I have an eight year old Jack Russell cross dog called Billy. He has arthritis and my vet has put him on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine. How can I make sure that I’m not spending too much on his medicines and still make sure that what I buy is right for him? I don’t have insurance.
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We sympathise - responsible dog owners have a lot to consider when deciding what’s best for their dog and their budget. If you think that you are being overcharged, talk to your vet and ask them to go through what the charges are, and what the options and costs might be to get the medicines elsewhere.
It’s worth remembering that by law, only veterinary surgeons can carry out a diagnosis on an animal - unlike humans, animals can’t choose who treats them, so the law makes sure that they are treated by someone who is professionally qualified and accountable for what they do. How you can obtain any medicine needed following a diagnosis depends on how the medicine is categorised - this is based on the type of medicine and the animal it is for.
All veterinary medicines can be prescribed and sold by veterinary surgeons, and veterinary surgeons can also write prescriptions to be fulfilled by another veterinary practice or a pharmacist. If a prescription is required, the vet will need to see your pet as they are only allowed to prescribe for animals under their care. A repeat consultation may be required for long-term medication.
Vets can charge for both consultations and prescriptions. However, they should not charge someone wishing to take a prescription to be filled elsewhere more than someone who buys their medicines direct from the practice (except for the cost of the prescription). You could also get a diagnosis and a prescription from one practice and buy your medicines from another to make sure you get the best price.
A limited number of medicines, e.g. some flea treatments for dogs, can also be supplied without prescription by pharmacists, some veterinary nurses and suitably qualified pet shop staff – either on the high street or online. There are also a few basic veterinary medicines that anyone can sell – you will see some of these in the supermarket.
If your dog needs different medicines ask to have them all put on the same prescription – although you will need separate prescriptions for each pet if you have more than one. Veterinary practices have to display a price list for the top ten most commonly used medicines in their waiting room. You can also ask your vet if there is a cheaper alternative that they could prescribe - there may not be, or it may not be as effective, but at least you will know what your options are.
In some cases the ‘human’ equivalent may be available more cheaply, however if there is a veterinary medicine licensed to treat a specific illness in an animal species, legislation prevents veterinary surgeons from prescribing the ‘human’ equivalent. It is in your dog’s best interests to use the medicines which have been specifically authorised for dogs and it may even be dangerous to give an animal a preparation which has been formulated for a human.
Buying the medicines from a veterinary surgery may not be cheap, but you do have highly qualified and trained professionals who can check your pet’s health and give advice. Veterinary practice premises - where medicines are stored - follow regulations about storing medicines correctly to ensure that they are effective. If the practice is Practice Standard Scheme accredited, the RCVS will have checked how medicines are stored (www.rcvs.org.uk/practicestandards) .
Pharmacists can also supply medicines prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and are regulated by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).
Buying online can work out cheaper and there are online pharmacies and businesses, sometimes associated with veterinary surgeries, which can supply prescription medicines. A reputable business will ask to see the prescription and need to know some details about you and your pet.
If a website claims to be associated with a veterinary practice, you can check with the RCVS that the practice exists by calling: 020 7222 2001 or at www.findavet.org.uk. The RPSGB has an internet pharmacy logo which it allows genuine pharmacies to use (see www.internetpharmacylogo.org).
If you are not sure whether a medicine needs a prescription, you can ask any veterinary practice. Be very wary of anyone, online or not, who will sell you a medicine that needs a prescription, without one - this is illegal and the offence is with the person who has bought the medicine.
Finally, don’t buy from overseas. There are controls on importing veterinary medicines into the UK, even from within the EU and even if possessing the medicine is legal in the UK. You can find out about the controls on importing and possessing veterinary medicines from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate at www.vmd.gov.uk.
Buying from overseas, or illegally within the UK, means you can’t do anything if the medicine you receive is counterfeit, doesn’t work or adversely affects your pet. The supply of veterinary medicines in the UK is controlled for public and animal health reasons that include the safety, quality, and effectiveness of these medicines.