How to know if your online or big-box pet drugs and products are safe
As the economy continues to reject a rapid bounceback, I happen to know that more of you are looking for ways to curb your consumption of expensive veterinary drugs and products by sourcing them online or through big box pharmacies.
It’s also clear that the EPA spooked many of you after issuing an advisory for many flea and tick topicals (the primary reason my clients head to the web for savings). And the presence of counterfeit products online and in big box retailers has been postulated as one of the possible explanations for the surge in these products’ adverse effects on pets.
This is a big issue for veterinarians, as you can imagine. Though many vets might point to the evils of veterinarian-circumventing Internet sales as a driving force behind higher veterinary service prices and the cause of everything evil that afflicts the profession, the majority of us are far more concerned about the safety issues. After all, the web provides an easy means for unscrupulous merchants to offer counterfeit (read: potentially toxic and ineffective) products at seemingly incredible prices.
Q: So how can pet owners know for sure they’re getting the safe product their veterinarian recommends?
A: They can’t...not for sure, anyway.
Nonetheless, I can offer you some tips that can help you make the process as safe as possible:
1. Beware companies you’ve never heard of before or that don’t come highly recommended from someone you trust. Stick to companies that have a reputation to protect.
2. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. (Many vets are highly receptive to this and most have plenty of experience with online retailers/pharmacies.)
3. You can always check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for complaints lodged against any company you plan to do business with. (Sure, this might seem annoying and it might not help when you realize that all these companies have received some complaints but it’s a place to compare outlets, anyway.)
4. Know that trademarked drugs tend to be your safest bet. After all, you can see what they look like and match them up against the manufacturer's pictures (usually available on their websites). The biggest risk here is for drugs that are dispensed by the pharmacy’s stash in separate vials (independent of manufacturer packaging). There’s always the risk that they might be expired.
5. Big box human pharmacies tend to be more reliable for generic, non-animal drugs. They’re often more tightly regulated. For example, Walgreen’s online (or the brick-and-mortar variety) is more likely to get squeezed by the DEA and FDA than Pet Meds Express. Not to say that the latter is doing anything wrong. In fact, the reliability of human pharmacies in general probably compares very favorably to that of individual veterinarians as well.
6. "Vet-only" flea and tick products, in particular, are least reliably purchased safely online. That’s because veterinarians are the flea and tick manufacturer’s intended distributors. So that means that whenever non-veterinarians carry Frontline or Advantage––whether they be online pet supply outlets or brick-and-mortar retailers––they’re doing so in the least-regulated of all scenarios. We call this the “gray market.” It’s these cases where I’ve seen counterfeit products––or those diverted from other countries––even from some of the most well-known suppliers.
7. Beware any company willing to sell you drugs without a prescription. You should know better, anyway, right? If your veterinarian doesn’t have a record of a prescription or refill authorization that’s a sure bet you’ve reached out to a shady operator. Never a good sign.
8. Make sure your pre-packaged veterinary drugs and products come with expiration dates and lot numbers. To check and see whether the company you’ve bought from is legit (and the product itself is safe), call the manufacturer and ask where this product originated and if it’s a vet-only flea and tick product, what veterinary hospital purchased it.
If everyone took these measures to heart to ensure the safety of their drugs, products and supplies, we’d go a long way towards putting some foul players out of business...and towards making all pets much safer.
Do any of you have any additional items you’d like to add to my list? I’m all ears...