Buy pet meds without a prescription at your own risk.

My new puppy went for her “good health” check with the veterinarian today. By the time the visit was finished, I had racked up a bill for a couple hundred dollarsmost of it in pet medications. She wasn’t even “sick”!

Considering the issue of rising health-care costs for humans and animals — especially the escalating prices of medicine — it is no wonder the lure of self-diagnosis is standard practice for most people. It is explains why buying online at “cheaper” prices is so alluring.

Finding any product at a reduced price is just smart consumer economics. But is cheaper better, or is it dangerous? What are the risks and benefits if you buy pet meds without a prescription? I hope this article helps explain things.


Buy Pet Meds Without a Prescription?

By now you’ve probably already seen the bold-faced claims. For example, one online pet pharmacy, boasting that its services are “As Seen on NBC,” tries to reel in unsuspecting visitors with these alluring statements:

“Tired of your Vet controlling where you can buy your pet medications cheaper? Wouldn’t it be easier to buy your pet, animal, veterinary and livestock supplies and medications no prescription required? No Vet needed and save 70% off at the same time.”

Quite a few online pharmacies dispense pet meds, and they’ll often even offer free shipping, but buyer beware — the medicine may not arrive as it was advertised. The FDA, in fact, is extremely worried about the “dangerous practice” of pharmacies making fraudulent claims and selling unapproved or expired drugs. The agency cites particular worry over NSAIDs and heartworm medications, which can be dangerous or life-threatening without proper medical guidance.

Understand this: Prescriptions are not “magic formulas.”

If your pet requires medication, it is always best to have the appropriate drug and dosage prescribed by a veterinarian.

Be Safe: Look for the VIPPS Seal

Look for the Vet-VIPPS seal.

When you are ready to purchase, make sure you are getting the correct medication by using a reputable pharmacy, especially if you order online.

Legal prescription medication is strictly regulated for your protection. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) monitors the compliance of state and federal regulations. NABP reports that as many as 99 percent of online distributors of medications do not operate within the conformity of FDA-sanctioned controls. NABP provides a Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS) seal of approval for web businesses operating within guidelines.

Check any online pharmacy for the VIPPS certification before you order.

Good examples include 1-800-PetMeds and Doctors Foster and Smith. According to Dr. Race Foster, although some outfits “merely fill and ship orders,” his own pharmacy realizes “that behind every prescription is a special companion animal who deserves the best.” Meanwhile, 1-800-PetMeds says that it will not allow you to buy pet meds without a prescrition: You “must have an authorization before they are dispensed.”

Related: Save up to 28% with these 1-800-PetMeds coupon codes

Benefits of Buying Pet Meds Online

Here are some benefits to buying from reputable pharmacies:

  • Easy and convenient — particularly if your pet is on a maintenance drug. You can have the prescription sent right to your door.
  • Eliminates embarrassment, perhaps more in the case of personal use than pet use.
  • Provides easy online access to pharmacists to answer questions about medication.

For certain flea control products such as Frontline Plus, K9 Advantix, Advantage or Bio Spot, prescriptions are not likely required.

Beware of Online Pharmacies That Do These Things

All the advantages of online ordering are compelling, and with good judgment it is safe. But do NOT use an online pharmacy for any medication if:

  • Prescriptions are offered without a medical exam.
  • Prices are dramatically lower than the competition.
  • Drugs are from an unknown origin or unknown quality.
  • Prescriptions are sold without an order from a licensed medical professional — it’s against the law.
  • Meds are sold that are not FDA-approved.
  • Contact information, including a phone number and physical address, is not available and confirmed.
  • The business does not publish security and privacy information.
  • “Miracle drugs” or “cure-all” drugs are promoted for a variety of illnesses.
  • There is no Vet-VIPPS certification.

DO look for the following FDA-recommended “signs of a trustworthy website”:

  • It is located in the United States.
  • It is licensed by a state board of pharmacy (a list is available on the NABP website; see “Additional Resources” below).
  • It provides a licensed pharmacist to answer questions.
  • It requires a prescription from a licensed provider.
  • It provides complete contact information and allows you to talk with a person about problems or concerns.


The FDA cautions that many online companies offering pet drugs without prescriptions operate illegally. The products they offer are often counterfeit, they make false product claims and they sell expired drugs.

For the pet owner trying to save money, the practice of ordering unsafe medication may prove to be a very costly mistake. Some medicines produced outside of the legislation of the FDA may not contain the appropriate active ingredients, rendering it ineffective or, worse, toxic. This is especially true of nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), perhaps the most commonly dispensed type of drug from online sources.

Medications used for preventives against illness and parasites such as heartworms may not be effective. If an animal is not monitored and regularly tested for heartworms, this could be fatal. Another potentially dangerous condition will arise if heartworm medication is administered to an animal already infected with the parasites.

Watch this quick video update direct from the FDA:

The Best Rule

The best rule for your pet when it comes to drugs is simple: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If your animal requires medication, she needs to be examined first by a veterinarian! Simple. Sure, you may pay for an office visit, but you are buying the best, most responsible care for your loved one. In the long run, you will save on all counts!

Additional Resources

In this article

Leave a Comment

  • kelly

    Just like with humans, it’s important to order drugs for your dog online only from a legitimate online pharmacy.

  • Joe

    Check out any online pharmacy through the websites that allow consumer complaints to be listed. This goes for drugs for humans as well.

  • Cathy

    I guess it’s ok if you buy pet meds without a prescription as long as you trust the pet pharmacy.

    • mike

      sure – why go to the doctor to see if you (or your pet) needs the medication – just order whatever you think you need….good luck.

  • Lewis

    All this drug stuff is such a racket. I need heartworm pills for my dog, not opiates for myself. I’m finding it impossible to order online now. Ridiculous.

