Buying prescription drugs for dogs each month can get expensive.
Now more than ever, many dog owners on the budget struggle with the costs associated with dog prescription drugs, and the prices are rising.
But there's a way to find cheap pet meds online and other ways to save on your pet's drugs.
In this article, we'll take a look at some of the reasons why pet medication for dogs is so expensive today and go over a few tips on how to save money when buying dog meds for your pooch this year and in the future.
Pet Health Industry is Booming
It's no surprise that dog owners find it difficult to budget well for dog medication costs year after year.
The numbers from the pet health industry can tell a lot:
In 2019, veterinary care made over $29 billion and pet OTC medicine raked up $19.2 billion total (source).
For majority of pet owners, it breaks down as follows into the following categories: dog's surgery at $426/year, dog's routine health expenses at $212/year, and the minimum spend on vitamins and supplements (not pet medication) was at $58/year on average.
This is why the pet insurance industry has reached almost $1.4 billion in total premiums paid in 2019 alone (source).
In 2015 it was $688 million, and in 2016, the number went up to $836 million (a +21.4% increase).
With the average premium per pet at $496/year, no wonder pet owners struggle to pay for dog meds or pet insurance.
As prices for dog medications continue to rise, the pet medication market is growing at a staggering rate and the whole pet industry is at an all-time high right now, surpassing a whopping $95 billion in revenue (source).
The sales of pet medications alone are projected to reach $15 billion, and the competition is fierce (source).
Flea and tick medications that work best are often prescription based.
Dogs also need monthly heartworm preventative, which is by prescription only.
There can be other basic prescription needs for worms, ear infections or common stomach issues. If your dog is faced with a life-threatening long-term illness, like diabetes, then your pet prescription costs will skyrocket even further, potentially costing you extra thousands of dollars per year.
This begs the question, why are the costs of pet meds for dogs are so high and more importantly, why do the prices continue to rise so fast?
And is there a way to save money on dog medication, whether on those sold by veterinarians or by buying cheap pet meds online?
Why Is Pet Medication for Dogs So Expensive?
If you're puzzled about the costs of pet meds, you're not the only one.
An article on Forbes talks in detail about one dog owner's shock of having to pay $43 for a small 8-ounce canine ear-cleaning solution.
And that was 7 years ago (prices have gone up significantly since then).
But it's not only pet owners who are concerned over the rising prices of pet medications for dogs and cats.
Government has been looking into the rising costs in the pet health industry since 2012, when the Federal Trade Commission have put together a workshop to analyze the costs of pet meds and the trends of sourcing cheap pet meds online.
Then, three years later, FTC have released a 3-year long study report (PDF here) on the competition in the pet medications industry.
What they found are two main reasons why pet medications are increasing in price:
- All types of new treatments are simply more costly for vets and companies;
- There is more focus on preventative care (including prescription drugs), which means consistent spending on your dog's medications.
And here's the kicker to all of this:
Buying dog medication from vets is substantially more expensive for owners.
During the three-year study, FTC found evidence that veterinarians have a very high mark-up on selling dog medicine, while sources of cheap pet meds online offer significantly better and lower pro-consumer prices as well as the benefit of convenience.
Consumer Reports wrote an article where they pointed out that while animal drugs do cost more to manufacture today, the skyrocketing prices are also due to veterinarians jacking up the cost when selling them. After all, if websites for cheap meds online can sell those same dog medications for far cheaper, why can't veterinarians do the same?
“That’s often a mistake because vets’ markups over wholesale start at 100 percent and frequently hit 160 percent, plus a $5 to $15 dispensing fee.”
After the FTC study came out and the government mandates began to circle in the congress, followed by media outlets exposing the real reasons for high prices of pet medications when purchasing at veterinarian clinics, and how choosing cheap pet meds online is the way to go nowadays, some veterinarians came out to defend their position.
American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) wrote a short piece explaining their position, and some veterinarians took to online websites to provide their opinion as well.
For example, here's an op-ed from Dr T.J. Dunn Jr, DVM published on PetMD with some good points, and some others that are a little questionable:
“…If the veterinarian does not make a profit from dispensing the medication (or the pharmacy a profit if you obtain a prescription and get it filled at some other source), there will be no animal hospital or pharmacy for you to rely on for help when your pet is in need.” – Dr T.J. Dunn Jr, DVM on PetMD
But does the profit really have to be 100-160% markup over the wholesale price?
