Watchdog: Nov. 4, 2012

The cost of medicine for pets - just like for humans -can vary by 100 percent or more, depending on where you have your prescription filled.

While purchasing prescription medicine at your veterinarian is the most convenient, frequently - not always - it is the most expensive.

Pet owners have other alternatives including online stores, pharmacies, department stores that have pharmacies including those at Costco, Target and Walmart. Even some supermarket pharmacies are getting into selling pet medications.

"About two-thirds of the pet owners we surveyed for this report said they buy their pet medicines from the vet who prescribes them. That's often a mistake because vets' markups over wholesale start at 100 percent and frequently hit 160 percent, plus a $5 to $15 dispensing fee, according to the American Animal Hospital Association's latest Veterinary Fee Reference," says Consumer Reports.

"For some medicines, the markups are even higher, according to a survey of wholesale prices compared with retail prices charged by 1,728 veterinarians, conducted in 2009 by LHK Partners, a market research firm. Examples include a 567 percent markup for the anti-inflammatory steroid prednisone, 800 percent for the pain reliever tramadol, and 1,019 percent for the antibiotic amoxicillin."

Dr. Christopher Gargamelli, president of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association, says that there is no question that in many cases pet medication will be cheaper at pharmacies where they have huge volume discounts.

He says that the code of ethics for both Connecticut and American Veterinary Medical Associations state that veterinarians - if asked - should honor client requests to have medication prescribed to a pharmacy.

"We as a professional organization believe in choice," he said in a telephone interview. Gargamelli, a small animal emergency veterinarian at the Animal Emergency Hospital of Central Connecticut in Rocky Hill, has three dogs, two guinea pigs, two cats, two rabbits and a turtle.

As a word of caution though, Gargamelli said veterinarians are concerned that most pharmacists "get zero training" in college for veterinary drugs, their interaction with other drugs and the amounts of a drug an animal can have.

He said a good pharmacist will understand the limitations of their knowledge and suggest to customers asking questions about the pet medications to discuss those with their veterinarians. Your family veterinarian should always be relied upon as the primary source of care and information for your beloved pet.

Veterinarians earn the majority of their living from their knowledge and use of their skills and not from selling medicine.

The only other drawback, he said, to more people switching their purchases from veterinarians is that lower volumes will mean even higher prices.

Another important fact for pet owners to know is that many pet medications are the same as those taken by humans - just the amounts differ. And generics are sometimes available.

For instance I used to purchase anti-diarrhea pet medicine for my dogs, who at times take unauthorized snacks outside, until my vet clued me in that I could use over-the-counter human anti-diarrhea medicine for them, which was not only much cheaper, but also more effective.

"If your pet is taking a medication that's also prescribed to humans, as is often the case, you might be able to have the prescription filled inexpensively at a chain drugstore, supermarket pharmacy, or big-box retailer. Walgreens, for example, allows customers to enroll their pets as family members in its Prescription Savings Club," according to Consumer Reports.

While most department stores and pharmacies don't market heavily to pet owners, I noticed a recent large sign at Costco suggesting that its customers check out its pet medications. Even though Costco is a membership club chain, anyone can use its pharmacy.

I asked the Enfield Costco pharmacist, Rob Trimani, for some sample prices of frequently used pet meds for price comparisons:

Rimadyl, an anti-inflammatory and pain killer, 75 mg chewable $77.97 for 60 tablets.

Soloxine,thyroid medication, .3 mg, $6.99 for 30.

Baytril, antibiotic, 68 mg, $67.37 for 30.

Interceptor, heartworm for dogs up to 100 pounds, $41.43 for 6.

Heartguard Plus, for dogs up to 100 pounds, $40.32 for 6.

Here are prices from Target:

Rimadyl,75mg, $79.98 for 60.

Interceptor, 51-100 pounds, $48.99 for 6.

Heartguard Plus, 51-100 pounds, $45.99 for 6.

You can reach The Watchdog at george@ctwatchdog.com and ctwatchdog.com

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