Buyer Beware

Prescription medications can be just as expensive for dogs and cats as they are for us. For the pricier drugs I prescribe for my canine and feline patients, or those that will need to be given long term, I am in the habit of encouraging my clients to “shop around” both locally and on line.

I’m always happy to provide the prescription to the pharmacy of my client’s choosing, so long as it is a pharmacy I deem to be reputable. That being said, I admit that the reputability of an online pharmacy can be difficult for me to determine. This is why a recent warning by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was of particular interest to me.

The FDA claims that the vast majority of Internet pharmacies are selling counterfeit drugs. Not only are some patients receiving a  medication different than what was prescribed, they may be in fact be taking something harmful. According the FDA, there has been documentation of Internet pharmacies providing expired medications, placebos, the wrong amount of the active ingredient, and even toxic substances such as arsenic and rat poison.

Research by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which represents the state pharmacy boards, found that of thousands of online pharmacies it reviewed, only approximately three percent follow state and federal laws. Scary stuff, eh?

Pertaining to their recent warning, FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg was quoted by The Associated Press as stating, “Our goal is to increase awareness, not to scare people away from online pharmacies. We want them to use appropriate pharmacies.”

So, how can you and I be more confident that an online pharmacy has the best interest of our pets at heart? The FDA advises us to make sure that any online pharmacy we use meets the following criteria:

  •   It is located in the United States.
  •   It is licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the website is operating. A list of these boards is available at the website of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
  •   It is staffed by a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.
  •   It requires a valid doctor’s prescription before medication is dispensed.
  •   It provides contact information and allows you to talk to a real live human being if you have problems or questions.

Conversely, here are some signs that you may be dealing with an unsafe Internet vendor:

  •   It offers prices dramatically lower than the competition.
  •   No telephone contact number is provided.
  •   It offers to sell prescription drugs without a valid prescription.
  •   It does not clearly state how your personal information will be protected.
  •   The appearance of the medication (color, texture, shape, smell, packaging) is different than the characteristics with which you are familiar.

For more information on avoiding online pharmacy scams, I encourage you to visit the new BeSafeRx website launched by the FDA.

Have you used an online pharmacy for you or your pet? Any concerns about the quality of the medication you received?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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9 Comments on “Buyer Beware

  1. Never have I nor ever will buy medication for my companions on line. Anything that costs half of what my vet charges is highly suspicious and I would rather spend a little more because I know that the meds he dispenses are safe and are what they are purported to be.

    And why is stuff from Australia special or better? Where do they get the ingredients, who combines them, WHO inspects them and where do they originate? I hope it is not China!!!!

    In particular, several of my clients purchased “Advantage” on line. The stuff turned out to be completely useless and several of the dogs and two cats developed serious reaction to it.

    Pet ownership is expensive – we knew that when we took them into ur homes and hearts. Why stint on anything relating to their health? After all, we are responsible for them – NEVER the frauds and the cheats who sell the useless (at best) or harmful (at worst) medications.

    In answer as to why people cheat this way, after all they could just take the money and not send anything: they will keep sending it until you discover too late that you’ve been “had”, and by that time you put a lot of your money into their pockets.

    Taking such risks for the sake of a few dollars? NO WAY!

  2. We have actually never purchased any drugs from an online pharmacy, and likely never will. We have enough problems to take additional risks. We get drugs for our dogs either directly from our vet, or, in some cases, he sends a prescription to our local pharmacy.

  3. I belong to an online community of Addison Dog owners and there are over 5500 of us. A good number of our members use online pharmacies to purchase Percorten V. Our group even has online pharmacies we recommend that have proven track records of quality products and good service. They are accredited through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy® (NABP®).

    I believe online pharmacies have their place, but I also know you need to be careful which of those pharmacies you choose to use.
    The safety tips you have given are very important. Not all online pharmacies are created equal whether people want to believe it or not.

  4. I buy heartworm prevention from Australia. I checked the product is registered and the manufacturer referred me to a retailer. Less than $100 for 100 pills treating 100 pounds each. Pills are scored for easy splitting.

    Common sense goes a long way in avoiding fraud, though it is clear many people lack the common sense and should stick with their veterinarian.

    This is another hot topic with the AVMA. It is disappointing professional groups such as the AVMA are geared toward something other than animal welfare – how else to explain their support for factory farming and devocalization mutilation – but now that people are realizing it we can respond to it.

  5. My vet in Mendocino CA feels the same as you, Dr Kay – but cautioned me about ordering Comfortis from 1800PETMEDS because they can’t buy directly from the manufacturer, thus one can’t be sure how it is handled/stored. Shortly thereafter and before I could tell her, my daughter ordered Comfortis from 1800PETMEDS to find that it came in a regular prescription bottle without the usual information sheet – rather than in a regulation Comfortis package w/appropriate info sheet. Quite disturbing, actually….

  6. Sorry, but the claim that anyone is providing substitute materials, including “even toxic substances such as arsenic and rat poison,” sounds like the worst form of hysteria.

    What kind of scammer would do that? Assuming they’ve already taken your money, why send you anything at all, if their intent is to rip you off? Why go to the trouble of sending anything? And if they want repeat business, I could see sending placebos. But who in the world would go through the trouble of sending someone poison?

    That is ridiculous. The FDA is doing a disservice when reporting nonsense like that.

    Also, as with the other poster, I have noticed a helpfulness in Australian manufacturers not present in their American counterparts.

  7. Gee, who do you think the FDA wants to protect the most?
    I recommend:
    Your points:
    – It offers prices dramatically lower than the competition? YES. Several options. Local branded price $1000, imported generic: $80.
    Copper chelation therapy. Worked great! Much happier dog.

    – No telephone contact number is provided?
    They stayed in *constant* contact throughout my order up to delivery via email. Then reminded me of the need to refill. Chat with customer support option.

    – It offers to sell prescription drugs without a valid prescription?
    They called my vet and verified my refill. Prescription was required.

    – It does not clearly state how your personal information will be protected?
    “all prescription records and discussion pertaining to your drug therapy will be treated as confidential, and the pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will emphasize the confidentiality of your information to any parties entitled to review your medical information and records.”
    I also have chosen a password to access my own records.

  8. I have no doubt that the current situation with Novartis (which seems to be without end) no doubt has contributed to a proliferation of disreputable online pharmacies. Supplies of the popular heartworm medication, Interceptor, are increasingly scarce to find. Many of us reluctant to resort to a brand with a different active ingredient (because our dogs have had adverse reactions to the main ingredient in that brand) have no choice but to search far and wide for a product with the same active ingredient as Interceptor. For me, that has meant resorting to an online provider who obtains Interceptor Spectrum (made by Novartis Australia) from an Australian-based supplier, who ships it directly to me. Does this make me uneasy? Yes, it does–but until Novartis can and does resume production of its various veterinary products, I believe that online veterinary pharmacies will continue to proliferate and, due to a lack of regulatory oversight, will succeed in duping increasingly frustrated responsible dog owners.

  9. Dr. Kay this information is so important and so glad you have brought it to our attention. I have been cautioning about on line medications for awhile. I especially touch on flea/tick medications that you can purchase everywhere. I advise folks to call the companys that produce the products and find out who they sell to and who they don’t. It will open your eyes for sure to find out who they don’t sell to.