consider body parts to be a form of legal tender. Thanks to a rise in large pet med distributors, however, many of us no longer feel the need to hock a lung for high-end heartworm prevention. But, saving a buck isn’t always cheap, especially when it comes to things like medication. That’s why it’s important to proceed with caution and only buy our pet’s medications from licensed, accredited pharmacies. And remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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