How to Order Pet Meds Online

Buying from Chewy, PetMeds, WalmartPetRx, and other retailers can be cheaper than buying from your veterinarian

Woman buying items online with dog watching by her side Photo: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Seventy percent of Americans own a dog or cat, according to a recent Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of 3,535 U.S. adults. Advances in veterinary medical care mean that many of those pets will live well into their golden years. It also means that some pet owners may be paying a very long time for the medications required to keep their pets healthy and happy. 

Owning a pet can be expensive. CR’s survey of American pet owners (PDF) shows that dog owners spent a median of $592 on their dog in the past 12 months, while cat owners spent $303 per cat in that same time frame. That includes the cost of pet medications, which can add up significantly, especially if the pet has a common chronic illness, such as kidney disease.

Ordering pet medications from online retailers, such as Chewy, Petco, PetMeds, and WalmartPetRx, can be cheaper than getting them at the veterinarian’s office, and also offers the added convenience of home delivery and automatic refills. The number of pet owners who are purchasing flea and tick preventives and other veterinary medications online is growing: 18 percent of pet medications were sold online in 2021, and that number is projected to jump to 30 percent by 2026, according to a 2022 report by the market research firm Packaged Facts. 

Potential Savings on Pet Meds

Maintaining an in-house pharmacy is expensive for a veterinary practice. Veterinarians may need to make significant markups on medications to cover the cost of storing and dispensing drugs and to ensure that the pharmacy is a profitable part of the practice. 

Online retailers operate at scale, and are able to purchase medications in bulk and to pass on those cost savings to consumers. WalmartPetRx, for instance, has an AutoShip program that offers a 30 percent discount on the first order and free two-day shipping on orders over $35. PetCareRx has PetPlus, a fee-based membership program that claims to offer up to 40 percent off pet medications and other products sold on its website.

More On Pets

We did not conduct a comprehensive cost comparison, but anecdotal evidence suggests that you can save roughly 10 percent to well over 50 percent by purchasing pet medications online rather than from a veterinary practice.

“I ordered medicines from Chewy for my miniature schnauzer for at least five years before she passed away in 2021,” says Kia Guilford, from Miami. “Overall, ordering my pet’s medications online was about 50 percent cheaper than buying them from my veterinarian.” 

When a CR staff member who owns an elderly mixed-breed dog compared the prices he pays for three heart medications at his New York veterinarian with prices at Chewy and WalmartPetRx, he discovered that he could save 20 percent to 70 percent, depending on the medication, by purchasing online. Customers who choose to auto-refill their pet prescriptions can save even more.

We also found savings opportunities when we compared prices of medications sold on the online pharmacy of Chippens Hill Veterinary Hospital in Bristol, Conn., with those of online retailers. For example, the veterinary hospital charges $69.95 for a 1-pack of Bravecto flea and tick preventive for dogs (44 to 88 pounds). Petco, WalmartPetRx, and Chewy all sell the same product for $63.99. Chippens Hill sells a 6-pack of the monthly flea and tick preventive Vectra 3D (56 to 95 pounds) for $116.95, compared with $75.93 at WalmartPetRx and $79.99 at PetMeds. 

Emily Elliot, VMD, the lead veterinarian at Chippens Hill, says that medications her practice sells are eligible for free shipping on orders over $49, manufacturer rebates, and product guarantees that can provide financial support for adverse events or apparent product failures, as long as the product has been used correctly. “Buying from non-veterinary sources risks being penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Elliot says.

Safely Ordering Pet Meds Online

Ordering pet medications online is not without risk. Indeed, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy reviewed over 22,000 online pharmacies and found that almost 95 percent don’t meet its patient safety and pharmacy practice standards or applicable laws. Pet owners who purchase from an unscrupulous business could receive medications that are counterfeit or compromised because they’ve been improperly stored or are expired. Other risks include financial losses if the website’s payment process is not secure. 

Follow these tips to purchase pet medications online safely and perhaps save significantly at the same time.

Make sure the pharmacy is legitimate. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has a pharmacy-verified website program to ensure that a pharmacy website is licensed and legitimate. Pharmacies in this program, for example, accept only valid prescriptions and comply with applicable drug laws. Many well-known online pet retailers are part of this program and display the NABP verification on their websites.

Review ordering and return policies. The ordering process varies for prescription vs. nonprescription medications. The retailer will contact the prescribing veterinarian directly to verify the prescription, which usually takes at least a day or two. Prescription medications typically cannot be returned, though retailers may make other accommodations. For instance, Chewy says that it may issue an exchange or refund for incorrect orders and PetMeds says that it has a money-back guarantee that protects against problems like ordering the wrong size.

Review shipping policies. Shipping policies depend on several factors, such as whether the medication requires refrigeration and whether the order is prescription or nonprescription. Medications that require refrigeration, for example, are typically shipped overnight to ensure quick arrival. Any time your pet has a medical condition that needs immediate medical care, such as a sudden onset of vomiting, you’ll want to purchase the medication directly from your vet at the time of your appointment.

Inspect the medication when it arrives. Examine the medication for damage (broken pills, leaking of liquid medication) or tampering, and check the expiration date. Do not administer the medication if it is expired or damaged. Contact the retailer to report the problem.

If you do purchase your pet’s medications online, it’s important to remember that your veterinarian is still your best resource for your pet’s care and should play an active role in its treatment. “It is fine if pet owners can get their medications less expensively online,” says Gregory Scott, DVM, an exotics veterinarian in Vallejo, Calif. “The most important thing is that the client is compliant with administering the medication, helping the pet get better.”

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