Veterinary Medication 101

The pricing and regulation of veterinary medication can be confusing for pet owners.

First and foremost veterinary drugs are rightly perceived as expensive in comparison to human medication. In reality the vast majority of drugs we use for pets are exactly the same as those used for humans so why are they more expensive? The simple answer is the Parmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) which heavily subsidises the vast majority of medication commonly dispensed to humans. We never see the full cost of prescription medication unless it is not on the PBS list. We would all be in for a nasty shock if the PBS disappeared!

Times are changing rapidly these days and the veterinary world is not exempt. The way we purchase anything from dog shampoo to prescription medication has rapidly evolved with the advent of online shopping and increased competition.

Traditionally, if you needed any form of prescription medication, your vet was the only feasible port of call. You booked an appointment, had a consultation and if required walked out with your medication, end of story. These days it’s not so simple. Yes a lot of people are still happy to use their vet as their sole source of prescription medication but online pharmacies and local compounding pharmacies have rapidly altered the status quo. Reduced overheads and bulk buying has allowed them to offer the “Chemist Warehouse” model that is bargain basement pricing for an identical product. As small independent businesses many vets cannot compete on price or even get close as the prices offered by large competitors are often less than the cost price independent vets pay for the same product. The advent of corporate vet groups has changed this somewhat as their buying power allows closer competition on price but they are still unable to match those of online pharmacies.

So how have vets adapted to these changes? Most customers are still happy to pay for one off prescriptions without the hassle of shopping around but for long term medictions many clients will shop around for the best deal and why not! Years of heart medication, for example, can represent a lot of money so any saving is a bonus. At St Francis we keep all our medication prices as reasonable as possible so they are usually a very similar price to online sources once postage is factored in. In cases where we genuinely can’t compete on price alone we will, as will most vets, happily offer written prescriptions and charge a nominal fee for this. The length of time these scripts will be written for without re-examing the animal does vary however. As vets we are bound by the Veterinary Surgeons Regulations when it comes to dispensing medication. To cut a long story short we are obliged to provide evidence we have recently examined any animal to whom medication is dispensed according to the regs. This is why we cannot write open ended scripts for any prescription medication. The time between examinations will vary between clinics depending on their specific policies and the meds being dispensed. Schedule 8 medications, otherwise known as drugs of addiction, obviously have stricter guidelines as opposed to all other schedule 4 medications. Here at St Francis we know the vast majority of our regular clients well so are happy to allow at least 6 months between rechecks under most circumstances. Finally, a couple of important points to bear in mind when purchasing drugs online are, firstly, delivery fees which will add to the cost, and availability. It’s not uncommon for certain drugs to be out of stock which can leave you and your pet in the lurch.

Another common query regarding pet medication is the use of human medication. There is a common misconception that human medications are completely different to cat and dog medication. This couldn’t be further from the truth as the vast majority of drugs vets use are also used in human medicine. There are however a few very important exceptions to this rule so never medicate your pet wthout seeking veterinary advice first.

One of the unfortunate issues were are seeing more and more of these days is antibiotic resistance. The increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria is growing exponentially and we see this first hand at the clinic on a daily basis. We are now at the stage that we regularly see cases where none of our standard antibiotics will work. Treating these cases is extremely difficult and we often have to manage rather than cure. As vets it’s very easy to dispense antibiotics for a lot of conditions, particularly gut based issues, as more often than not they work. However these days we try to avoid this if at all possible. Once all other treatment options have been exhausted we will use antibiotics but often only after a culture to make sure the correct antibiotic is being used. Obviously this will add to the cost but avoids treatment failure if resistant bacteria are present.

Hopefully this clarifies some of the most common queries regarding medication we field at the clinic. Everybody wants the best for their pet and feel as though they are getting value for money. At St Francis we genuinely feel we satisfy both these requirements. If in doubt feel free to give us a call!