Buying Pet Medicines Online: Ensuring Products Are Safe
Editor’s note: Buying your pet’s medications online may be tempting in terms of cost. But you need to approach the issue cautiously, say experts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
If you’re purchasing medications for your pet online to save money or for convenience, there are Internet sites that represent legitimate pharmacies.
But the FDA has found that there are others that sell unapproved pet drugs and counterfeit pet products, make fraudulent claims, dispense prescription drugs without requiring a prescription, and sell expired drugs. Any of these practices could mean that the products you are buying could be unsafe or ineffective for your pet.
In general, FDA regulates the manufacture and distribution of animal drugs, while individual state pharmacy boards regulate the dispensing of prescription veterinary products.
If you are ordering pet medications online, you should look closely to ensure that you’re ordering from a reputable pharmacy, says Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M., deputy director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM).
Protecting yourself and your pet requires awareness of the importance of involving a veterinarian even when ordering online. If an online pharmacy does not require a prescription from a veterinarian before filling any order for prescription drugs, that’s a red flag.
Here are some other things to consider when looking at sites offering pet medications.
How to Recognize Legitimate Online Pharmacies
Look for pharmacy websites ending in “.Pharmacy.” You may be used to looking for the Vet-VIPPS seal on your pharmacy’s website. But as of late August, 2017, that no longer holds true. Instead, you should look for pharmacy websites ending in “.Pharmacy.” Under the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) new Pharmacy Verified Websites Program, pharmacies must meet strict standards for enrollment. Once accepted, they are given “.Pharmacy” website addresses to help you quickly identify trustworthy, worldwide online pharmacies and pharmacy-related websites, so you can safely make purchases.
Order from an outsourced prescription management service that your veterinarian uses. These state-licensed Internet pharmacy services work directly with the veterinarian, require that a prescription be written by the veterinarian, and support the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Ask your veterinary hospital if it uses an Internet pharmacy service.
But First, Consult Your Veterinarian
An online foreign or domestic pharmacy may claim that one of its veterinarians on staff will “evaluate” the pet after looking over a form filled out by the pet owner, and then prescribe the drug. But that could be a sign that the pharmacy isn’t legitimate. Written information—without a physical examination of your animal—may omit important clues to your animal’s condition, and is no substitute for a vet physically examining your animal.
CVM is especially concerned that pet owners are going online to buy two types of commonly used veterinary drugs that require a prescription: heartworm preventives, such as Heartgard, Trifexis and Interceptor; and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Rimadyl or Metacam.
“Both types of drugs can be dangerous if your vet doesn’t get involved,” says Hartogensis. “It’s not generally a concern if you use a legitimate online pharmacy and mail in a prescription from your veterinarian, who is monitoring your pet. But if there is no veterinarian–client–patient relationship, it’s a dangerous practice.”
Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal condition transmitted by the bite of a mosquito that is carrying larvae of the heartworm parasite. Dogs, cats, and ferrets can get heartworm disease. Heartworm preventives, given daily, monthly, or semiannually, depending on the product, kill the larvae before they become adult worms.
The American Heartworm Society recommends that you get your pet tested every 12 months for heartworm and give your pet heartworm preventive 12 months a year.
Veterinarians often prescribe NSAIDs to relieve pain in pets. You should not buy NSAIDS on the Internet without a veterinarian’s involvement because
•your pet should undergo blood testing and a thorough physical examination before starting NSAIDs,
•your pet should be monitored by a veterinarian while taking NSAIDs,
•your veterinarian should discuss possible side effects of NSAIDs with you, and
•the prescription should be accompanied by a Client Information Sheet that explains important safety information to you.
This article appears on the FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.