Target 11 uncovers problems with online pet pharmacies

by: Robin Taylor Updated:

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Pet medications are expensive, so frugal customers are turning to online pharmacies, but Target 11 has discovered potential problems that could put your pet’s life in danger.  Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor uncovers the risks.

You have to be careful.  Some sites are reputable and some aren’t.  And it’s those shady dealers that the Food and Drug Administration wants you to watch out for.     

Janet Scheller contacted Target 11 after ordering Frontline Plus from an online pharmacy.

"It was $39.99 for almost 6 months worth of medication," said Scheller, who lives in West Sunbury, Pa.

The price was $50 cheaper than what she would normally pay.

"When you have 4 animals that you're trying to protect with flea and tick medication, that gets to be costly," said Scheller.

What Scheller got wasn't what she'd ordered.  The online pharmacy had done a switch, sending Frontline Combo instead, a product sent from the United Kingdom that isn't approved for use in the United States.

"So they're selling you something that's not legal to sell in the United States?" I asked. 

"Correct," answered Scheller. 

"And they're getting it through customs?" I asked.  "Right," Scheller answered.

I talked to the FDA about this, and they confirmed, what happened isn't all that unusual. 

They want pet owners to be aware of the risks.

Sometimes the drugs are counterfeit or they come from countries where the quality standards aren't as high.  Then there are expired medications or ones that weren't stored properly and just plain won’t work.

"The product may be fine or it may not be effective anymore," said Dr. Carol Butler, a veterinarian at Tender Touch Veterinary Hospital in Wexford.

She knows of plenty of sad stories, such as the dog that got counterfeit drugs and died, or the dog taking heartworm medication that got heartworms.

"You don't know exactly what you're getting many times when you're dealing with an Internet pharmacy," said Butler.

Red flags include: dramatically lower prices; no prescription needed for a drug that requires a prescription; and a site that's not based in the U.S.

Scheller said she thinks these overseas sites need to be stopped.  She's filed complaints with the FDA and the EPA, and is getting the right product from the manufacturer.

"Our cats are older.  They're 15 going on 16, so I don't want to take any chances at this point," said Scheller.

Not all pet med sites are suspect.  Some are accredited by a program called Vet-VIPPS.  You should check for the symbol before ordering.  These sites are licensed to do business in the U.S.

If you have any questions, talk to your vet before ordering from an online pharmacy.

Flea and tick products can be expensive, but you want to get something that's going to work.