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Sophie asks, "Are Budget Medications a Good Deal?"

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The subject of affordable medications for our pets is one that goes far beyond simple dollars.  In a time when we are hearing daily news reports on a plummeting economy, it seems we are more likely to spend the money we make (if we are lucky enough to have a job) on products with the lowest price tag.  It is my desire to have you consider the bigger picture and rather than think of lowest price, consider getting the MOST for the money you spend.

That big box stores and larger chain pharmacies now offer really low prices on generic drugs is no secret.  Ordering from pet medication websites is another way many pet owners choose to save money.  For anyone willing to do the legwork, one can find a number of discounts, coupons and pharmacy savings cards to further lower the price of drugs for your pet.  My suggestion:  TALK TO YOUR VETERINARIAN FIRST.  Give your veterinarian an opportunity to discuss the benefits of veterinary-specific medications with you.  Give your veterinarian an opportunity to help you source the drug less expensively, especially if your pet requires maintenance medications.  

Consider this:  you ask your veterinarian for a prescription to be filled at the same pharmacy where you obtain your own medications.  You get the prescription filled and begin administering the product as directed on the label.  Now, let's say your pet develops vomiting or diarrhea after beginning the medication.  WHO WILL YOU CALL FOR GUIDANCE? Should you expect your veterinary clinic staff to be able to help you when the drugs you got somewhere else may or may not be working properly? Every dollar you spend elsewhere limits your veterinary clinic's ability to provide knowledgeable, experienced staff to help you troubleshoot the problem.

Here's an analogy for you:  Let's say, to save money, you pack your own lunch and take to the local deli to eat it in their dining room. You purchase a beverage to go with your home-prepared lunch. You forgot to toast the bread for your sandwich and then you realize you forgot to add the ham to go with the deli turkey you put on your sandwich.  Are you going to ask the deli to toast your bread for you and throw on the ham, all at no charge, because you forgot yours at home? How will you respond when they ask for money or decline to help you?  Will you refuse to buy your lunch beverage there from now on?  Do you think they'll be sorry to see you go?  You may spend a dollar or two on your beverage at lunch time.  However, you occupy a table that may otherwise be occupied by people who are there to order a full meal.  When you leave a paid employee will have to use sanitizing chemicals and towels, that the deli had to buy, to clean the table you just vacated. The deli employees and owners may have known you for years and may love you to death, but they can't keep their doors open if you and others like you continue to buy the beverage but bring your own food. 

The following is a letter I wrote to the editors of Whole Dog Journal awhile back. While my letter focuses on those of us who adopt natural-rearing methods for their dogs,  the spirit of my letter is applicable to any of us who care for our canine and feline pets.   

"One of the features I've enjoyed about Whole Dog Journal is that it presents articles and information about alternatives to mainstream and conventional dog-rearing methods. Even those methods that may seem expensive at the outset but, over the  years, result in fewer dollars spent on chronic illness or behavioral issues.  I've even enjoyed recent articles that address home-prepared diets which are quite affordable. Superior nutrition truly is the foundation of a healthy, happy dog.

I have read and re-read the Budget Medications article and still can't believe what I've read. I've no quarrel with the topic of seeking the best price for medications.  I DO have a problem with the suggestions to utilize big box clubs, chain pharmacies, grocery store pharmacies and online pharmacies. This article reads more like an extreme coupon piece than something I'd expect to see in Whole Dog Journal.

I believe those of us who choose natural-rearing and alternative-feeding methods should work hard to develop a good relationship with our veterinarians. We take longer in the office than do our mainstream-rearing peers.  When our dogs are sick, there are far more variables involved.  We ask our veterinarians to help us research various topics and quite often supply them with our own research and ask for their review and advice.

We quite often spend more money on food, training, supplements and other supplies for our beloved dogs than many of those who feed commercially available diets.  We may spend less money on preventives, vaccinations and other "standard" health care than do those who do not employ natural-rearing or holistic care methods.  Quite a bit of the money we spend is never seen by our veterinarians OR big box stores.

