Should it be Mandatory for All Veterinarians to Write Prescriptions for their Clients?

Veterinary care for chronically ill kitties is often extremely expensive. Since kitty guardians want to be able to take excellent care of their beloved cats and give them the best quality of life, those of us who are taking care of kitties with conditions such as chronic renal failure, pancreatitis, IBD, diabetes and cancer and other long term illnesses are always on the lookout for ways to save money; especially when it comes to essential drugs and medical supplies.

Cat being given a jab

Cat being given a jab. Photo Credit: Pet Helpful.com

Although the overhead costs in a veterinary practice are considerably higher than many people may appreciate, as far as this writer is concerned the cost of drugs and medical supplies which many veterinarians charge are often marked up to an extraordinary high price. Additionally many of the preventative medications that veterinarians sell, (such as flea control and heartworm prevention) carry a high profit-margin for the clinic.

While veterinary hospitals provide the important and necessary services which are necessary to help keep our kitties in as good health as possible, the veterinary hospital is a small business. And like any other small business they need to charge for the services they provide. Most veterinarians do love animals and they do their best to take first-rate care of their patients; they also have bills that they must pay. After all, they cannot just “give away” their services and still be able to pay for their staff and other costs.

Veterinary medicine

Veterinary medicine. Photo Credit: Pet Helpful.com

This said when considering the high cost of drugs and medical supplies (such as fluids for hydrating cats) which most veterinary hospitals charge, it is no wonder that kitty guardians are finding that the cost of these drugs and supplies are generally far less expensive when they are purchased at a local pharmacy or an online pet pharmacy. However, most of these pharmacies do require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian for many of the drugs and medical supplies they carry.

Since keeping the cost of caring for a chronically ill kitty is crucial for kitty guardians, my heart sank when I ran across an article published on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) website titled “Prescription writing mandate is unnecessary for veterinarians”.

Although the AVMA professes that they “support policies that give our clients the flexibility to choose where they fill their prescriptions.” On the other hand, the AVMA continues,

“However, some in Congress are working to pass a federal mandate that would require veterinarians to provide a written copy of every prescription for a companion animal, whether or not the client needs or even wants it. This will place undue regulatory and administrative burdens on veterinarians and small businesses.”

The AVMA feels that the pending bill, H.R.3174 Fairness to Pet Owners Act of 2015…

“which directs the Federal Trade Commission to require prescribers of animal drugs to verify prescriptions and provide copies of prescriptions to pet owners without the prescriber demanding payment for this service. Applies these requirements to medications for a domesticated household animal that consumers are not allowed to purchase without a prescription.”

The AVMA is asking practitioners to “Tell Congress to oppose mandatory prescription writing for veterinarians!” The AVMA feels that if this bill passes, it would put undue time constraints on practitioners who would have to write a prescription for any drug or medical supply.

Already in place is 38 states in the USA are mandatory laws for veterinarians to write prescriptions if the guardian requests it. Thirteen states have not passed similar laws. Some practitioners however, are charging their clients for this service for each any every prescription requested. This seems to me to defeat the purpose of guardians saving money on getting a written prescription instead of buying the drug directly from the veterinary hospital.

After all, how long does it take to write a prescription? Most online pet pharmacies will fax the practitioners the client’s request for the medication that the veterinarian is recommending. All the practitioners’ office staff has to do is to fax the pharmacy back with an OK for the prescription to be sent to the guardian.

I am certain that we all want our veterinarians to do well and thrive in their practices. At the same time we all want to be able to obtain drugs and supplies at a reasonable cost, so that we can continue to take the necessary care of our chronically ill kitties. I personally think that the AVMA is more interested in protecting their members than to make it easier for guardians to be able to continue to give their beloved cats the extraordinary care they deserve.

What are your thoughts about making it mandatory for veterinarians to write prescriptions for their clients? Tell us in a comment.


Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

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13 Responses

  1. Annie Flanders says:

    interesting. last fall lena’s abscess in his back flared up and he had to have a prescription for gabapentin. it worked so well that the vet authorized several more bottles of it for him. i totally support vets doing this – so i’m shocked that this does not happen in all the states. thank you for always being on the ‘cutting edge’ of all this data.

  2. kitty says:

    I think the law should be worded differently. In this day and age even doctors often don’t write prescriptions, they simply call them in to the pharmacy. What the wording should be is that the vets should be required to dial the prescription or write the prescription to an outside pharmacy at owner’s request.

    I’ve had a lot of experience with prescription drugs when my previous cat, Masha, had IBD and heart disease (she went into congestive heart failure within a week of starting prednisolone for her IBD, it turned out she had a defective heart valve). When I mentioned to the vet that the drugs cost me over 200 a month, she herself suggested that I use an outside pharmacy. I was already using a compounding pharmacy for budesonide to which we switched since I wanted a caplet rather than liquid and human size tablets were too big, but I got her heart medications at a local Target store which had a standard $8 a month for generic drugs (like human heart medications my cat was on), they also had pet drugs. The clinic was calling in the medications for me which significantly reduced my cost.

    So IMHO – the law should be reworded to make it required to write or dial the prescription if the pet owner requests it.

  3. Jo Singer says:

    I agree with Dee totally that IF a client requests an Rx the veterinarian should provide one as the ONLY mandate. Here is Florida a veterinarian must provide a written Rx if the client requests it. That is the only mandate here in this state. That takes just a few minutes to provide that Rx which can be filled at a local pharmacy at a fraction of the cost.