How come websites with cheap dog meds online are able to sell at a much lower rate?
And if it's the dog's health that a veterinarian selling at this price range is so concerned, wouldn't this unaffordable cost of dog medication simply discourage pet owners from buying them in the first place?
It remains to be seen what this year will show and whether pet owners will continue to buy dog medicine at the vet's office, or if more of us will switch to buying cheap pet meds online. In the meantime, here are some quick tips on how to save money on your dog's medicine when you cannot afford prescription animal drugs.
ALSO READ: 18 Ways to Save Money on Dog Care, Health, Vet Bills and Medicine
How to Save Money on Pet Meds Online
Many pet owners are under the misguided belief that they have to buy medications directly from their veterinarian.
That is not true.
Dog owners can save money by choosing cheaper pet meds online, or at their home pharmacy, or local chain stores like Walmart and Target.
The best advice, especially if there are concerns about expenses, is to discuss them with your veterinarian so that the two of you can find the best solution for filling your dog’s prescription medications, whether online or at your local Walmart.
Many veterinarians are aware that to dispense drugs in their own office, they have to charge a markup, and with dispensing fees on top of that, it can add up to 160% of the original cost of the medication.
Sometimes, this can put a dog's treatment out of reach of some pet owners who simply cannot afford it.
1. Buy elsewhere. Ask your vet to write a prescription for you to buy inexpensive pet medications online or at your local pharmacy, or in stores like Walmart or Target. If the vet is unwilling to do that, it's time to switch to a different veterinarian.
2. Go human. There are some human medications which you can safely give to your dog. Drugs for people are often cheaper, so ask your veterinarian if there's a human medicine equivalent that is safe for your pooch, and go for that.
3. Shop around. Whether you're buying pet medication or a human equivalent, always do your research and shop around. Some stores and websites charge more, but cheaper pet meds online can be found if you know where to look.
Ultimately, the best way to save money on your dog's medicine is to find the cheapest legitimate source.
The “legitimate” part is key here, because there are also plenty of scams or dangerous sources.
Below, we'll focus on shopping around for cheap dog meds online, how to do it effectively and, more importantly, safely.
How and Where to Buy Cheap Pet Meds Online
Can (and Should) You Buy Cheap Pet Meds Online?
Some veterinarians will complain about online pharmacies.
But the truth is that these pharmacies made it harder for many vets to take a profit from having a private practice.
However, we shop online today for everything from clothing to groceries, and online pet pharmacies are a more convenient and cheaper way to buy medication for dogs.
As with any online business, there are responsible and real online stores selling good pet medications, and there are fake and dirty businesses that are out to make a buck and are selling medications that are cutting corners or using bad ingredients that could harm your dog.
Make sure you know whom you're buying from, and what you're buying.
First, if you have a good and honest veterinarian, you can talk to them and get recommendations for an established, reputable, good online pet pharmacy.
Second, only buy cheap online dog medications from pet pharmacies with the seal of approval from Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Practice Pharmacy Sites).
Sites with the Vet-VIPPS seal follow all federal and state regulations and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) safety standards.
Where to Buy Cheap Dog Meds Online the Safe Way?
As long as you make sure to buy your dog's medication from a Vet-VIPPS-approved pet pharmacy, you can be certain that the place is legitimate and not a scam.
Here are a few very popular sites that you can take a look at for your next shopping spree:
- Chewy Pharmacy
- 1-800 PetMeds
- Petco Pharmacy (previously Doctors Foster and Smith)
Remember to take a look at discount drug card programs, too.
Ask about them at your local retailers and/or consult with a vet for the best programs.
Some websites also offer them.
Here are a few sites that offer that and may help you save on pet medications:
These programs often to cover veterinary prescription medications and some other pet health care costs. You can find more of such programs if you look around or ask your vet, or other dog owners.
Finally, if you're in a serious bind, there are some organizations that you can reach out to that may be willing to help cover expensive pet health care costs.
Are Drugs Bought Online the Same as Those at the Vet's?
