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Shopping Around Could Save Owners Money On Pet Medications

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Do you go into sticker shock every time you need medicine for your pet? Well, consider shopping around the next time your pet gets sick.

Your veterinarian is not the only place selling the drugs you might need for Spot or Fluffy.

Bubba Snider loves his Bernese Mountain Dog, but he's not thrilled at how much it costs when Bam-Bam gets sick.

"When we first got him, he had a weird parasite," said Snider. "And he was on different medications for eight months, and it cost us a fortune."

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans spend $50 billion on their pets each year; $7 billion of that is for prescription and over-the-counter pet medications.

A majority of consumers get those meds from their veterinarians.

"The only place I know to get them is at the vet, and they say, 'Here's what you need, and here's the bill,'" explained Snider.

But medicine for your pet can be found at plenty of retailers like Costco, 1-800-PetMeds, and even Target, which means consumers can shop around.

At Target, you can get everything from Rimadyl, a pain reliever for dogs, to Heartgard. On its website, you can see all of the pet meds they offer, some for as low as $4.

"You do need to get a prescription from your veterinarian, just like you would a normal medication from your doctor," said Megan Waltenbaugh, a Target pharmacist.

So how do prices compare?

Here's an example, a common antibiotic for a dog cost $15.80 at the vet's office.

That same prescription at 1-800-PetMeds was $14.89 cents, including shipping and handling. At Target, it was $11 dollars.

"My bottom line advice to people is talk to your vet about what things cost," said Dr. Lawrence Gerson, a veterinarian. "Ask them; is there a cheaper way to buy the product?"

Dr. Gerson said he sends customers to human pharmacies for pet meds all the time, but it is a hot button issue.

Remember what the pharmacist at Target said?

"You do need to get a prescription from your veterinarian," Waltenbaugh said.

In some states, vets aren't legally required to give you one.

"There are some vets that will not write a prescription to get the product elsewhere," said Dr. Gerson.

Veterinarians and the American Veterinary Medical Association have concerns about retailers offering pet medications, including inappropriate counseling, dosing and substitutions by pharmacists and the failure of pet owners to fill the prescriptions.

"I've had one animal, he didn't die but he got sick when they didn't fill the prescription properly," said Dr. Gerson.

There is no doubt that competition in the market can affect prices and benefit consumers.

Here's another example to consider, Metoclopramide is a common drug used for nausea and vomiting in pets.

At Target, it's $15.99 cents for 30 five milligram tablets. At 1-800-PetMeds, the price is $12.79 including shipping. And Costco has it for $7.79 cents.

Snider wants the best for Bam-Bam, but he likes what shopping around will mean for his wallet, too.

"I would love to shop around," Snider said. "I know that when we take him to the vet we are going to need some skin medicine and they are going to hand me something, and now I can say wait a minute let me shop the price."

When buying any pet medications online, experts say make sure the pharmacy has the Vet-VIPPS logo, which means it's a vet-verified pharmacy and it follows federal and state requirements.


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