Drug Ads for Veterinary Products

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Something I noticed while on the elliptical machine at the gym (while trying to notice anything but my heart and respiration rate): There are a lot of ads for veterinary drugs on TV!

My husband and I are some of those weirdoes who only stream movies; we don’t watch broadcast TV, so I haven’t noticed this before, but holy smokes! It seems like there are as many ads for dog drugs as there are ads for drugs for humans – but with one important distinction: The ads for the veterinary medications don’t seem to have to include the fast-talking, small-print “side effects” additions about all the potential adverse effects that the drugs might cause. Why is that? I went looking for more information on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) website, and here’s what I found:

It turns out that the drug companies are required to disclose risk information in their promotional materials – at least, the promotional materials that are presented to veterinarians. Advertising materials that are directed to pet owners – known as direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements – are judged by a slightly different standard.

The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) oversees the promotion and advertising of approved prescription drug products under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and related regulations. Animal drug companies must ensure their prescription drug information provided to veterinarians and consumers is truthful, balanced, and not misleading. But marketing materials that are advertised in veterinary trade publications or distributed directly to veterinarians (or their hospitals) must be balanced with both benefit and risk information. And the product inserts must contain warnings, precautions, and contraindications for the product’s use.

In contrast, the main criterion for DTC advertisements for prescription drugs is that the promotional message is truthful and does not mislead consumers into thinking the drug is safer or more effective than has been demonstrated. According to the FDA CVM website: “DTC advertisements are designed to prompt consumers to request more information from their veterinarians about the drug.  These advertisements can provide helpful information to consumers, increase awareness of certain conditions or diseases, and may even influence a consumer to seek veterinary help for their animal; however, the content of the advertisement must be truthful, balanced, clearly communicated, and not misleading.”

Interestingly, ads for over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are not regulated by the FDA, but by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)! The rules for OTC drugs are far less detailed. Essentially, the only real rules are that claims in advertisements must be truthful, cannot be deceptive or unfair, and must be evidence-based.

Also interesting: I couldn’t find any information about the regulations for advertising topical pesticides for dogs (such as “spot on” flea and tick pesticides). The products themselves are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, but I couldn’t find advertising regulations anywhere. If I had to guess, I would bet that the ads for these products are governed by the FTC, too.

Personally, I’d love to see the ads for all veterinary products, whether prescription or OTC, pesticide or medication, to have to list the potential side effects, just like the human drug ads. I think this would demystify the products, and help make it clear that anything you give to or put on your dog might have a deleterious effect.

What do you think?

15 COMMENTS

  1. My husband and I are the same kind of “streaming only” weirdos so have not seen the ads. It figures though — why would they chose to disclose the concerns, warnings and side effects if they don’t have to? Unlike humans, dogs can’t verbalize any side effects they may experience. Totally agree it should be mandatory. In the meantime, the onus is on us to ask all the relevant questions of veterinarians when we are considering a medication.

  2. I think it will never happen. They’ll fight it and lobby our elected representatives with all sorts of excuses to kill an attempts to inform consumers regarding any side effects or dangers from veterinary medications.

    I do my own research for both my dogs and myself when it comes to medications. It’s why I’m now taking magnesium with the calcium I am now taking for osteoporosis. Even my primary care physician didn’t tell me I should increase my magnesium to balance the increase in calcium. I don’t think he knew.

    Diana has seasonal allergies and gets atopic dermatitis. I have OTC medicated shampoo for her the vet recommended but when she gets bad I give her Benedryl twice a day and have added Omega3 fish oil to her diet. So far she is doing great.

  3. I completely agree. Frankly, the listing of side effects with human meds is many time far worse than the issues someone is taking the medication FOR! Why would that be any different simply because its for our animals?
    I used Front line plus flea preventative for my old dog – but when I adopted Axel from the shelter, they had used Parastar, so I continued with that. Now its almost impossible to find Parastar in the correct(?) dosage. I found the 22-40 lb one (hes 55 lbs now) & checked with my vet to see if I could use 2 of them. She felt it would be fine, but I couldnt quite make myself do it – so used one & started him on garlic pills. Years ago, I used garlic only for my dog – it worked! But with the tick situation, I’m a little leery – we live in the country & walk in the field near the woods – many deer! So we will see how this goes. I get Axel’s blood checked regularly.

  4. I wish they would stop wasting money on advertising and lower the cost of drugs for both humans and animals. If I am not streaming, I am fast forwarding through commercials, so I don’t watch many of them. Most are not useful to me and I am not going to ask my physician or veterinarian about any of them, just like I am not buying extended warranties or give people money when they call on my cell phone, but I digress. I think the rules should be the same. As we all should know, one of the side effects is always death, no matter how small that possibility is. My wife just remarked a couple of days ago how when we were young the commercials were all about beer, wine, and cigarettes. Things were so much simpler then.

  5. I totally agree and with my current medium sized doodle, I am trying my best to do what will enable her to hopefully live a long, disease free and happy life. I think we all need to be advocates for our pets. A year or so ago, I read that it would be best that she receive a rabies vaccine is Thimerosal (mercury) free. My current vet doesn’t use one that is TF and I have called all over to try to find a vet who does carry it and cannot find any. Any ideas for me would be greatly appreciated.

