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How to Find an Online Veterinary Pharmacy

January 22, 2021

online pharmacy safety

Dog playing on a beach

Pets aren't just companions — they're part of the family. That's why when they aren't feeling well, you're likely to take them to the vet pretty quickly — perhaps even faster than you'd take yourself to the doctor if you weren't feeling well. After all, they can't tell you (at least not in English) that they are sick, so by the time you figure it out, there's no telling how long they haven't been feeling quite right.

As if the vet visit were not expensive enough, prescription drugs formulated for animals are subject to the same price gouging that humans are. The cost of filling a prescription with a veterinarian or brick and mortar pharmacy can be a major strain on your wallet.

Here's how to keep your best friend (and your wallet) healthy by finding a safe online veterinary pharmacy.

Filling a Pet Med Prescription: The Basics

A pet getting ill can be a frightening thing. Not only are pets unable to articulate what hurts or how they're feeling differently than normal, pets are very good at hiding their symptoms. In some cases, their owners may not know anything is amiss until the pet is quite ill.

When you take your pet in, the veterinarian will perform a physical examination, assess anything they find, compare their findings with the symptoms you describe, and then probably order some tests. Chances are, these orders will involve bloodwork, and depending on the symptoms reported, they could potentially include a stool sample or imaging (such as an x-ray to find broken bones or foreign masses, or an MRI to look for tumors or look at ligaments and the spinal cord).

Once the tests come back, the vet will discuss medical options with you and prescribe some kind of treatment. Sometimes it's a relatively simple fix — maybe your pet is aging, and their digestive system isn't working as well as it used to, so you need to switch food. Sometimes, even a simple fix can be a prescription, like low white blood cell count being treated by prednisone. Other times, it's far more complicated and requires expensive prescription medication.

As you would imagine, nothing about this journey to diagnosis is cheap. You have to pay for the vet's time, the tests they ordered, and possibly third-party labs to analyze the results. Diagnostic tests can run into the hundreds of dollars depending on the condition and the clinic, and there may need to be multiple tests just to confirm your pet's diagnoses. When all is said and done, an unexpected vet bill can easily top $1,000 dollars.

When veterinarians have the necessary emergency medicine onsite, pet owners often just pay for it right then and there so they can start the treatment immediately. Pet owners also have the option of buying medication at a traditional pharmacy or in the case of non-prescription treatments, such as food that is easier on the kidneys, pet owners can likely find what they need at a pet supply store. However, it can be difficult to source high quality pet care products in many areas and your pharmacy may not carry the medicine you need. Additionally, there's no guarantee your pharmacy will have better prices than the veterinarian.

But medical emergencies aren't the only costs that add up. Routine veterinary visits can run into the hundreds, if not, thousands of dollars, especially if your pet is due for multiple shots at one time, such as distemper and rabies, among other things. And of course, that doesn't count special diets or routine medicine such as preventive heartworm treatment for dogs and monthly flea and tick medication. These high costs can put a strain on pet owners' budgets, and make it harder to keep your pets healthy for as long as possible.

While you don't always have a choice in emergency treatment, you do have a choice when it comes to long-term and regularly used health products. Online veterinary pharmacies can provide the same high-quality pet meds, often at a fraction of the price you'd pay at a brick-and-mortar pharmacy or your veterinarian's office. Here's how to find safe pet meds at the best price online.

Benefits of Online Veterinary Pharmacies

There are many benefits to finding a safe and reliable online pet pharmacy, including lower costs, better overall pet health, and convenience. Let's get into all of these benefits into greater detail.

Lower Costs

While there are certainly other great benefits to online pet pharmacies, one of the most exciting ones is the savings. Most veterinarians buy medication in relatively small quantities, since they don't fill enough prescriptions to justify buying in bulk in the same way a regular pharmacy would. That means they often pay higher prices than online pet pharmacies do, which translates to higher costs per patient.

Commercial brick and mortar pharmacies also tend to charge high prices, simply because they can — especially in the United States, where there are no regulations in place to prevent such high prices. Additionally, most pet owners aren't even aware that they have another choice outside of the big pharmacy chains to which they're accustomed.

By contrast, online pet pharmacies base their entire business model on providing medication at a lower cost. One reason we're able to accomplish this goal is that we buy in bulk. Additionally, we are structured in a way to reduce our overhead costs, which enables us to pass financial savings on to our customers.

Pet medication costs can vary greatly from pharmacy to pharmacy and vet to vet, but in many cases, we can save consumers 50% or more on the cost of their pet medication.

Dog playing on a beach

Better Pet Health

One of the biggest challenges veterinarians face is adherence to the recommended treatment plan. Just like human doctors, vets can't force the patient (or the patient's human) to follow directions outside the office. The fact of the matter is that there are just a lot of failure points to healthcare for both humans and animals.

To be fair, one of the challenges facing pet owners with animals who need medication is literally the act of forcing the pet to take the medication in the first place. Cats in particular are notorious for being able to sniff out medication and refusing to eat food that seems suspect. (If you do an internet search you'll find all kinds of tips and tricks for getting your favorite feline to take medication, but one of the most popular and effective is the burrito method.) However, the rest of the issue at hand has more to do with humans and our own limitations.

