Online Pharmacies

The Value of Online Pharmacies
Real or Perceived?

"But I can ger it cheaper online!"

It’s a statement we hear more and more at the hospital in regards to prescription medication like parasite preventives or long term medications. And it’s a valid statement as well – sometimes some prescriptions ARE indeed a little less expensive online or at a “big box” store like Walmart or Costco.

This article is for us to offer you some candid discussion on value and share some insight you may not have been aware of. Our hope is that with the information provided here you’ll be better equipped to make the best decisions you can make the next time you need to purchase a medication for your furry family friend.

Manufacturer Guarantees

Did you know that all the major manufacturers of the common medications your pet might need offer a manufacturer guarantee? What does that mean? Well, it means that they stand fully behind their product and will guarantee it against any defect (if used properly, of course). For example, heartworm preventives from companies like Merial or Novartis have a 100% GUARANTEE – that means that if your pet is getting a preventive according to directions, doesn’t miss a dose and still gets heartworm the manufacturer will pay for treatment (which could exceed $1000!)

HOWEVER...the manufacturer guarantee for prescription products from companies like Merial, Novartis, Pfizer, etc ONLY APPLIES IF THE PRODUCT IS PURCHASED THROUGH A VETERINARIAN. That means that if you buy a product from Costco or 1-800-PetMeds you are no longer protected by the manufacturer guarantee. The reason for this is that the companies producing these products have very stringent standards in place to assure their products qualities – these standards must be met for them to guarantee the products and the manufacturers have only entrusted veterinarians to uphold their standards. A product that ends up on the shelf of a place like Costo or 1-800-PetMeds cannot be guaranteed to have met these standards for things such as properly packaging and shipping, properly handled, properly stored, etc.

Value of Service

When you purchase a product from your veterinarian you receive an included value that is difficult to quantify. That is the value of not only knowing you are receiving the product from a trusted source, but actually being present at the source and having the ability to receive knowledge and have questions answered by your veterinarian and their well educated, well trained staff….FACE TO FACE, RIGHT AWAY!

The pharmacist at Walmart, while certainly well-meaning and helpful, may not have been trained in the animal products you are purchasing from them….and they certainly did NOT go to vet school!

Furthermore, there is the convenience factor of having the products in your hand at the same time they are prescribed. One stop shopping at its finest! And no additional trip to the pharmacy or waiting for something to be shipped in the mail.

Does it really save you money?

Turns out that is kind of a difficult question to answer so we will just say, it depends.

As we mentioned above, the companies that make these medications want you to purchase them from a veterinarian. They realize that sometimes the products end up in the hands of those the manufacturer did not intend to have them – and that those places may sell their products for less than a veterinary hospital can. So, they often provide us with mail-in rebates to help us “compete” with big box places. Ask your vet the next time you see them if the medication your pet needs has a mail-in rebate!

This also begs another question we get sometimes which generally sounds like this – “Why can XXXXX sell the same thing for less than you?”. Unfortunately, this is another difficult question to answer but we’ll give it a try. A place like 1-800-PetMeds has one primary purpose; to stock and sell medications. They may not need a lot of highly trained staff for this. They may not need a lot of expensive state-of-the-art equipment to meet their goals. They likely sell large amounts of products that they may be getting from sources other than the manufacturer. They probably do not have to have highly educated people on staff to run their business.

A veterinary hospital has a relatively large staff given the size of the business. Furthermore, this staff requires constant advanced training and skill. A full-service veterinary hospital like Boulder’s Natural Animal Hospital must have a great deal of expensive, state-of-the-art equipment to provide the highest standard of medical care. That requires a relatively large space and constant maintenance. Lastly, in addition, a veterinary hospital must also stock a great amount of products to be able to provide all levels of care at all times.

All those expenses must be covered by the services and products sold, plus a little so the owner(s) of the hospital can make a fair living.

It’s sort of like an auto shop – the mechanic needs to have some advanced training to obtain the knowledge to fix cars. Then he or she must obtain a space and equipment to allow him or her to ply their trade well. That all comes at an expense to the mechanic and, of course, they need to make a living….so they have to figure out a fair way to “mark up” things like oil and oil filters as well as charge for their labor so they can make a small but tidy profit.

Is there a RISK with having my pet’s meds filled with a human pharmacy?

A recent study performed by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association found that many veterinarians had experiences with mistakes of varying degree being made when they had a prescription for one of their patients filled at a human pharmacy. The point to be taken from this study is that while human pharmacists are exceptionally well trained and well-meaning individuals they do NOT receive any special training in veterinary medicine.

To read more about the above study in Oregon, click HERE.


The real point here is that while a particular pet product may be a couple dollars cheaper online or in a big pharmacy it doesn’t come with the well-educated veterinarian and staff or the well equipped hospital. Add that to the cost of the product, combine it with the lost value from the voided manufacturer guarantee and maybe throw in a mail-in manufacturer rebate (which is NOT available on products not purchased from a veterinarian, by the way) and suddenly that box of heartworm preventive from 1-800-PetMeds may not be so “cheap”.

It’s something to think about.

Having said all that…..the decision of where to purchase your pet’s medications is a decision you should always feel empowered to make on your own. We support whatever decision you make and will always be willing to provide you with a written prescription when you request it. We are not here to judge or pressure you – we are here to educate and empower you to make the decision you feel is best.