    • Susan Kramer

      Yeah, you could buy stuff like oxycontin on line without a prescription, but I cant even get proin for my dogs incontinence. When I go to the vet I will end up with at least a 150 bill and an argument over me paying more money to fill the prescription through them. Everytime I take my dog to the vet I feel like Ive been robbed!!

      • Mick Dundee

        So true – can it be prescribed by a pharmacist instead of a vet?

  • Belinda

    I have a 14 year old Springer that has had recurring ear infections her whole life. We know how to spot them and how to treat them. Last time I stopped at the vet to get her ear ointment the refused to sell it too me because they needed to see her. A vet visit is extremely anxiety provoking to her and I think it is totally unfair to say she has to go through that just for ear ointment. I am not even complaining about the vet bill though it doesn’t help the budget at all. I just don’t want to have to drag the pool girl in there. Someone tell me why this makes sense at all.

    • rhonda

      Because it is the law: no medications can be dispensed unless the vet has seen the animal within the last year. What if your animal was sick and the medication was going to make it worse? If the vet gave it to you and your dog got sick, you’d be blaming the vet in a heartbeat.

      • Lawman561

        Rhonda if you have a money tree that’s great for you. Most of us who are complaining don’t mind taking responsibility for self diagnosing the problem when it’s a recurring one, or a maintenance issue like heartworm/flea meds. Why does my vet need a physical exam when I want to continue on the same meds for heartworm/flea. If my dog has a UTI and the protocol is Amox or Clavamox I’m willing to take responsibility. The laws are becoming more restrictive because of pharmaceutical companies and Vet lobbying that they aren’t making enough money. I budget a yearly visit for my two dogs. If I have an emergency I’ll go, but I don’t consider an Ear Parasite or UTI and Emergency.

      • Minnalousha

        I think there’s a law that says you need to go jump off a cliff.

    • Minnalousha

      It’s a racket. I’m a software developer but I’ve fixed computers in the past. Wouldn’t I just LOVE a law that makes it illegal (a felony even) for you to buy your own computer parts — much less fix your own machine. That might even affect the rates I charge. Hmmmm….

  • ollie

    People would not be forced to do this if vets weren’t so expensive.

    Vets are experts at releaving clients of their money.

    • mike

      Really? Without veterinarians in the world – who would take care of you? Cat and Dog medicine is a very limited fraction of what they do – and NEWS FLASH – pets are luxary…not necessity, but if your going to have a pet – be prepaired to care for them correctly! I had my son to the doctor for vaccines – office call was $98 (vet call is $38), Vaccines were $110 each (vet were $17 – 21 each), and my son’s doctor didn’t even cut his nails for free…..Really? The vet is the rip-off??….they (vets) have more education than the average doctor and expected to live in poverty by “joe” public because you can’t afford your pet. Get a clue….if you can.

      • Agatha

        Mike, with all due respect quite frankly you don’t know what you are talking about. US Vets are 100% responsible for this situation because they are way over priced. When I say WAY overpriced, it is at least 300% the price anyone pays in Europe (and I am referring to Germany and France not to any former soviet union satellite) where in addition, vets are paying more taxes! Get a clue? Or can’t you?

        Why can I say that? Well… My husband being in the military, we ACTUALLY have been living there with our pets. Truth is USA is BY FAR the most expensive country in the world with regard to Vets fees and Vet meds and sorry to break the news to you but US vets are less educated than German or French vets (2 years less and believe me it shows…..Badly!). Sadly same observation in comparison with South Africa…

        US Vets here have been very good marketers at sticking in people’s mind that “a pet is a luxury” and most owners are repeating that without the slightest touch of critical thinking. Why SHOULD it be a luxury more than having Heck knows how many cars (or computers or phones or TV channels) in each & every households instead of using public transportation and eating out 4 times a week like the average US family? Get a clue? Or can’t you?

        Talking about pets welfare, life would be simple if having a pet was just involving vaccines. US vets pricey surgical procedures are causing thousands of “financial euthanasias” every single day because people cannot afford to fix their dog’s broken leg at 3000$ the procedure. That’s how a dog gets euthanized for a broken leg (I have known better as pet welfare advocates!) Concrete examples? I have a pet who underwent the same procedure 2 times for bladder stones. Cystostomy: 400€ in France all included (anesthesia, pain medication, catheter, blood work, hospitalization & follow up) 1200$ in California (without the anesthesia, pain medication, hospitalization, catheter and blood work) which makes a grand total of over 2000$)

        So this is not a rip-off? Open your eyes and get the clue you don’t seem to be getting.

  • Lori

    I understand that a medication should be prescribed for a pet and they should be seen. However if a pet is on a medication all the time due to age and you need to keep going into the vet and getting it at twice the price that you could get it online it is a rip off. And when you need vet approval to order online and your vet won’t because they seek a profit and truly do not care about your situation it is immoral.

    • 4321realist

      Amen. These people are nothing more than money machines, and really care very little for your pet.

      I’ve been asked by vets I’ve used what kind of work I do. What they want to know is how much they can charge you.

      Those are the rip off artists and another thing they say quite frequently is a warning after suggesting a procedure that, “It’s expensive.”

      In my area here in the boondocks where vets are few and far between they charge about the same for X-rays and blood tests than physicians do for people.

      And many times they need to be brought up-to-date on what new medications might be helpful.

      After having several cats, dogs and horses, my wife and I have a deep distaste for these money-grubbing types.

      Just recently we bought albuterol liquid for a horse with allergies/breathing problems and we were charged $120 for a 10 cc container. We needed three and none of it worked.

      We saw the same med on the internet from a reputable supply house in South America that sold albuterol by the pint for $75. They specialized in horse meds.