Over time, pet owners may forget to refill prescriptions. Others see their pets symptoms being alleviated, and may discontinue the medication, or let a few doses slip — especially if the pet is less than enthusiastic about taking the medication. After all, who wants to fight with their pet when they don't "have" to. And of course, there are times when pet owners simply cannot afford the cost of providing medicine year-round.

By providing a convenient, low-cost way to order medication, online pet pharmacies can actually increase compliance, according to Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Sarah J. Wooten. Writing for the industry journal Vetted, Dr. Wooten points out that a 2012 study of human patients showed that "patients who used online pharmacies had higher rates of medication adherence compared with patients who did not, meaning that online pharmacy users followed prescription instructions better."

To study the implications for veterinary medicine, Denise Tumblin, CPA, looked at veterinarians who placed certain medications and other relevant products on an online pharmacy platform for their patients (or rather, their patients' humans). Tumblin found that these veterinary clinics showed similar results to the human study, with pet owners showing "better compliance with diet and medication recommendations, resulting in better patient care."

Convenience

An online pet pharmacy makes buying safe pet meds extraordinarily easy. If you've ever used a mail order pharmacy to purchase your own medications, you'll find that it works rather similarly. You'll need a prescription order from the veterinarian and an accepted method of payment. Beyond that, there isn't much to it.

You won't have to drive across town to the one pharmacy in a 100-mile radius that stocks your cat's vital prescription drug, or your dog's skin cream that keeps him from chewing the fur off his feet. No more calling your vet ahead of time to make sure they have the medication you need in stock. And no more frantically looking for a last-minute alternative when your local pharmacy jacks up the price. Just order and wait for delivery.

NorthWestPharmacy.com even has a lowest price guarantee, so you know you're saving as much money as possible, every time. If you're wondering whether we carry your pet's necessary medications, you can check out the seven most popular pet meds we carry here, and see the full list here.

Why Are Pet Medications So Expensive?

Vet trips are expensive — and it's understandable why. Veterinarians essentially go through the same schooling that doctors do, with the added challenge that they have to learn how to treat multiple species, not just one. On top of that, their schooling is often just as expensive. Plus, once they graduate, they won't find the same pay that doctors will. For many, this means it's a labor of love more than anything else.

On top of that, vet clinics are essentially mini hospitals. They are expensive to build and to maintain, they have to have special machinery in their office, they have to sterilize things constantly, they need a robust support staff — their costs can be astronomically high.

But what does this have to do with medication?

Simple: because of the above factors, vet clinics often cost as much to run as a doctor's office (if not more, in many cases).

On top of that, the sheer volume of and diversity of animals they treat means they need to keep a lot of medications in stock for emergencies. Yet, they can't afford to keep a large volume of medication in stock. Like everything else, bulk orders save money, but most veterinarians can't afford bulk medications. They order what they need, and try to give their patients (and their owners) the right medication at the right price.

The thing is, they often simply can't afford to charge a lower price.

Online pet pharmacies are different, though. Online pharmacies can push a lot of volume. They have a lot of customers, and that means they can buy in bulk, and also hunt for the best prices internationally. Normal vets simply don't have the time, access, or money to do these things. Online pharmacies, on the other hand, specialize in it.

Many vets will even tell you that this is the case — they aren't trying to rip you off! They really do want to help — they just can't afford to.

Cat

Are Online Pet Pharmacies Safe?

Perhaps one of the scariest things about being a pet owner is the responsibility of being their entire advocate, all the time. They cannot speak to you or the vet, and everyone involved is relying on their own instincts, experience, and training to determine how the animal feels. When that fails, they're relying solely on you.

It's this heightened responsibility that sometimes causes pet owners to be leery of online pet pharmacies. Every pet owner has heard horror stories about contaminated food or unsafe supplements poisoning the pets of unsuspecting owners. And while pet owners assume their veterinarian or a trusted local pet supply store stocks safe products, ordering pet foods or medicines online justifiably makes some of them nervous.

Questions may surface in your mind that make you doubt the validity of online pet pharmacies. Haven't we all had a terrible experience or two when ordering products online? How can you be sure that you'll get what you order? How can you be sure that what you're getting is really what claims to be inside the package?

The situation is complicated by lack of regulation and enforcement. Even in the United States, where there are agencies responsible for monitoring such issues, unsafe pet products often take too long to recall. Adding to the problem, getting the word to get out takes time, putting our best friends at risk. While we don't want to believe it's intentional (it's very likely that it's not), pets are often seen as lower on the priority list than humans, so if a problem comes about with safety of a pet product, it may not be at the top of the list for government agencies, or even news programs.

In other countries, laws for pet products may be more lax. If you can't trust imported pet food at your local pet store, can you really trust online pet pharmacies to be safe? Some countries have much poorer enforcement and standards for pet products, after all.

These are valid concerns, and as a responsible pet owner, you are entirely justified in asking them. Your pet is part of your family, and just like any family member, you want them to be healthy, happy and safe. We know you'd never do anything that would knowingly put them in harm's way.

