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By Nicole Pajer

Lately, there has been an uptick in the number of sellers peddling pet medication online and through social media channels without a license or credentials to do so. The allure of these black-market medications is that they are cheaper and more convenient to obtain, as these vendors sell direct to consumers without the hassle of having to go to the vet or a local pet store. But purchasing illegal medications for your pet can come with a slew of dangerous repercussions.

The Dangers of Using Unverified Medications

Black market medications can cause an array of issues in pets, such as adverse reactions to the medication and unexpected side effects – which can include everything from seizures to hair loss, says Dr. JoAnn Morrison, a veterinarian with Banfield Pet Hospital. Another issue with these types of medications is their potential lack of efficacy, which means that the medication may not work as intended, she adds.

Jill Johnson, a registered vet tech at Blue Cross Pet Hospital in North Hollywood, California, notes that at her clinic, she occasionally sees pets who have rare reactions to various medications. In those instances, the veterinarian who prescribed the drug will treat the pet and suggest a new course of action. For pet parents who purchase a reputable brand from a national pet store chain, they can typically call the manufacturer to report an issue and get help. With black market medications, however, you have no recourse.

“If you have a problem, you need to be able to hold somebody responsible, and if you’ve gotten it offline, then you don’t have any way to contact anyone in regard to the issue,” she says.

Johnson adds that another issue with purchasing unapproved medications is that you are getting a product that has not been thoroughly tested and therefore have no idea what the active ingredients truly are.

“Safety is the main thing,” she says. “If you don’t know what the main drug is, and it’s not prescribed from a professional, how do you know what you are going to get?”

Morrison agrees, adding that there is no way to ensure black market medications have not been exposed to extremes in temperature, humidity or have been altered in some way.

A product that has become increasingly popular, CBD oil, is one pet parents should be particularly careful about. CBD oil is not regulated, Johnson says, and some CBD products may contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component in cannabis. THC can cause severe reactions in pets, she says, and it’s important to talk to your vet before trying to buy CBD-based products that “claim to be safe” from unreliable sources.

How to Tell If a Medication Is from a Reputable Source

Counterfeit vendors often do a great job at disguising their products, which can make it very difficult to identify a black-market pet medication, Morrison says. “On the outside, they may appear identical,” she says. However, there are a few things you can look out for.

“A legitimate medication from a veterinary office will have an RX number on it,” says Johnson. Other things to look out for include an expiration date, the name of the drug’s manufacturer, dosing information and basic instructions (such as if the product is for cats or dogs and how much to administer to your pet based on his weight). There will also be a leaflet inside the packaging that includes information on potential drug side effects and information on who to call in the event of an adverse reaction.

Another clear-cut sign that a medication may be counterfeit is the price, Johnson says. If you notice that a box of Frontline is being sold for $19.99 online but costs $40 in the store, that is a potential red flag.

“Wide variations in pricing and inconsistent availability may be clues that the medication is unverified,” adds Morrison. She also recommends checking the medication expiration dates closely – “some black-market medications are close to expiring, if not expired” –  and looking to see if the medication packaging or product appears altered in any way.

Where to Get Pet Medications

First and foremost, the experts recommend that pet parents should purchase their pet’s medications through their veterinarian or go with a veterinarian-recommended source.

“Veterinarian-approved sources have the most assurances that products are stored, shipped, maintained and dispensed according to manufacturer specifications, which helps ensure the highest levels of safety and efficacy of your pet’s medications,” says Morrison.

If you search for products outside of your vet’s recommendation, Johnson suggests purchasing from a trusted pet retailer that has a dedicated pet pharmacy.

If cost is the main issue, Johnson says that veterinary clinics have a variety of options for medications and can work to find something that fits within your budget but is still safe and effective for your pet.

“If cost is a concern, sometimes one product we carry may be less than others. There are always options,” she says. Another bonus of seeing your vet to pick up medications is that your pet can get their physical exams out of the way. “Your pet is going to get looked at the same time and other conditions can be picked up during the exam,” Johnson says.

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