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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Pet Owners Cautioned About Internet Drug Sales

by Walt Osborne, M.S, J.D., Assistant Editor
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter 2006 Volume XXI, No V

In its November-December 2006 issue of FDA Consumer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned pet owners about the potential dangers associated with purchasing animal drugs on the Internet.

The problem arises when unsuspecting consumers purchase these drug products online from enterprises that are fronts for unscrupulous businesses. In these cases, the consumer can end up with products not approved by FDA. While many of the unapproved products are considerably cheaper, they may also pose a health threat to pets and put their lives in danger.

FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) regulates the manufacture and distribution of animal drugs; the dispensing of prescription veterinary drug products falls under the jurisdiction of State pharmacy boards.

There are also some foreign Internet pharmacies that advertise the -availability of veterinary prescription drugs to U.S. citizens without a prescription. Others state that one of its veterinarians on staff will evaluate a pet after reviewing a questionnaire filled out online by the pet owner. However, this sales technique sidesteps the valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship that is created when a veterinarian physically examines the animal. This physical examination provides the only means for a veterinarian to make a proper diagnosis and determine what therapy is required.

Two of the most commonly used animal prescription drugs that pet owners buy over the Internet are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and heartworm prevention products. The use of both of these products should be preceded by a blood test and thorough examination of the animal, which cannot be done online. NSAIDs are prescribed for pain relief in dogs with osteoarthritis or for pain following surgery. NSAID therapy needs to be monitored by the treating veterinarian. FDA/CVM has developed an informative brochure on the use of NSAIDs in dogs; it is discussed elsewhere in this issue.

Dogs, cats, ferrets, and some other mammals can get heartworm disease, which exists in all 50 States and is spread by mosquitoes. The heartworm larvae can enter the bite wound, migrate through the animal’s tissue, and then grow into adult worms that live in the arteries of the lungs. Heartworm preventives kill the larvae before they become adult worms. The heartworm test involves drawing blood from the animal, so it cannot be done by an Internet pharmacy veterinarian. If the test is not performed, a pet owner could be giving heartworm preventives to a pet that has heartworms, leading to potentially severe reactions in the pets.

Manufacturers of heartworm medications do not sell to Internet pharmacies unless the pharmacies are licensed and are owned by a veterinarian. Nevertheless, a pet owner’s own veterinarian is really the best source for obtaining heartworm medication. This way, should a cat or dog that is on heartworm medication contract the disease, the manufacturer will work with the veterinarian directly. At the end of the day, there is no better assurance for your pet’s health than a valid veterinarian-client-patient -relationship.