PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- 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 and we could not… eight months to get rid of it," 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,'" says Snider.
But medicine for your pet can be found at plenty of retailers like Costco, 1-800-PetMeds, Target and even Giant Eagle, 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," says Megan Waltenbaugh, a Target pharmacist.
So how do prices compare?
Here's an example, KDKA's Susan Koeppen recently bought an antibiotic for her dog Lucy at her vet. She paid $15.80.
That same prescription at 1-800-PetMeds was $14.89 cents, including shipping and handling. At Target, it was $11 dollars. But the best deal was Giant Eagle, just $4 for the same drug.
And if you need the antibiotic Amoxicillin for your pet, at Giant Eagle, it's free.
"My bottom line advice to people is talk to your vet about what things cost," says Dr. Lawrence Gerson, a veterinarian. "Ask them; is there a cheaper way to buy the product?"
Dr. Gerson, a veterinarian in Point Breeze, says 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 says.
In the state of Pennsylvania, vets aren't legally required to give you one.
"There are some vets that will not write a prescription to get the product elsewhere," says Dr. Gerson.
Proposed federal regulation would change that. House Bill 1406 would require veterinarians to provide clients with prescriptions for all pet medications.
Even the Federal Trade Commission is examining the issue, and just held a public forum on the topic.
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," says 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 says. "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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