Fortunately, there are many online pet pharmacies that are just as safe as buying pet meds directly from your veterinarian. The key is knowing where to look and how to judge if the site you're looking at is credible.

How to Find Safe Online Pet Pharmacies

The process of getting prescription pet meds is much like the process of getting a prescription for yourself or for a dependent. Your veterinarian establishes a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) when you bring your pet in for examination. The vet records information about the pet's health, name, and recommended treatment plan, along with basic information about the owner and the veterinary office.

They prescribe a treatment plan, and can either dispense the pet meds themselves, or give you a script you can take into a pharmacy. This ensures that whoever is filling the prescription knows what they're doing, keeps appropriate records, and has access to safe medicine.

It's a familiar process for us — meeting with a primary care physician, determining the problem, getting a prescription (or multiple prescriptions), filling said prescriptions, and then keeping in touch with your doctor regarding your progress. If additional expertise is needed, they'll refer you to a specialist, such as an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist (ENT), oncologist, dermatologist, etc. In this case, the vet is your pet's primary care physician, and they will send you to specialists as needed.

For an online veterinary pharmacy, you should seek out the same qualifications you'd want in any safe online pharmacy you'd use yourself for your own medication. If it's not good enough for you, why would it be good enough for your best furry friend? The most important thing to look for is certification from a professional oversight organization.

Dog playing on a beach

Important Considerations for Online Pet Pharmacies

An online pharmacy website that dispenses prescription drugs to humans should be reviewed and verified by a reputable third-party certification provider. Certification via an official seal and confirmation from the organization's website is a major indication that the website you're looking into is safe, reliable, and has a consistent track record.

When you're looking for pet meds from Canada (or any other international online pharmacy), look for a website that is CIPA-certified. This means that the site has been certified by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association and has been deemed safe. You can check to see if a site you're looking at has been verified by the CIPA here.

For websites that offer prescription drugs dispensed by an online pharmacy with a dispensing pharmacy based in British Columbia, there is an additional certification that is possible through an organization called the International Pharmacy Association of British Columbia (IPABC). While many of their certification criteria overlap with those of CIPA, it may be cause for concern if the online pharmacy is located in that province but has not received their seal of approval. Essentially, the more reputable regulatory organizations that sign off on the website, the better. To be safe, it's best to just stick with one that is certified by CIPA.

Another excellent sign of a highly reputable online pharmacy are positive user reviews. In fact, we have more than 375,000 NorthWestPharmacy.com reviews, which attest to our excellent customer service record. We're very proud of this fact and we work hard every day to live up to these expectations.

Finally, it's always wise to exercise caution with sites that offer pet meds without veterinary prescriptions. Technically speaking, some pet medications that are only available via prescription in the United States are available over the counter in other countries, which may lead you to believe that it's normal and acceptable to purchase medications from online pharmacies based in said countries. However, pharmacies — whether online or brick and mortar — should strive for the highest ethics possible.

Shipping these medications to Americans without prescriptions is questionable at best, and downright dangerous at worst. A pharmacy that advertises prescription-free medication may not be above board. At the very least, you should look further into their certifications and customer reviews.

It's worth noting that this caveat only applies to medication that can only be obtained in the United States via prescription from a licensed professional (i.e. primary care physician veterinarian). You should be able to buy pet meds without a prescription if they're legal to purchase over the counter, such as certain flea and tick or heartworm medication.

Cat and Dog

Tips for Using Online Veterinary Pharmacies

There is a lot of information to digest here, so let's break it down into a simple list you can follow when you're researching online pet pharmacies.

  • Online veterinary pharmacies are a great way to obtain high-quality pet medicine. However, it's important to ensure you'll have the medication when your pet needs it. Shipping from NorthWestPharmacy.com typically takes 8-18 business days to deliver. Additionally, inclement weather, customs and other factors can occasionally slow delivery for any product shipped from another country.
  • If your pet needs their medication urgently, we always recommend getting it directly from the veterinarian. Once you're sure you have enough to cover the immediate time being, get a fresh prescription from your vet and you can order the medication from us one month before you need them to be sure you'll have them in time.
  • For seasonal health issues, plan ahead. If your pet has summer allergies or gets skin irritation in the winter, have your vet write you a prescription before the season begins. That way, you'll be able to order it far enough in advance that your pet will have it when they need it.
  • Carefully read storage and usage directions on all medications, even if it's a medicine your pet has had before. Different manufacturers may have different instructions for dosing and storage, even for medications with the same active ingredients. Doing so will prolong the life of the medication and ensure that it's most effective.
  • Be as thorough as possible when sharing your pet's medical history, both with your vet and your online pharmacy. Different medications may have harmful interactions, which your vet should check for. Making sure everyone has complete information will help ensure the best pet care possible.
  • Finally, always check with your vet if you have concerns. You know how your pet normally acts, and you'll notice if they're lethargic, uncomfortable, or in pain. If your pet does not seem to be responding well to treatment, only your vet can diagnose the problem and design a better treatment plan.

If you're ready to order your pet meds, you can do so on our website. If you have further questions, or would simply like to order over the phone, contact us today. Our call center is open seven days a week for your convenience, and you can email us anytime.

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