When considering buying medications for your dog from an internet pharmacy, the US Food and Drug Administration cautions consumers to “Be A.W.A.R.E.”
Ads for online prescription pet medicines promise convenience and lower prices and may even say that prescriptions are not required. But FDA experts say it can be risky to buy drugs online from sites that make these claims. Pet owners who purchase drugs from these companies may think they are saving money, but in reality, they may be short-changing their pet’s health and putting its life at risk.
While Internet sites that sell pet drugs can be reputable pharmacies, some illegal online pharmacies may sell medicines that are counterfeit, outdated, mislabeled, incorrectly formulated, or improperly made or stored.
If you still want to purchase your pet’s prescription medicines online, the FDA provides tips in its education campaign “Be A.W.A.R.E.”
Talk with your veterinarian! Ask questions like, “Do you trust the internet pharmacy site?”, “Have you ever worked with the pharmacy?” “Have other clients used that site? If so, what were their experiences?”
When buying from online pharmacies, keep an eye out for red flags. Be careful if the site:
• does not require veterinary prescriptions for prescription medicines – websites that sell prescription veterinary medicines without valid veterinary prescriptions are breaking the law. Under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, a pharmacy can’t sell you a veterinary prescription medicine without a valid prescription or other type of order from a licensed veterinarian. Online questionnaires or consults don’t take the place of valid veterinary prescriptions.
• has no licensed pharmacist available to answer questions.
• does not list physical business address, phone number, or other contact information.
• is not based in the United States.
• is not licensed by the State Board of Pharmacy where the business is based.
• advertises prices that are dramatically lower than your veterinarian’s or other websites’ prices – if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
• ships you medicines that you didn’t order or that look very different from what your pet normally takes.
Reputable online pharmacies follows Federal and State licensing and inspection requirements and are accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s (NABP) accreditation program called Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites). Vet-VIPPS accredited online pharmacies:
• are appropriately licensed in the states from which they ship drugs
• have successfully completed a 19-point review and online survey
• undergo yearly VIPPS review and re-accreditation
• undergo NABP on-site surveys every three years
Vet-VIPPS accredited pharmacies must also meet other strict criteria, including protecting client confidentiality, strict quality assurance, and making sure prescription orders are valid.
Suspicious pharmacies can be reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the NABP.
The Center for Veterinary Medicine is especially concerned that pet owners are going online to buy two types of commonly used prescription veterinary drugs—nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and heartworm preventives. This concern is amplified when a foreign Internet pharmacy advertises that veterinary prescription drugs are available to U.S. citizens without a prescription. There is a risk that the drugs have not been approved by the FDA. Foreign or domestic sites may claim that one of its veterinarians on staff will “evaluate” the pet after looking over a form filled out by the pet owner, and then prescribe the drug. The CVM warns that a veterinarian should physically examine an animal prior to making a diagnosis to determine the appropriate therapy and specifically that NSAIDs and heartworm preventives can be dangerous if there is no veterinarian–patient relationship since these drugs require blood tests before or during treatment.