|By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Pet medications, once the domain of veterinarians, are increasingly available at grocers, chain pharmacies, specialty pet stores and retailers such as
Instead of paying whatever their vets charge -- and doctors have been criticized for big markups -- pet owners now can shop for the best prices and rack up retailer loyalty points in the process.
In addition to getting some antibiotics for free, for example,
Some stores, such as
Target rolled out pet medications on a limited basis in 2010. Now, according to its website, the retailer sells about 70 medications for cats and about 100 for dogs, a list that includes antibiotics and antifungals, pain-relievers and parasite-killers and drugs for the eyes, gallbladder, heart, liver and thyroid.
Pet owners still have more options because of a jump last year in the number of online pharmacies and in the number of lower-costing generic drugs that hit the market.
Currently, it says, 93 percent of pet medications lack lower-costing generic equivalents.
United Networks of America says pet owners can rack up savings -- as much as 75 percent in some cases -- with a Pet Drug Card that can be used like a coupon for the pet-appropriate doses of human medications. United Networks, which offers similar programs for other kinds of products, says it has tens of millions of card-holders and uses that clout to negotiate discounts with manufacturers and retailers.
Independent pharmacies have their own niche with the individualized preparation of medications for pets that require special doses, need liquids instead of pills or insist on special flavors. Murray Avenue Apothecary in
"We have one dog who likes bubble gum," pharmacy owner
The changing landscape reflects pharmaceutical companies' desire to expand their sales channels, retailers' hunger to cash in on a profitable market and the willingness of cost-conscious pet-owners to step out on their vets.
"Let's go find a better price," said
Ms. Sable, owner of
"I get them from everywhere, to be honest with you," she said. After a vet wanted to charge
Pet owners who buy from prescribers pay mark-ups as high as 248 percent on some drugs, U.S. Rep.
Dr. Hutchinson said medications aren't a profit-making part of his business but that other practices are structured differently. He said big retailers have the economies of scale to sell medications for less, even if it's just to bring people into the store.
About five years ago, the association rolled out an accreditation for pet pharmacies to help consumers find reputable online dispensaries. Besides
Another accredited online pharmacy, Vets First Choice, attempts to woo veterinarians as partners with a website that says, "Stop big box retailers and Internet pharmacies from poaching your clients."
Some pharmaceutical companies continue to sell exclusively through vets. Elanco -- the global animal-health company says it does so to preserve the integrity of the pet owner-vet relationship.
Ms. Otlano, the Doberman pinscher owner, said she believes many pet owners are unaware of how many places now sell pet medications. As awareness grows, she said, she believes pet owners will shop around when they need medications for chronic illnesses but still will buy from the vet when trying to clear up a one-time ailment.
"A lot of it is convenience," she said.
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