Pet Medication and Human Pharmacies – Pros & Cons

Did you know that your vet needs to inform you if your pet medication is available at a pharmacy? And that you could have a written prescription instead? It’s a state regulation in Arizona, but many people do not know this. 

Pros – Save Money on Pet Medication

Prescribing a pet drug

In some cases, taking a written prescription to a human pharmacy can be beneficial to your pocket book. Why? Because large pharmacies order medications in bulk. They can offer pet medications at a lower cost than a vet who does not order in such large quantities.

Having a written prescription can also be a plus if you live or work close to a pharmacy. If your pet is on a long term prescription you can pick up your pet medications when convenient.

Cons – Pharmacists are not Veterinarians

However this situation can also be very frustrating, both for you and your vet. Many human pharmacies that carry veterinary drugs (or dispense human medications for use in pets) do not know the appropriate dosages or uses in animals. This can potentially result in them misleading or misinforming you. It is not uncommon for pharmacists to inadvertantly make comments to owners about pet medication dosage or usage without knowing specific information about the species.

Dogs and cats metabolize medications differently than humans so dosages are very different. They need to be aware of these differences prior to dispensing medications or discussing usage with owners. Pharmacists are not doctors. They are not legally able to give medical advice, especially when they do not know your pet’s health status.

Pharmacists are required to have a veterinary formulary (drug dosage book) behind the counter, but many do not refer to it or confirm dosages prior to dispensing medications or advice. This can be very frustrating as a veterinarian. Clients are trusting what a pharmacist is telling them and are afraid their vet made a mistake on their prescription. This can decrease an owner’s confidence in their veterinarian’s knowledge and ability.

Thyroid Hormone Supplement – A Common Example

Here is an example of a common issue we see with human pharmacies dispensing medications for a veterinary patient: a client’s dog comes into the veterinary clinic because he is gaining weight, panting a lot, seems lethargic. He is diagnosed by exam and bloodwork to be hypothyroid (low thyroid hormone production) and he needs supplementation to correct the imbalance. The veterinarian appropriately prescribes thyroid hormone supplement based on the dog’s weight and the veterinary drug formulary. The owner requests a written prescription for the medication and takes the prescription to a human pharmacy to have it filled.

The pharmacist fills the prescription according to the written directions, but when the owner comes to pick up the medication, the pharmacist makes the comment “that amount of thyroid hormone would kill a human!” This is a totally inappropriate comment by the pharmacist, as dog dosages are much higher than humans due to their metabolism. This comment makes the client question their veterinarian’s medical knowledge.

Good Communication = A Better Understanding

My recommendation for clients and veterinarians is to have an open, honest discussions about a pets’ individual care and medications.

Veterinarians should discuss dosages, side effects, blood work monitoring, and such with their clients PRIOR to writing a prescription for them. Veterinarians should also discuss veterinary pharmacies vs human pharmacies with their clients. Clients should ask questions of their veterinarian PRIOR to starting medications, especially long term. If you are concerned or have questions after talking to a pharmacist, contact your vet IMMEDIATELY. Do not alter the treatment plan without speaking with your vet.

Ideally, an open and honest line of communication should be in place between veterinarian and client before treatments or medications are instituted.  If Compassionate Animal Care clients have any questions or concerns, we encourage them to call 480.774.6995 or contact us online.

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