Purchasing prescription medicines for your dog from your veterinarian is definitely convenient and often necessary from a health standpoint (for example, when your pet urgently needs the drug), but it is usually the more expensive option. The mark-up at veterinary offices usually starts at 100 percent over wholesale prices but it can be 1,000 percent in some cases!
In defense of veterinary offices, keeping a fully stocked and up-to-date pharmacy is usually not cost-effective. Small practices in particular can’t keep the myriad of medications that might need to be prescribed and used before their expiration dates. Dedicated pharmacies have a higher turnover, receive volume discounts, and thus tend to be less expensive.
My cost-conscious veterinarians are happy to call in my dog’s prescriptions to a pharmacy of my choosing or to provide me with a written prescription; many veterinarians are. To make this a standard of care, the “Fairness to Pet Owners Act” was introduced to Congress in April 2011. The bill would have required vets to provide a written prescription for any recommended medications and to notify clients of the option to have the prescription filled elsewhere. The bill died in committee at the end of 2012, but it will likely be reintroduced. The good news is that many veterinarians already follow the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Code of Ethics, which states that vets should honor a client’s request to have medications prescribed to a pharmacy.
Many of our pets’ prescription medications are the same as those prescribed to humans, and are available at on-line pharmacies, big box stores, chain drugstores, supermarket pharmacies, and specialty pharmacies. What few people seem to know is that almost all of these dispensaries offer some type of discount program for pet medications. An overview of some of the prevalent pet medication saving programs is listed below; new programs are showing up every day, so inquire at your favorite pharmacy for additional incentives.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers AAA Prescription Savings. This program is free with membership and covers all members of the household including pets. The discount applies to many of the medications that are also prescribed to humans at an average savings of 24 percent off the pharmacy’s regular retail prices; savings on generics can be even more.
To receive the discount, simply present your AAA card to any participating retail pharmacy. There are more than 59,000 participating pharmacies nationwide (including CVS); to find one near you, visit AAA.com/prescriptions or call (866) AAA-SAVE.
Costco dispenses nearly 100 commonly used prescription drugs for pets, and claims that it has prices lower than those charged by most veterinarians or on-line pet medication suppliers. Costco pharmacies are open to the public; you don’t need to be a member to buy prescriptions there. However, if you are a member, your pets qualify for the no-fee Costco Membership Prescription Program (because they are not covered by your medical insurance, they are considered uninsured and thus eligible). This plan offers specially reduced pricing on select medications, both brand-name and generic. The amount of savings per drug can vary, but usually ranges between 2 and 3 percent.
The Walgreens Prescription Savings Club provides for discounts off the cash price of brand name and generic pet medications (human-equivalents only). Pets can be enrolled as individuals ($25 annual fee) or as part of a family membership ($35 annual fee); if your savings for the year don’t reach the cost of your membership, the difference is refunded. To include your pet as part of a family membership, simply add the pet’s name to your list of dependents.
Target has recently expanded the scope of its pharmacies and has started offering animal-specific medications under its PetRX program. Check out its list of common pet medications, from Alprazolam to Xalatan, at target.com/pharmacy/petrx-dog-medications-alphabetic. This list is not all-inclusive, so call if you don’t see your pet’s medication. Covered generic drugs at commonly prescribed dosages cost $4 for a 30-day supply; a 90-day supply usually runs $10 (may be priced differently in some states).
Kroger Pharmacies has a program similar to Target’s, also with hundreds of pet medications available – including animal-specific drugs – and offers similar $4 and $10 generic supplies. They also offer price matching and sometimes accept special orders.
Many municipalities, including some counties, cities, and organizations, offer prescription discount cards (most of these are administered by CVS Caremark Inc., the largest pharmacy healthcare provider in the US). Major pharmacies accept these cards, which cover both people and pets. There are usually no forms to complete, no age or income requirements, and no restrictions on how may times the cards can be used. They are easily obtained through the organizations mentioned or can be printed from on the many on-line resources such as RxSavingsPlus. Savings through these types of programs tend to range between 13 to 34 percent, depending on the medication.
Be a savvy consumer and check with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to ensure you are dealing with a reputable pharmacy before making any purchase. This regulatory board provides a list of accredited veterinarian on-line pharmacies (see http://nabp.net/programs/accredication/vet-vipps/find-a-vet-vipps-online-pharmacy); there are currently 19 on this list. This accreditation means that their licenses have been verified and they comply with all NABP criteria (license and policy maintenance, patient/client information, communication, storage, shipment, and quality improvement programs).
I’ve had great experiences with on-line pharmacies. Most not only offer price-matching, but also guarantee 100 percent satisfaction. Once, I was beyond satisfied when I called to see if there was any chance of returning the $335 worth of antibiotics that had been prescribed for my dog – before we found out that the antibiotic wasn’t effective against my dog’s particular bacteria; the pharmacy actually issued a credit to me immediately – wow! I returned the antibiotics (which can’t be resold, making the credit very noble indeed).
Many on-line pharmacies offer price-matching, so search for the lowest price and then call to place your order and mention the lower price and where you saw it. Don’t forget to factor in shipping and handling costs if ordering on-line or from a non-local source.
A few more considerations
At times the recommended dosage for your pet may not be available as a standard dosage. Some medications can be purchased in higher dosages and then the pills split to the approximate dosage. This approach can result in a substantial cost savings, but this strategy is not always possible or appropriate. Medications that are enteric-coated or have sustained release formulations are not generally suitable for splitting prior to administration. Capsules can’t be cut, as their contents can’t be properly divided or contained after opening. Another consideration is the stability of the medication when exposed to air; many decompose rapidly when exposed to air and/or moisture. Always check with your vet to confirm whether your pet’s medication is appropriate for splitting.
If your pet needs a specially formulated or compounded medication, shop around, as costs can vary even from one specialty pharmacy to another. After checking that a pharmacy is licensed by the state board in which it operates (again check the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy), call and ask for quotes. Even with shipping costs, there can be substantial price differences.
When one of my dogs was going through treatment for cancer, she was prescribed the medication piroxicam, which needed to be compounded for her based on her weight. The first prescription of this I had filled for her was done for ease and timeliness; it had been called into a compounding pharmacy that her veterinarian had recommended but it was over an hour away. A 30-day supply was prepared and shipped to me at a cost of $51; when I realized that my dog was going to be on this drug for a long time, I located a recommended compounding pharmacy closer to home. I was happy to receive a 60-day supply (twice the amount) for $56.
There are some medications that are available only from a veterinarian or a veterinary pharmacy. When this occurs and your pet will be on the medication for a prolonged period, ask about getting larger quantities, as the price per unit can decrease with quantity.
It’s important to discuss any potential side effects with your veterinarian before you get your medications elsewhere. Human pharmacists aren’t usually trained to know the specific effects the medication can have on animals, most have no training for veterinary drugs, interaction with other drugs, or the appropriate dosages for pets. Ask your veterinarian whether generic drugs are acceptable, as they are not recommended in some cases (for example, for treatment of hypothyroidism). No matter where you obtain your pet’s medications, always confirm that what you have received are the exact same medications and dosages as your veterinarian has recommended.
Barbara Dobbins is a San Francisco Bay Area dog trainer on hiatus.