    • Jan, the single dose probably are mercury free as they don’t need the preservative the multi dose vials do. The only thing I could suggest is having the vet order one just for you with his/her next vaccine order or whenever you need it. It would cost more but should not be outrageous.

    • I feel your pain…I once had to order a box of 25 or so doses of a vaccine just so my pup could have one dose that wasn’t in a combination formula with other vaccines she did not need and I did not want her to have. It had to be sent directly to the vet so they would know who had possession of it and it had not been tampered with. And now I am struggling to find a new vet who has enough brains to recognize the validity of titer testing. The word of vet med has changed and too many I think who has affection for animals have wound up graduated and put their own needs/family/money first. The loss of income from rabies vax appts and the annual exam etc is too frightening for them to contemplate I think. I would suggest a good starting point may be to check out the holistic veterninary association which has lists of members by state….

  6. Jan – unfortunately, that’s a common situation, i.e. the vets either don’t know or don’t care about carrying mercury free rabies vaccine so it’s much less widely available. I’d suggest that, after your pup gets the first 3 year rabies vaccine (at about age 1 1/2 years), you wait a year or whenever the next vaccine is due and try a titer – there are titers available now for many types of antibodies, including rabies. I titer my dogs instead of giving them all of those un necessary vaccines, and doing a titer will usually be acceptable to satisfy the legal requirements in your county. I swear by Dr. Jean Dodds at Hemopet. She’s a leading authority on over-vaccinations in dogs and the problems that can cause for their immune systems. I’m not affiliated with Dr. Dodds in ANY way, just a very satisfied former patient and very appreciative of her knowledge and willingness to share information.

  7. Totally agree that veterinary drugs should get the same treatment as human ones. Many vets are way to sales oriented to give the client the full story. I see a lot of ads for Bravecto yet the stories people tell about using it would certainly stop me from using it.

  8. Don’t shoot this messenger, but we all know it: Not everyone like US is an informed consumer and caring dogmom or dad. There are so many clueless/ignorant people paying attention to these drug ads that are to me a form of propaganda, and take it at face value, believing in the miracle, and asking for it or passing the word on…there is NO way I will subject my pup to these toxic chemicals. I have found it disturbing that when we were hit for the first time in decades by fleas last fall, that even one of the vet techs encouraged a particular product claim my pup would just have to carry on as usual walking in whatever room she chose and she would be a flea MAGNET. As in they would latch on to her, suck her blood filled with the toxic poison and be killed…with no concern for what that toxic chemical would be doing long or short term to my pup. This kind of response makes you wonder if you are even going to the “right” vet and are a match for a place that has that kind of philosophy…And, if you’ve read this far, let me share the rest: our circumstances were challenging…I am sensitive to chemicals and we were dealing with this during covid. My pup and I live with my elder parents…VERY elder…dad is 105 now and deaf, and mom is going on 100 and is in hospice here at home, bedbound, with dementia. Exterminators wanted big bucks AND the house had to be clear of all living beings for at least 4 hours. I objected to the smell of chemicals and residue being on our belongings, or in our space. Not to mention strangers putting us a risk of theft, or covid. And having to transport mom who has not walked in many months at that time…WE ultimately were basically left to fend for ourselves with a load of hints and suggestions. I resorted to the Wondercide company, shampoo from a CA company that Jean Dodds bless her heart, suggested, and a flea trap with light in nearly every room. Then winter happened and I am happy to report I haven’t seen a you know what in months and months now. I too am an immense fan of Jean dodds and follow what she says. We truly must band together and stop being bullied by traditionally schooled vets who can’t think outside of their cages…and advocate for state if not federal law to change re vaccines for our pups. My little love has continued to be titer tested almost annually ..and I am thinking of having a tag made that indicates so. People are again, so ignorant…it’s my understanding and feel free anyone to correct me if I”m wrong…but in order for a dog who bites to give someone rabies, they must have rabies themselves, which they would get from being outdoors, unattended or have a rabid bat in the house or similar. The odds are against a dog being rabid I would think, to begin with. Follow the $$$.

  9. Well said and well written.
    You are not weirdos for abandoning broadcast programs.
    The government agencies are not working for the people, but for the industries they regulate and have been paid by the latter in conjunction with our taxed earnings.
    We say…and we dare you all, to break free of the conditioning imposed on us over the decades, and boycott these types of companies.
    There are alternatives; it just takes doing some reading, researching, listening and questioning.

  10. It is so important for the long term health and well-being of pets for pet owners not to blindly believe all of these ads and marketing ploys for these chemical laden products. Research, research, research, and don’t just believe what the manufacturers of the products claim, find independently written opinions, read several different ones. When I first learned that no matter the dog’s size and weight the quantity of the vaccine given to them was the same, I was appalled. How is it good veterinary care that my 8lbs dog should receive the exact same quantity of vaccine as a dog weighing 108lbs, – or more? Since learning this was how the pet pharmaceutical industry has ordered vaccinations be administered, I titer test instead. The titer test results have shown my dog to still have immunity to the core diseases every time, many years after the pet pharmaceutical industry’s scheduled re-vaccination times.

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