Drug Wars: Is the Fairness to Pet Owners Act Truly Fair?

Vet Holding Pet Prescription
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How much do you pay for those drugs your pets need? Whether it’s dog- or cat-specific insulin for her diabetes, pills to keep those pesky bugs at bay or her really expensive arthritis medication… it’s pricey!

I feel your pain. My household teems with six chronically sick dogs whose medical problems were too much for their owners. (Yeah, that’s how vets end up adopting animals). And a rotating crop of rescued cats raises the roof on my drug bills — big time! Other people must feel the pain, too. Why else would lawmakers step in to ensure pet owners get access to the best deals out there?

It's All About a Written Prescription

Here’s the scoop: Last February, Rep. Jim Matheson reintroduced the so-called Fairness to Pet Owners Act (H.R. 4023). The proposed law would require that every veterinarian provide a written prescription for every drug prescribed, whether the client asks for one or not.

Historically, pet owners have purchased animal drugs and products at their veterinary hospitals. Got an itch, an infection or a parasite to fend off? No need to waste your time running off to a pharmacy — we have just the drug for you! It’s conveniently accessible in our in-house pharmacy.

We carry the drugs because, in the past, human pharmacies never bothered to stock veterinary products. Why would they? Not only were old-school pet drugs none too profitable, human pharmacists were not trained in the science of animal drugs and their effects on our patients.

But fast-forward to the 21st century, and now every human pharmacy and big-box pet retailer wants in on the action. The fact that pets are viewed as family members like never before means pet owners are willing to pay way more for drugs and products than they did in years past.

Even behemoth human drug retailers like Walmart, Costco, Walgreens and CVS (among others) want their slice of that juicy pie. They’re offering pet drugs, too — to pad their bottom lines. And the truth is, their entry into the pet marketplace is a good thing for you, the pet-owning consumer — pricewise, anyway. But that doesn't mean your veterinarian is happy about it. Why? Because it's not always in your pet's best interest.

Possible Safety Issues

As I mentioned, your average pharmacist is not trained in animal drugs. Managing the possibility of serious drug interactions, being alert to mislabeling and potential overdosage issues (when interpreting handwriting, for example) and keeping up on inactive ingredients of which to steer clear (toxic xylitol elixirs come to mind) means that your veterinarian is still probably your best bet for prescription safety — especially if you have older pets who get lots of mixed meds.

But let's be honest: For many pet drugs (including preventive meds, such as heartworm tablets), purchasing from human pharmacies isn't usually a serious safety concern. Moreover, plenty of pet-only Internet pharmacies are ready and willing to sell you drugs more cheaply — with fewer safety-based problems than human pharmacies might offer. They’re even certified in the animal arena (unlike the Walgreens of the world).

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