Generic Pet Meds — Yes, They Are Outrageously Priced

In fact, they are becoming as unaffordable as premium prescriptions. But it’s not your veterinarian’s fault.

By: Images_of_Money
Generic medications for pets (and people) can be terribly expensive these days. By: Images_of_Money

When your pet is sick and you go to the veterinarian, you most likely expect to be given a prescription medication for what ails your pet.

Often, your veterinarian will choose a generic medication because it is highly cost-effective.

Nowadays, those generic drugs are being priced out of control. There seems to be no reason for these absurd price increases except for the unbridled greed of the pharmaceutical companies.

One of my precious poodle patients recently came in for her heart medication. Fifi takes digoxin for her congestive heart failure, just as many human cardiac patients do.

The cost of her generic digoxin has been about $8. Today, my receptionist told Fifi’s mom the cost would be $55 in the future. The generic manufacturer of digoxin had just raised the price by about 500 percent!

Massive Price Hikes

Unfortunately, generic drug prices have been on an insane rise for 4 years or so.

This was brought to veterinarians’ attention in 2010 — when the price of a commonly used anti-diarrheal drug, metronidazole, jumped sky-high without notice. An inexpensive and frequently dispensed drug, a bottle of metronidazole that used to cost $9 arrived at my clinic with the price tag of $138.

Sadly, this was only the beginning.

Prices continue to rise by 500 to 1,000% on important drugs like doxycycline, clomipramine, ketoconazole and many ophthalmic medications. A tube of eye medication for simple conjunctivitis went from $3.25 to $25 a bottle. The generic drug price inflation has left veterinarians scrambling for cheaper, less effective drugs.

All of the generic drugs I’m describing for your pets are primarily human medications. This means people who need these drugs are also reeling from these unforeseen and inexplicable price increases. If you are lucky enough to have a pharmacy plan for yourself, most plans cover only a percentage of drugs. As that drug increases by 1,000%, it’s going to cost you a lot more money whether you have a pharmacy deductible or if your insurance company reimburses you for a portion of the drug cost.

The Generic Drug Market

When a drug first goes generic, a number of pharmaceutical players enter the market — which tends to push down prices over time. Competition usually means lower prices.

But then, the industry claims, manufacturing the drug no longer becomes as profitable, so manufacturers gradually depart the marketplace.

“When you get toward the latter stages,” a spokesperson for Watson Pharmaceuticals stated, “the remaining competitors do tend to take price increases because they can…. It becomes part of the business rationale for maintaining the product and supply.”

In other words, greed is the primary motive. The price has nothing to do with the cost of manufacturing the drug. If only 1 or 2 companies are making the drug, they can jack up the price to make a huge profit. The pharmaceutical companies make a killing and the patients — both animal and human — suffer.

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Recently, the Federal Court ruled that generic drug companies do not have to file price information with the Feds. Feds can’t regulate generic drug prices, according to the current ruling. Such price fixing or price gouging may certainly be legal according to the courts, but it reeks of unethical corporate business practice to me.

Currently, the pharmaceutical companies have the law at bay as they run roughshod over the consumer. The manufacturers are loose cannons without a conscience. The consumers purchasing drugs for themselves or their pets are cannon fodder.

Blame the Pharmaceuticals

My reason for posting all this bad news is to inform of this:

Your veterinarian has nothing to do with any of this mess.

This insane pricing has rocked our world and how we practice. When vets arrive at a diagnosis of your pet’s illness, we want them to have the best drug at a fair price. It only makes our job harder and your heartbreak worse if you can’t afford the drug prescribed.

This has nothing to do with whether you get the drug from your veterinarian, from a pharmacy or online. For many of these drugs, there are no more bargains or competitive pricing anywhere. We are all in a sinking, price-inflated ship.

Take clomipramine, an effective drug used for canine separation anxiety. A prescription for generic clomipramine that once cost $40 now costs $1,100. Ridiculous!

No drug shortage or lack of ingredients or anything reasonable can explain a price increase like this except greed.

Show Me the Money

I’m no expert on Big Pharma or the pharmaceutical industry, but having done business with them for more than 30 years and being at their mercy, I’ve learned to mistrust them.

Veterinarians get unannounced sales calls daily from pharmaceutical giants, and it is becoming more difficult for me to be believe these sales people have me or my patients’ best interests at heart.

They walk into my hospital with their shiny shoes and briefcases, their high heels and lipstick, all smiles, spiffed-up talking heads hawking their products. They tell bad tales about other pharmaceutical companies. They make questionable claims about their own products.

Recently, some major pharmaceutical companies that call on me regularly were in the news for kickback schemes and overcharging Medicare and Medicaid.

My pity party for my clients’ drug prices and veterinary prescriptions seem minor compared to a recent federal court ruling that found that Sandoz, the generic division of Novartis, was overcharging Medicaid by 60,000%. If Sandoz charged $1 for a pill, it told the government the pill cost $600. Many other companies were also found to be grossly overcharging.

The industry that makes our life-saving drugs and the companies we are trusting with our health and welfare have some explaining  to do. I have a hard time breaking the news to my clients that the drug that has been giving their pet a better life will now break the piggy bank.

And nobody can explain that these price increases are based on anything but corporate greed.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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