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Use Caution When Ordering Pet Medications from Online Pharmacies

All pet owners should be aware of the risks associated with animal medications purchased from online pharmacies.

With Americans caring for some 110 million cats and dogs, pet medications are one of the fastest-growing segments of the pharmaceutical industry. Many drugs traditionally used to treat human ailments have been adapted for pets of all types, including medications for arthritis, anxiety and even Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in dogs.

Given the spiraling cost of prescription drugs—for humans and animals alike—we acknowledge the desire of pet owners to find less costly sources of medication, whether it’s a heart medicine, a tick-and-flea ointment or a cancer treatment. But the recent proliferation of online pharmacies popping up on websites and enticing U.S. consumers to purchase pet medications at reduced rates, raises concerns about buying from unseen, unlicensed sources, particularly those located outside the United States .

Without the involvement of your pet’s local veterinarian, you could be inadvertently give your animal incorrect, if not fatal, doses. We urge all pet owners to be aware of the potential problems of online prescription drugs to ensure the best possible care for their animal friends.

When ordering pet medications from online pharmacies, we recommend that pet owners keep the following precautions in mind:

  • Before ordering any medication for your pet, consult with a licensed veterinarian, who is trained to prescribe medications at the proper dosage for your pet and can help avoid dangerous side effects. Online pharmacies have never seen your pet and cannot effectively review your pet’s medical history.
  • Check to be sure the online pharmacy is licensed. Because the California Board of Pharmacy has no ability to oversee pharmaceutical businesses operating outside the state, there is no protection against unscrupulous individuals acting as pharmacists and dispensing medications unsafely. A reputable online pharmacy should post a link to its license.
  • Imported prescription drugs may be illegal, counterfeit or fake, subjecting your pet to dangerous, if not fatal, medication levels. Unlike prescription drugs manufactured in the United States, which undergo federal inspections and safety approvals, there is no such oversight for drugs purchased from out-of-the-country or “off shore” pharmacies.
  • Avoid purchasing pet medications that must be kept in a controlled environment (i.e., certain antibiotics that must be kept refrigerated) since proper storage is not always possible with online purchases shipped from long distances. By obtaining prescriptions directly from your veterinarian or local pharmacy, you are assured the medications have been properly stored and not affected by the shipping process.
  • Be aware of hidden charges that aren’t fully disclosed in online purchases, such as duty, customs, registration or handling fees. In some cases, shipping fees are charged per prescription rather than per package, resulting in multiple additional fees for an individual order.
  • Ask if the prescription will be packaged with information on proper storage, dosage and possible side effects.

10/4/2010 - The FDA has released consumer health information regarding purchasing pet drugs online. View this consumer update at