How to Avoid the Disasters of Counterfeit Pet Prescriptions

With the prevalence of online shopping and the everyday consumer looking for the best deal, it's no wonder cat and dog medications are the latest product to be sold on marketplace sites. But did you know that not all websites are created equal? As veterinarians, we must make you aware of this disturbing trend. When it comes to buying your pet's medications and preventions there is a good reason we try to sell you them in the clinic. We are doing everything we can to give you and your pet the best care possible, and part of that is making sure that your pet meds have been stored properly and at the right temperature, are not expired, and that they are guaranteed by the manufacturer.

According to Today's Veterinary Business, the market research firm Packaged Facts estimates that U.S. sales of drugs made for dogs and cats reached $9 billion in 2018, so it's no surprise that many companies, reputable or not, want to get their hands on these goods. Outside of buying counterfeit products from overseas, many companies buy bulk medications from vet clinics right here in the United States. While it's not illegal to sell products to these companies, it most likely violates their contract with their pharmaceutical companies. If you are willing to sneak around a contract, what is going to stop you from sending expired, poorly stored, or defective goods?

Internet Pharmacies - No Prescription Required

It is against the law in the United States to sell any heartworm prevention without a prescription. Why? According to the AVMA, "It's critical that your veterinarian makes sure the medication is the right one based on your pet's health status. Heartworm preventatives target infective larvae as they are migrating through the tissue prior to reaching the bloodstream and developing into adult heartworms. If your cat or dog already has adult heartworms, giving a preventive medication will not effectively treat the disease because the preventives don't readily kill adult heartworms." In human medicine, your doctor will need to make sure certain medication is the best option for you based on your health, and we need to do the same in veterinary medicine.

Other preventions such as flea and tick preventatives do not require a prescription but many manufacturers won't sell to just anyone. According to the AVMA, “Some manufacturers have decided to sell their products only through veterinarians so that the veterinarian and pet owner can work together to determine the best flea and tick treatment for that pet.” So while you don't need a prescription to get your hands on flea and tick medications, you have to wonder if they are only selling to vet clinics—where did this site and others get their product from?

Use the A.W.A.R.E Method When Buying Pet Meds

When it comes to other drugs, don't freak out just yet, as deputy director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M. says many online pharmacies are reputable. However, it’s critical that you are aware of where you are buying your pet's medications from. The FDA uses the fancy acronym A.W.A.R.E:

A. Ask. Ask your veterinarian if buying a particular drug online is advisable and whether any additional monitoring is required.

W. Watch. Watch for red flags such as if the online pharmacy doesn't require a prescription.

A. Accreditation. Check the site in question. All reputable online pharmacies are part of the Vet-VIPPS program.

R. Report. Report any suspicious pharmacies to the FDA if you see any red flags.

E. Educate. Educate yourself about online pet pharmacies.

If price is your concern, ask your veterinarian if they will match what you’ve seen online. Please do not be afraid to ask, as chances are; they will be willing to meet you there or at least get close to that price.


example of counterfeit pet meds

Counterfeit Products and You

Spotting a counterfeit is a useful skill to help you decide if an online retailer is reputable or not. While many may use official stock photos, some do not. If you order a product and the package looks a bit off, or different than the photo, use this list to help you determine if it is safe to use or a counterfeit. As a disclaimer, there are no overall characteristics that a counterfeit will have. There may be slight differences, so be hyper-vigilant.

Some signs that your pet meds may be counterfeit are:

  • Directions are not in English.
  • Products are too easy to open and not in child-safe packaging.
  • There are no directions or product information inside the box.
  • The product in the box is not appropriate for the animals or the size of the animal pictured on the front.
  • Stickers on the box hide foreign labels.
  • EPA registration number is missing.
  • Foreign labeled products with some information in English.
  • Foreign labeled products.
  • Extremely discounted prices.
  • Weights and measurements are not in US standard, i.e., kg or ml, not lbs or fl oz.

The Real Dangers of Defective Products and Counterfeits

Mishandled products and counterfeits can either simply be ineffective or cause nasty side effects and health issues. Products that arrive from overseas very well may be near their expiration date or even expired, are most likely not processed in line with the FDA's guidelines. Incorrect storage and shipping can render a product entirely ineffective.

Expired medications or less effective medications would be the least of your worries but can bring about an entirely new set of costly problems. Veterinary Pet Insurance estimates that preventing heartworm’s yearly cost is around $85, or $7 a month. Compare that to the average cost of treating heartworms, ranging from $1,200 to $1,800, which is obviously more than prevention for the life of your dog. Now most manufacturers will pay for your pet's heartworm treatments if you can verify you've been purchasing your preventions from a reputable source and have had yearly heartworm tests. Ordering counterfeit products or expired products that don't protect your pet, even unknowingly, would void that guarantee, and heartworm treatment isn't easy.

Other commonly bought medications online are NSAIDs, or Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, to relieve pain. Purchasing this type of medication online from unreputable sources can cause severe harm to your pet. Pets who are prescribed NSAIDs are closely monitored by a veterinarian. Prolonged or improper use of these drugs can cause kidney failure and liver toxicity. Reputable sources will attach your vet's instructions as well, whereas other places may put “use according to your vet's instructions,” resulting in inaccurate doses and other issues.

We're Here to Help

Have questions about your pet's prescription? Want to know if an online source is reputable? Are you interested in price matching? Contact your vet and they'd be happy to help you figure out a way to get your pet medications in a way that works for you and also keeps your beloved pets safe. Don't have one yet? We can help you find a local veterinarian


Contributing DVM