I spent some time the other night looking at different internet pet pharmacy sites. (Yes, I know that sounds strange, but it was interesting and sometimes appalling.) It’s well known that you can buy virtually anything over the internet. Pharmaceuticals are no different. There are numerous online pharmacies that offer drugs for animals. Some are presumably highly reputable companies that do what they are supposed to do: dispense drugs only with a valid prescription from a veterinarian, dispense only drugs that they can sell legally, and ensure that everything they sell is of appropriate quality.

However, it’s clear that not all pet pharmacies are equal. Most state that a prescription is required, yet it is unclear how many actually follow this requirement. Some will have their own veterinarian write the prescription (which is illegal because the vet would not have a valid relationship with you and your pet, and would not have examined your pet). Some sites offer products that members of the general public cannot legally obtain or possess in most areas, like rabies vaccine. Virtually all the sites offered a wide range of antibiotics. Few had information about the origin of the products or shipping issues to other countries.  Import regulations are very important because, for example, an individual cannot legally import vaccines into Canada.

Certain things raised some big red flags on some sites:

  • No indication of where the pharmacy is geographically. (I’m sure this is because if they don’t say they are from a particular country, then it is less likely that the regulatory authorities in that country will look at them.)
  • No information about shipping issues.
  • No clear statement about how they verify valid veterinary prescriptions.
  • Offering a very wide range of drugs, including things like rabies vaccine and narcotics which are not legally obtainable by the public.
  • No contact information.

An article from the FDA also has some good points to consider.

Online pharmacies are very much a "buyer beware" situation. The last thing you want is to buy important drugs like antibiotics online and not be certain that you are actually getting the real thing. Counterfeit drugs have been obtained from some of these websites.  If you’re treating your pet with an ineffective "fake" antibiotic, your pet’s infection will only get worse, and your pet may develop more severe complications.

If you are going to use an internet pharmacy, do some research first, and talk to your veterinarian (you’ll need a prescription from him/her anyway).