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Is it safe to buy pet meds online?

Don't click just yet

Every pet owner knows that the vet's office is the most expensive place to buy your pet's medications. If it's a one-time illness, the vet is often more convenient, but what if you have a pet that takes medication daily?
Dog taking medicine

To save a few bucks, many of us have turned to online pet pharmacies, but is this practice safe? We're going to find out.

A simple Google search yields hundreds upon hundreds of online pet pharmacies both in the U.S. and abroad, so how does a discerning pet owner figure out which, if any, are legit? Very carefully.

What the FDA says

First, let's get the facts. The FDA issued a consumer alert in 2010 cautioning pet owners about the dangers of buying pet meds online. "Some of the internet sites that sell pet drugs represent legitimate, reputable pharmacies," says Dr. Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M., deputy director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), "but others are fronts for unscrupulous businesses operating against the law."

In many cases, the buyer may think they're getting a great deal when in fact they're receiving counterfeit, expired or unapproved drugs, says the FDA. Another problem is that many internet pharmacies peddling pet meds allow consumers to buy medications without a prescription. This can be extremely dangerous for your pet. "A veterinarian should physically examine an animal prior to making a diagnosis to determine the appropriate therapy," says Hartogensis.

Some of the most popular medicines to buy online are heartworm medicines and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) but they should only be administered to your pet after a visit to the vet. "Both drugs can be dangerous if there is no professional involvement," cautions Hartogensis. "It's not generally a concern if the owner uses a legitimate online pharmacy and mails in a prescription from their veterinarian, who is monitoring the animal. But if there is no veterinarian–client–patient relationship, it's a dangerous practice."

To protect your pet, here's what the FDA recommends:

Check the credentials

Before buying pet meds online, a pet owner should research pharmacies that belong to a Vet-VIPPS accredited pharmacy. The FDA explains that "Vet-VIPPS — the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites — is a voluntary accreditation program of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). NABP gives the Vet-VIPPS seal to online pharmacies that dispense prescription animal drugs and comply with NABP's strict criteria, including federal and state licensing and inspection requirements, protecting patient confidentiality, quality assurance and validity of prescription orders."

Ask your vet

See if your vet uses an outsourced prescription management service and buy that way instead. Many vets use a state-licensed internet pharmacy service which is a safe way to get your pet's medications. They require a valid prescription from your vet and are cost effective as well.

Finally, do your research as you would with anything else before choosing an online pharmacy. Your pet's life is at stake so take your time.

Tell us

Have you ordered pet meds from an online pharmacy or do you buy what your pet needs at the vet? Tell us below!

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