  4. Ron Gaskin says:

    We need to look at the bigger longer picture here. The USA is one of the few “civilized” countries that does not regulate the price of life saving drugs needed by our senior citizens and for the extra-label use of these same generic and trade name human drugs for our pets. Why? Ask your federal legislators. It takes my time to accurately record and I call the pharmacies to fill these scripts. I am responsible for the drug to be used in a safe and efficacious manner. I do charge a script fee but I also tell my clients where to get drugs like doxcycline and fluoxetine the cheapest from our local pharmacies (not online) Whether I sell the a pet’s drug at the clinic or not, it would take my time to write these mandatory scripts (even if i fill them). That time has to be paid for somewhere in the services I provide. If a script does not change I sell lifetime drugs at 15-20 percent over my cost and no script fee. As a pet owner I would be more concerned with human generic and pet drug availability and exorbitant drug price increases by the manufacturers than getting mandatory scripts from a vet.

  5. Dee (Florida) says:

    No, not mandatory. But, any vet should provide a prescription upon request.

    Even more so, vets should be required to have continuing educational courses regarding medication costs and the blend between human and animal meds.

    For example, Amoxicillin is a common antibiotic given to humans, animals, and fish. Why should I pay a vet $75 for a 2 week supply of 250 mg for my cat when I can get the same from my pharmacy for $7? Better yet, Fishmox is the same antibiotic but used in fish tanks. It doesn’t require a prescription and costs pennies.

    I believe that many vets know all of this but don’t divulge.
    I believe in complete and honest disclosure.

  6. Rani says:

    Mandatory? No. Optional? Yes. If you want the prescription then ask for it. Should not be government-required

  7. jmuhj says:

    I can’t recall an instance where a medication hasn’t been given to us at the clinic, so we have never had this experience.

  8. Jean Hofve, DVM says:

    The problem is the way the law is written. If it said, “Veterinarians must provide a written prescription upon request,” that would be fine. But no, the law requires a written prescription for every drug, every time, even if the client doesn’t want one, whether or not human pharmacies carry the drug (many veterinary drug companies sell to *vets only*), and even if the client is going to simply hand the prescription right back so the the vet clinic can fill it. It may only take a minute or two to write a prescription, but multiply that by 30 or 50 or 100 or more per day in a busy practice, the time adds up quickly. And no calling in prescriptions either… it has to be on paper. Who is going to pay for all that? The clients… because prices will have to increase for other services.

    Another problem is that human pharmacies screw up… a lot. Mistakes are one thing. But horror stories abound about pharmacies DELIBERATELY changing doses or even substituting different drugs. For instance, the human dose of thyroid hormone is usually less than 0.2 mg. But dogs metabolize the drug much differently, and may take up to 0.8 mg or more. The pharmacist changes it because he knows better than the vet.

    The thing is, the vast majority of veterinarians will already write a prescription if requested; it is part of veterinary ethics to do so, and not to charge for it. For the few bad apples out there… you are at liberty to find another veterinarian you like better.

    Compliance is another big issue. It is hard enough to get clients to give the meds to their pet as directed when they walk out the door with it. If they walk out the door with a prescription, then call or visit several pharmacies only to find out they don’t carry the drug, and oops now it’s Saturday afternoon and the vet clinic is closed, and the pet now has to go without the meds until (a) the clinic is open and (b) they have time to go back and get the prescription or even (c) remember to call the clinic to have the prescription faxed to the pharmacy, but the client doesn’t know the pharmacy’s fax number and now clinic staff have to spend time hunting it down… kinda ridiculous, and animals will suffer.

    The real key lies in who is pushing this law: Walmart, a chain that (coincidentally) has a pharmacy in every store. Think they give a rat’s patoot about you OR your pet? Enough said?

    • Michael Broad says:

      Thanks Jean for putting some meat on this discussion and taking the time to comment. The info that you provide is valuable and sways the argument towards not making prescriptions mandatory. It provides insights that can only come from a practicing vet.

  9. Jo Singer says:

    We are blessed with our veterinarians who do everything they can to help us with prescriptions when necessary. They totally understand financial constraints especially when dealing with chronically ill pets.

    Michael, today more and more drugs that are stocked for humans are the very same drugs that are now being prescribed for cats and dogs. In fact, one antiviral drug that our vet prescribed for one of our cats over a year ago was one that was for human use. Our veterinarian highly recommended that we shop around for a best price and then let her know so she could call the Rx in. One local pharmacy wanted $95.00, another wanted $50.00 and we found one that was charging $19.95 for the same medication. I was stunned but the pharmacist explained that since they do so much business with the drug company they can sell it for that price and still make a profit. Obviously we purchased it at that high quality pharmacy that we use ourselves.

  10. Michael Broad says:

    To me it seems to be a no-brainer that veterinarians should provide a written prescription to their clients so that they have a choice as to where they buy the medication. I think veterinarians would not lose money by being obliged to do this because it will encourage clients to use their services more frequently and not be put off so much by the high cost.

    In the UK we just do not give any thought to requesting a prescription from a veterinarian. We automatically presume that the veterinary clinic will provide the medication. That’s interesting. It seems that we are indoctrinated into believing that the only source of the medication is a veterinarian.

    Also, there is no thought given to going to a pharmacy with a veterinarian’s prescription. In the UK, as far as I’m aware, pharmacies only stock drugs for humans or am I missing the point entirely?

    Thanks for the article Jo.

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