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Pet Medicine Becoming Human Business

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - You may have new, more affordable options, when it comes to keeping your pet healthy.  The sometimes staggeringly high cost of pet medications currently has Americans spending seven billion dollars a year, according to government estimates.

Familiar pharmacies, though, like Kroger, Walgreens and Target, are now tapping into that pet market, in an effort to increase sales.  The new competition is upsetting veterinarians.

A study by Consumer Reports, published in August 2011, found two thirds of pet owners bought prescriptions from their vet.   "That's often a mistake," wrote the magazine, "because vets' markups over wholesale start at 100 percent and frequently hit 160 percent…"

When Travis Wolff, of Dallas, took his four year old boxer, Ace, to an animal clinic to treat an intestinal infection, the cost of prescriptions topped two hundred dollars.  "The cost was already included with the invoice on the bill that we paid at the vet's office," he said.

"I always assumed that was something that you did at the vet's office."

Kroger this year began marketing to pet owners and offering them discounted prices.  Target is doing the same with its Pet Rx program.

And Walgreens will now let you include your pet as a family member on its prescription drug plan.   We compared prices on three common drugs.

The over the counter heartworm prevention, Heartgard, was available at Target for $31.99.  A local vet, meanwhile, quoted it at $50.50.  The anti-inflammatory, Rimadyl, was selling for $22.40 at Kroger, less than half what it cost at the vet's office.

Both pharmacies offered the antibiotic Amoxicillin as a generic for only four dollars, ninety percent off what the vet was charging.  "I honestly think patients don't know they can get their pet medications at the pharmacy," said Johnna Dees, a pharmacist for Kroger in Dallas.

Even if they do, sometimes they can't. In Texas, a vet isn't legally required to write a prescription or inform pet owners of their options.  Some federal lawmakers have proposed the Fairness to Pet Owners act that would change that.

The American Veterinary Association has lobbied against it, claiming the law would create bureaucracy and paperwork.  At the Bent Tree Animal Hospital in north Dallas, Dr. Nancy Turner warns there are risks to getting prescriptions filled from pharmacists, not trained specifically in veterinary medicine.  "For some medications, I wouldn't recommend it," she said.

Turner said, among other things, pharmacists can easily make dosage mistakes.  "Just because they're like oh, that decimal point needs to be here, not here. It actually makes a really big difference," she said.

The one thing both pharmacists and veterinarians agree on is that pet owners should feel free to ask about their options.  Open communication, they say, can cut down on costs and mistakes.

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