Pet meds: What to know before buying online

petsIn the US, we love our pets! According to the Humane Society, 39 percent of US households own at least one dog and 33 percent have at least one cat. It is important for pet owners, government agencies and local communities to keep those pets healthy and free of disease — for the safety of humans, other animals and the environment. So how do we do that?

As the owner of two rescued, over-enthusiastic pups myself, I know that a lot goes into caring for a pet that doesn’t just involve exercise and food. Keeping pets free of disease and parasites plays a crucial role in pet ownership. This also goes for small “farms” of livestock. If you raise chickens and a pig on your lot of land, keeping these “pets” healthy has a direct impact on your health, as the saying may prove true that you are what you eat. When considering healthcare for our pets, the topic of safe vaccinations and medications arises. The availability of pet medications on the Internet adds another layer of concern as pet owners might want to cut costs but also ensure that medication bought online is effective and safe.

Did you know?

The Internet pharmacies LegitScript evaluates are not limited to those selling human medications. We monitor websites selling pet medications as well, using the same criteria. The US law prohibiting the sale of prescription drugs without a prescription also applies to pet medications, and offering prescription meds prescription-free is a common trait of illegal, or “rogue,” Internet pharmacies. One such website, petbucket.com, is designated rogue by LegitScript for a few reasons: It does not require a prescription for prescription pet medicine, it sources its drugs from an unregulated and unknown supply chain, and it illegally imports drugs into the United States.

Petbucket.com explicitly states on a page titled “How do you sell so cheap?”:

“… [T]he item you purchased might be packaged a little different than you’re used to. This is purely because the packaging is designed for a different country. … Pet Bucket source (sic) its products from around the world based on current currency rates and best price offerings. It’s exactly the same brand, product, dosage and manufacturer, only the packaging might look slightly different depending on your country.”

Really? If the people who run petbucket.com source their products worldwide, how can they possibly be sure that the medicines they sell you are the exact product that the vet prescribed for your pet in another country?

Here’s another deceptive rogue Internet pharmacy trait to look for: Some animal medicines require a prescription in the US, but are considered over-the-counter in another country. Illicit pet medicine websites often make the argument that because the medicines are not prescription-only in, say, Singapore, they can sell them to the US. False. The FDA regulates these prescription medicines to assure that our animals are disease-free and safe.

The Dangers

One reason it’s inadvisable to give pets unregulated medicine is a dog can’t tell you if it isn’t working. For example, the pain reliever Rimadyl, which requires a veterinarian’s prescription, can be purchased illegally via the Internet. If you buy the medication from an unknown source online and give it to your 15-year-old best friend, how can you be sure it’s effective? It is possible that the drug’s active ingredients have expired, or that it didn’t contain an active ingredient in the first place. How do you know the medicine isn’t out of date and simply repackaged for sale by an “entrepreneur” in a basement? Old Sadie Jane won’t be able to tell you whether the meds are dulling the pain of her arthritis.

As another example, receiving a product like Frontline when its ingredients are no longer active or it’s actually corn syrup packaged up nicely won’t help to keep fleas and ticks off of your pup — which will be readily apparent one hike through the trails and one bath later. Is it worth buying a potential counterfeit pet medication online if the extra money you saved then goes toward ridding your house of fleas or veterinary bills for the painful symptoms that go along with Lyme disease from ticks the fake Frontline didn’t kill?

Another problem with buying counterfeit pet meds off the Internet is the lack of essential information in the event of a product recall. The EPA, which regulates Frontline as a pesticide, puts registration numbers on the packaging of all the products it regulates, and these numbers would be referenced in a health warning or recall. Buying products like these from an unknown source means they can’t be traced back to the manufacturer if there is a health warning or recall. Merial, the maker of Frontline, doesn’t even guarantee this non-prescriptive product unless it’s purchased directly from a vet in the US.

Buying Pet Medications Online Safely

There are a few reliable sources to be sure our pets’ medicine, if ordered online, is not only safe but also genuine. You can visit the LegitScript website to check a pharmacy’s legitimacy, or report an Internet pharmacy that you’d like us to evaluate. We even have a few in-office canines that help us with our research when they get around to it.

This doesn’t just go for prescription drugs: LegitScript is a reliable source of information about OTC pet meds and pesticides, which don’t require a prescription. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy also has a program for Internet pharmacies for animals: Vet-VIPPS accredits legitimate Internet pharmacies that sell animal medicines.