Have you ever heard someone refer to their child as free? “We went to the hospital and came home with a free kid!”
Everyone knows there is no such thing as a free kid. Likewise, there is no such thing as a free pet either. But yet we say it and think it don’t we! The truth of the matter is we don’t think about the financial commitment of a lot of decisions we make (see Guidelines on Acquiring a New Puppy). Besides the routine and emergency services our pets often need, they also need parasite preventative, leashes and collars, supplements, sweaters, toys… strollers. I feel like I’m forgetting something. Aha! They also need to eat!
So what does all this have to do with the title (and the reason you probably clicked on this blog post). In the midst of all the chaos of what is now a multi-billion dollar industry, pet care is a very real and very costly responsibility that comes along with pet ownership. And on either side of the battlefield is your veterinarian and the pharmacy.
Let the games begin!
Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but if you’ve owned a pet or a TV for very long you are fully aware of the efforts of pharmacies to get your pet care business. And if you’ve visited your vet’s office in the past few years you’ve probably experienced them trying to keep it.
So what difference does it make where you get your pet’s meds? Consider the following:
The first thing that pops into my mind is price. For years, veterinarians have been the only source of the medications that are necessary for healing and protecting our pets. The tide is definitely turning. Not only are the meds readily available through online pharmacies, they are now being offered right alongside human meds in many “brick and mortar” pharmacies. The overwhelming message is “Get your pets medications at the fraction of the cost your vet charges”. On top of that there is usually the offer of free shipping, coupons or daily discounts. It sounds promising, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? Maybe! But you won’t know until you ask your vet’s office what they charge. Next time you are looking to put your pet on a flea control or need an antibiotic, compare your vet’s price with the pharmacy’s price. Often times vet’s offer manufacturer’s discounts, coupons and free product offers. Even some prescription drugs are eligible for rewards and rebates. These manufacturer specials are only available through veterinarians. You might also be pleasantly surprised to find that your vet’s base price is in fact cheaper. At my clinic we intentionally price our products to be competitive with online pharmacies. We frequently get online medication requests and when we compare their price to ours we come out cheaper! Last but not least, when all else fails, ask your vet if they will price match. If the price doesn’t go below a certain threshold we will price match to maintain that business and the doctor patient relationship. Before moving on, let’s stop for a second and considering the following costs factors that determine your vet’s pricing:
- Business expenses
- Product expenses
- Vet school loans
- Annual Continuing Education
- Licensure fees and dues
If we can’t price match then it’s usually because the pharmacy is charging right at or below our cost to even purchase the product. How is that even possible you ask? Good question.
This leads to a second consideration: quality. Something you need to know about manufacturers of pet medications is that most of these companies only sell directly to veterinarians. If a pharmacy has a certain medication or supplement there is a good chance they got it through a third-party. That doesn’t guarantee the product is bad, but it does guarantee that it didn’t come directly from the manufacturer or licensed distributor. A cause for concern comes from not knowing who, what, where, when and why the product got to where it ended up. Some red flags should go up if you notice the following:
- Extremely low pricing, even below your vet’s cost
- Product that is advertised without the packaging
- Product packaging that looks different from what you know to be authentic
- Pharmacies that have negative reviews
More importantly, the manufacturers only guarantee their products if they are purchased through a veterinarian. A manufacturer’s guarantee and relationship with your veterinarian is extremely valuable if your pet were to ever have a product reaction, if there was a product failure or even if you are dissatisfied with the results, or lack of results, of a product your veterinarian sold you. I’m not saying pharmacies can’t offer some help under these circumstances, but they absolutely can’t offer the same guarantee and protection that the manufacturers do.
Before you come to a conclusion about whether or not to buy from your vet, please consider the relationship you and your pet have with your vet. Your vet is passionate about your pet’s health and your bond with your pet. They borrowed a lot of money to go through as many years of college as an MD, yet on a national average get paid less than pharmacists. Purchasing from your vet supports their small business and in turn supports the well-being of your community’s pet population. On average, 30% of a vet clinic’s income comes from their pharmacy and over the counter sales. That is a lot to lose by anyones standards and can be detrimental to the health of a vet practice.
In conclusion, it’s obvious that many people are looking for the most cost conscious way to affordably and responsibly care for their pets. I believe online pharmacies have their place and they are obviously filling a need, otherwise people wouldn’t be using them. They offer a wider variety of products and make it convenient to have it come directly to your home. I honestly wish it wasn’t a battle, but could somehow be a partnership. Until then, I encourage you to support your local veterinarian. If you trust them with the health of your pet, then trust that they are setting their pricing with you and your pet in mind.
And now for a really cute kitten…