Pricey Pet Prescriptions: How to Get Your Vet to Help You Get the Best Deals on Drugs

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: May 16, 2011
Pricey Pet Prescriptions: How to Get Your Vet to Help You Get the Best Deals on Drugs

Somehow this issue keeps on popping up on this blog: Pet owners who struggle to pay for their pets’ pricey products and prescriptions are always complaining that their veterinarians charge too much for them. So they want to buy elsewhere, but their veterinarian won’t play nice.

Plenty of my clients are perfectly happy to cough up the ten to thirty percent premium we veterinarians tend to charge on drugs and products. That’s the cost of convenience. Some, however, have multiple pets or tight budgets that preclude this luxury. Those clients require that I write a prescription so they can fill them elsewhere…

…and I happily will. But not all veterinarians feel the same way. Here’s why:

  1. Practice-owning veterinarians have historically enjoyed a sizable income from the "profit center" that is the in-house pharmacy. Selling pills, elixirs and products formulated especially for our pet patients was our exclusive purview. We were the only game in town.

    But veterinarians are feeling the economic squeeze acutely now that their pharmacy income has gone to the online folks (you know who they are). They’re struggling to maintain their incomes in light of a decreased demand for services and a diminished demand for products and pharmaceuticals in light of the proliferation of ready substitutes.

  2. Veterinarians are marketed to by drug and product manufacturers, who promise big income boosts with their recommendations. Some veterinarians still believe these tall tales are true (and in the tooth fairy, too). These earnings are possible, but it’s usually a short-term bump. They’re gone as soon as the online pharmacies out-maneuver brick and mortar veterinarians. And they always do. That’s their core business, after all.

  3. Plenty of veterinarians legitimately feel that the drugs and products you buy online might not be safe for your pets. We’ve all seen counterfeit products, so it’s no stretch for some veterinarians to put their foot down and say, "No way. I’m not endorsing that kind of buying behavior."

    But now that so many online pharmacies are certified by the National Board of State Pharmacies with VetVIPPS certification, safety is no longer the issue it may once have been. This good news, however, has not trickled down to all veterinarians.

    Problem is, it’s not always up to the veterinarian — not legally, anyhow. In about half of all U.S. states, veterinarians are required to write a prescription if a client asks for one. It’s an obstruction to the free flow of commerce to stand in a consumer’s way of a better deal. I mean, it’s not like it would be fair for your dermatologist to force you to get your antibiotics, sunscreen and face creams at the counter on your way out the door.

Still, old habits die hard. And while it may not be legal to challenge our client’s commercial choices, many veterinarians will. Sometimes that’s because they don’t know the law. Other times because, even when they do, they know that most clients will submit to their authority.

So what’s a cost-cutting consumer to do when their veterinarian won’t sanction their better deal via prescription pad? Here are my tips for getting your way (feel free to offer yours in the comment section below):

  1. Make it easy for your veterinarian to say yes.

    If you’re not sure where your veterinarian stands on this one, lob an easy shot across the bow first. Don’t ask while you’re checking out. Just order the meds and have the online pharmacy send its faxed prescription request. (Remember, there are plenty of reasons your vet can legitimately decline your request. Such as when you’re late for your annual labwork, etc.)

    Once you’ve been denied you can then call the staff and find out why.

  2. Appeal to the office manager.

    He or she will be able to describe the policy and offer any explanation. Your job is now to say that you’re a loyal client who pays a significant amount for vet services every year and that you have a safe option to buy drugs elsewhere that’s going to make paying for services more doable in the future.

    I would even go so far as to ask why Dr. X’s policy is different than Dr. Y’s policy down the street. You’re not threatening to defect. You’re just saying you’ve got choices.

  3. Make it hard for your veterinarian to say no.

    Armed with the knowledge that he or she doesn’t want you to get your drugs elsewhere, sometimes your best bet is to ask directly. Use the same tactic as with the office manager. Smile lots.

  4. Try the younger associate vet.

    A tip for the non-confrontational: Any younger veterinarian is probably uncomfortable with any policy that precludes writing a prescription. They aren’t likely to want to see themselves aligned with any sort of commercial undertaking outside the scope of their veterinary services. It’s a generational thing.

  5. When all else fails...

    …you can always explain the law, where applicable. Check out Scooter’s wonderful website to find out where your state stands.


OK, so now that I’ve incurred the wrath of a significant percentage of my fellow veterinary professionals, I think I’ll be lying low for a while. ;-)

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Meds For A Sick Ferret by Stacy Lynn Baum

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