Some pet owners new to buying cheaper pet medications online will have concerns about whether these drugs are safe to buy, use and if they're the same ones as those bought at the vet clinic. The answer to all of that is YES (as long as you buy from a legitimate pet pharmacy as noted above), those drugs are safe and are the same to what you buy at your veterinarian's clinic.
That said, it's important to note the following:
Online pet pharmacies have been around for a long time, but they are not regulated, but the FDA is keeping an eye on them. Ultimately, it's up to you to try and avoid scams, and look for legit cheap pet meds online websites that are well-known, established and carry the Vet-VIPPs seal or are otherwise known for being a good pharmacy.
The last thing that's important to note:
Sourcing of some (not all) dog medications is not always what it seems. This only applies to select brands. For example, while many animal drug online pharmacies will state that these are actual name-brand products, manufacturers such as Meriel (Heartguard, Frontline) and Merck (TriHeart) made statements that they do not sell directly to online pharmacies and could not guarantee any medications purchased online.
Just something you should probably keep in mind, and another reason to always do your due diligence and ask around.
Potential Dangers of Buying Discount Pet Meds Online
While many have found purchasing online medications for their pet perfectly safe and reliable, some pet owners I know and have also read about had issues.
But in all of those cases, they were not using good pharmacies and bought inexpensive pet meds online from disreputable places that Vet-VIPPS didn't approve.
Like with everything on the internet, there are always scams around and plenty of online pet pharmacies will sell medications without a prescription.
Some will state that they have a veterinarian on staff who can make a diagnosis based on what symptoms you provide.
Do NOT use those pharmacies.
This is dangerous and it's not how the process of buying pet medications online should go.
Your vet should physically examine your dog in order to give you recommendations and suggest appropriate treatment and/or medications.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has come forward to say that it has found a number of illegal pharmacies that are selling pet medications online. The FDA warns that pet owners should protect themselves from giving their pets dangerous or counterfeit drugs – once again – by searching for the VET-VIPPS seal. Always.
What to Look Out for When Shopping for Cheap Pet Meds
There are ways to help avoid many of the risks and find good reputable online pharmacies that can save you money.
A legitimate business will comply with all federal and state laws regarding the sale of prescription drugs.
It is just as illegal to buy prescription drugs for dogs without a vet's written prescription as it is for you to do so for yourself.
While some online sites may be from overseas, standards in the U.S. are much higher than in other countries.
When searching for a good animal drug online pharmacy to buy cheaper dog meds, there are several things that you should consider.
1. Speak to your vet first
You can talk to your veterinarian and ask for a recommended state-licensed site or one that they use with their patients.
2. Look for Vet-VIPPS seal
The Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) is a voluntary accreditation program offered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
This shows that the pharmacy is voluntarily complying with strict regulations when dispensing prescription medications.
3. Ensure state-Licensing
Take the extra step when buying cheap pet meds online to look for the pharmacy’s location and if it is certified by their state’s Board of Pharmacy.
4. Look for certified active pharmacists
Check to see if the pharmacy employs certified and active pharmacists who are available to fill your prescription and answer any questions you may have.
5. Conduct online research
On your own, you can check the background of the company’s reputation by looking online for comments from previous customers.
You can also check the Better Business Bureau for a rating on the overall business.
6. Refuse illegitimate scripts
Never buy medications from a pharmacy online without a valid prescription.
If the pharmacy is willing to sell it to you, then they are breaking the law.
These types of companies can be putting your dog at risk.
7. Shop big name pharmacies and discount stores
Don’t discount the pharmacies that you shop at for yourself.
Regular pharmacies often carry the same medications that your dog is taking.
You can also check at large discount stores such as Walmart or Target.
Buying Cheap Pet Meds Online Summary
The number one way to stay safe when buying cheap pet meds online is to start a conversation with your veterinarian.
Saving money is not a new idea for anyone, and your vet understands that it’s important to be able to afford your pet's medications.
Speaking to your vet first will also provide any additional insight you may need while shopping for medications and any potential problems to look for.
Your vet may also in many cases be able to write the prescription for a human drug equivalent that is often much less expensive and widely available at your local drug store.
A conversation with your vet will keep your dog safe and help you along the way to saving money on prescription medications.
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