Cautions Associated with Internet Pharmacies

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Online shopping for convenience and great prices has quickly become the new normal in today’s society. Pet owners can conveniently find everything their pets need without ever leaving home. Plus, bargain hunters love the fact that the internet allows for instant cost comparisons. Although technology may help us be savvy shoppers, it’s still good to be cautious about what you purchase online, especially when it comes to your pet’s medications.

Pharmacy Integrity

There are a lot of online pharmacies out there, so do a little research before choosing one. Broaden your internet search to include the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), which governs approval of internet pharmacies. Online pharmacies can apply for NABP accreditation and will be listed on the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS). Visit the NABP website for a complete list of approved pharmacies.

You can also look for validation by the Legit Script service. This organization imposes eleven standards on pharmacies, including pharmacy licensure, DEA registration, prior discipline, location, validity of prescription, legal compliance, privacy, patient services, website transparency, domain name registration, and affiliated websites.

Alternatively, ask your veterinarian for advice. Your pet’s doctor has experience with many online medicine sources and can steer you in the right direction.

Handling Prescriptions

Ordering medications online does not eliminate the need for a prescription. Infact, reliable online pharmacies should insist on veterinary permission before selling you a prescription medication. Be skeptical of any pharmacy that does not require a prescription from your veterinarian prior to selling you a prescription drug.

"Ordering medications online does not eliminate the need for a prescription."

Bypassing your veterinarian is not in the best interest of your pet. Prescriptions may seem like an inconvenience when ordering medicine online, but they are necessary to ensure your pet’s safety. Moreover, pharmacies that sell drugs without the required prescription are violating FDA rules.

To make online ordering easier, keep your pet’s prescriptions current. Prescriptions must be updated according to the Veterinary Practice Act, which may mean a visit to the veterinarian for a physical exam and lab tests. This precaution will help determine which medications and what dosages are most appropriate for your pet, based on his current physical status. Changes in physical condition or organ function may change your pet’s prescriptions.

You should also be cautious when ordering medications that do not require prescriptions. Just because a drug is offered OTC (over the counter) does not automatically mean it is safe for your pet. Keep your veterinarian informed of all medications, prescription and OTC, that your pet takes to avoid giving him a dangerous combination of drugs.

Drug Integrity

The source, storage, and shipping of your pet’s medications impact effectiveness. Make sure your online pharmacy only carries FDA-approved brand name and generic medications. Drugs obtained from sources out of the United States are not subject to the strict manufacturing guidelines regulated by the FDA and may be tainted or have reduced potency.

"The source, storage, and shipping of your pet’s medications impact effectiveness."

All drugs should be stored and shipped at the right temperature to maintain the integrity of the medication. Many medications are temperature-sensitive and will not perform properly if exposed to extreme heat or cold. Drugs should be kept at the proper temperature from the time they leave the storage facility to the time they reach your door step. Schedule deliveries carefully to avoid leaving packages outdoors, where extremes in temperature are likely.


Compare prices of online pharmacies with your veterinary hospital or local brick-and-mortar drugstore. Not all internet medications are less expensive. Like other retail outlets, some internet pharmacies advertise loss leaders (a product sold at a loss) to attract business while the rest of their inventory is priced higher. Scrutinize the price of each individual product you order.

Consider manufacturer rebates available through your veterinarian when comparing prices. These rebates may reduce the cost of a drug considerably. Since drug companies usually do not offer rebates to online pharmacies, the cost of a particular drug may actually be less at your veterinary clinic once the discount is applied.


Timing is essential. How quickly can you get your pet’s medicine? Many online pharmacies offer overnight delivery, which is good unless your pet needs a prescription immediately. If waiting overnight or longer affects your pet’s health, fill his prescription locally.

On-site Supervision

Do you wonder who actually fills your pet’s on-line prescription? It is preferable to find an internet pharmacy that actually has a licensed pharmacist on-site to supervise the distribution of medications. It is also good to have a pharmacist available to answer any questions you may have about your pet’s medications. Professional supervision can make you more confident that your pet’s medicine has not been re-packaged and is not expired.

Manufacturer Guarantees

Some pet medications (like parasite control products) come with a guarantee of efficacy from the pharmaceutical company when purchased from a veterinarian. Manufacturers have to verify appropriate shipping, storage, and administration of the medication to honor their guarantee, so they often exclude drugs obtained from online pharmacies.

The Three C’s of Online Pharmacies

Internet pharmacies may be a good choice for you and your pet as long as they are convenient, offer competitive prices, and you are cautious about which pharmacy you choose. Think about these three C’s while shopping for your pet’s medicine online.

"Internet pharmacies may be a good long as they are convenient, offer competitive prices, and you are cautious about which pharmacy you choose."

While you are shopping online, check out your veterinary clinic’s website. Many veterinary hospitals have online pharmacies of their own which are convenient and competitively priced. You may find just what you are looking for close to home and from an already-trusted source. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing that your pet’s doctor can answer your questions and handle any drug-related issues.

Be a savvy shopper. Keeping your pet safe and healthy is top priority. Your cat or dog may not appreciate the convenience or comparative pricing of purchasing his medications online—after all, it is your time and money. But he will definitely appreciate how cautious you were in purchasing what he needs.

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