Pet owners are able to obtain a prescription from their veterinary surgeon to purchase veterinary medication from other sources. Obtaining a prescription from your vet will incur a charge to cover the cost of the vet’s professional time. Prescribing the right medicine involves a professional assessment of the health of the animal, making a diagnosis and deciding what the best treatment is for the individual animal. Just as doctors in private practice charge for prescriptions and solicitors charge to write letters, vets must charge for their professional expertise and time.
Because we are fortunate to have the National Health service for humans, we are often unaware of the cost of medical care, equipment and medication. It is expensive for anyone to keep and dispense veterinary medicines under the strict guidelines that are set out in legislation. Setting up a pharmacy, buying and maintaining the correct equipment, and training staff are all costs that must be met by the sale of the medicines. Online suppliers are able to buy in a much larger quantity than individual veterinary practices and the cost of their overheads can be more easily absorbed by the business.
All veterinary medicines have a shelf-life and once the expiry date is reached the medicines must be discarded. The vet has already paid for those drugs and so needs a pricing structure for the medicines that covers the cost of the wastage. Vets must keep in stock a wide range of medicines, including those that are needed in an emergency, and very expensive drugs that are rarely used. Again these must all be paid for, even if only one dose has been used by the time of the expiry date.
However, it isn’t always cheaper to buy prescription medicines from an online source rather than your veterinary surgeon. If the medicines are very cheap this should ring alarm bells and you should take extra care to ensure the website belongs to a reputable, UK-based organisation.
Vets are very worried about some online pharmacies based overseas supplying counterfeit medicines into the UK that are placebos at best and dangerous at worst.
The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), which regulates veterinary medicines in the UK, is working on a type of kitemark system for online pharmacies to use to show that they have been approved by the VMD. Unfortunately, this will only be a voluntary scheme but it will provide a useful sign to owners that they are buying from a safe source.
But even if the medicines bought online are safe there are added benefits to buying them from your veterinary practice. Vets and the vet nursing team will spend time demonstrating how to administer medicines correctly to ensure maximum efficacy. This is also an opportunity to talk through any possible adverse reactions, how to spot them and what to do.
Buying from the vet also means that treatment can start straight away because the practice pharmacy will have the medicines in stock for you to take away immediately, rather than having to wait for a package to arrive by post.