Recently, one particular online pet food supplier decided to aggressively expand into veterinary drug sales. As an initial strategy, they are selling some medications for even lower prices than veterinarians can purchase them!

Selling medications at a loss is a tactic used to rapidly expand customer lists for future marketing. As we saw with a 1-800 number fifteen years ago, once the intended market is captured, prices usually rise.

In the meantime, family-owned veterinary practices are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the prices of online medication suppliers (some of which are ethical and legitimate, and some of which are not). However, I firmly believe that veterinary practices offer benefits that these online corporations do not.

For example, all proceeds from prescription medications purchased through a local practice stay in our local economy and go exclusively to improving the care offered to your pets. Ultimately, medication sales in veterinary practices help to lower treatment costs when pets are sick or need surgery.

Online suppliers exist solely to generate profits for out-of-state shareholders. In the long run, a large percentage of consumers choosing to divert a portion of their veterinary spending to corporations that are not directly involved with providing veterinary care to pets will contribute to rising medical and surgical fees as practices are forced to cover overhead expenses through service fees alone.

Also, many practices offer very competitive pricing and free home delivery though their own practice’s website. I know that with my practice’s online pharmacy, we sometimes even beat the prices of the “big guys.”

Most of all, a veterinary practice can offer better client support for manufacturer guarantees. All prescription medications purchased directly from a veterinary practice are supported by robust manufacturer guarantees that cover treatment costs related to complications, side-effects, or lack of efficacy of the product. For example, my practice’s manufacturer guarantee support program means that:

—The practice keeps all records necessary to file claims, if necessary

—Our staff will file claims and supporting paperwork with manufacturer

—There is no charge for veterinarian consultations with the manufacturer, if required

—The practice bills the manufacturer directly for all applicable diagnostic and treatment costs

For prescription medications ordered elsewhere, we strongly advise our clients to be aware of the details of supplier and/or manufacturer support, if any, for products purchased from each individual source. We have found that sometimes the guarantee may encompass only a refund of the purchase price or that a manufacturer will not support certain sources at all. The best way to check this is to call the drug manufacturer directly.

Any time a complication, side effect, or lack of efficacy is experienced from a medication purchased outside of our office or website:

—The client must maintain all records necessary to file claims

—The client must file claim and supporting paperwork with supplier and/or manufacturer

—Regular fees are charged for veterinarian consultations with the manufacturer, if required

—The practice will bill the client directly for all applicable diagnostic and treatment costs

The few dollars saved on the initial purchase may cost pet owners in the aggravation of dealing with a large company instead of their local practice if there is a need to file a claim.

These claims are actually fairly frequent, especially for heartworm preventive medications. These medicines are guaranteed to protect against certain intestinal parasites, but no monthly medication can reliably prevent infections with parasites that have two-week life cycles.

Our practice processes a couple of claims each month. We have even seen very expensive heartworm treatments paid by preventive manufacturers. We will continue to offer our clients the best possible customer service and hope that many will choose to continue to support their local family-owned practice when it comes time to purchase pet medications.

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Michael J. Watts, D.V.M., operates Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care in Amissville.