So when the time comes that our pets may need a medication our veterinarian has in stock why would we balk at purchasing it?  The veterinarian and his or her office staff are trained to help us in the case of side effects or adverse events.  Veterinary drugs may come in a more palatable or easier-to-dose form than do the human analogs. 

As a natural-rearing advocate and as an employee in a veterinary clinic (Office Manager/Collections/Client Advocate/Special Programs) I am the "go-to girl" for our natural-rearing, raw-feeding, holistic-method, limited vaccination folks. It is a pleasure and a privilege to help people find their way to better rearing methods for their pets. My boss provides written prescriptions to clients who ask for them and also offers price-matching or special incentives where practicable. (I don't know any veterinarians who refuse those requests.)

The problem with providing written prescriptions is that once they are out of the office, our oversight and ability to advise the client is effectively hobbled.  We have had patients go for months with the incorrect dose because a well-meaning pharmacist "re-advised" the client on how to dose the patient.  We've had a client whose dog's soloxine prescription was substituted with l-thyroxine at the wrong dose because a pharmacy tech assumed the dosage was written with the decimal point in the wrong place.  (They had no frame of reference for the much higher dosage and dosing frequency seen in dogs.) End result: the money saved ended being spent on further testing and prolonged time until the dog received the correct treatment.  Oh, and the few dollars spent on the thyroid medication at the grocery store pharmacy were wasted as well.

I've spent hours on the phone trying to troubleshoot problems with clients who've combined natural/alternative-rearing methods with prescriptions they've had filled at outside pharmacies. Even our most-informed, savvy clients are prone to mispronounce drug names or simply describe them as "the orange pill" or the "greenish-blue capsule."

I suggest that any client first give their veterinarian an opportunity to provide medication at a discount, or the allow the veterinary staff to explain what the benefit is in utilizing veterinary-only drugs. 

I realize my status as a veterinary employee may make me seem biased.  In some ways I suppose I am. I want to be able to provide quality attention to every client, regardless of their choices.  However, it seems this economy forces us all to make difficult decisions. From a business standpoint, it makes sense for me to focus my efforts on those clients who spend money in our clinic as their dollars are the ones who keep the lights on and the doors open for everyone's benefit.

There are differences between cost, value and worth. "Budget medications" may make a buyer feel savvy and self-congratulatory and may even save money. Do they work properly? Is the dosage correct? Are they being administered properly? In other words, are "budget medications" valuable to the dog and client?  Are they worth the potential for disconnected communication with your veterinarian?

Is the forest (the dog's health) being lost due to the focus on the (money) tree?

Again, many of us who are natural-rearing proponents source our foods and supplements from small businesses.  We spend our monies thoughtfully and willingly on high quality products.  I sincerely hope that when our usually very healthy pets are in need of prescription medications that we will continue to spend our dollars in small businesses (our veterinarians' clinics) and maximize the full benefit of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship through good faith and communication."

 ****This blog post is meant to be thought-provoking. It is meant to address money issues directly and specifically. As my sage mother says, "Love might make the world go 'round, but money is the lubricant that keeps it turning smoothly."

We at Northwood Hills Animal Hospital encourage you to talk with us about getting the best price for your pets' medications.  We can help you with discounts, special pricing, and in some cases we can meet or beat prices published on other websites.  An often overlooked factoid: if you purchase your heartworm and flea preventatives from places other than a veterinarian's office, the associated manufacturer guarantees are voided.  Read your labels and call the manufacturers if you don't believe me.

 Support your local small-practice veterinarian and I'm willing to bet he or she will support you right back!  Come see us at Northwood Hills Animal Hospital...we aren't getting any younger, y'know! 

Nancy "Sophie" Mack is the author of this blog post and assumes all responsibility for typos, poor proofreading, and subsequent misunderstandings, hurt feelings, righteous indignation and other unscheduled feedback.  Just remember: be nice or leave.