Spring is in the air and so are fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other unsavory critters that not only make your dogs itch, but can pass on disease as well. Invariably this time of year, people start looking into buying popular preventatives. Seeing that online pharmacies market heavily towards pet owners, you may ask yourself, why buy my dog's heartworm prevention or flea/tick meds from my vet if I can save some money buying them cheaper online?
First, they are often not necessarily cheaper. I'm a housecall vet and I do not carry a large inventory of these products, but I do carry the generic form of Heartgard as well as Frontline spray. I continually price shop online to get my clients the best price so they are priced the same as any of the online pharmacies. There is a perception that they are cheaper, with promises of "free shipping" and coupons, but they are often marked up to mark down. Ask your vet if they will match prices if they aren't already.
Second, if you look on the box of many of these products, they will say "for sale by licensed veterinarians only." So if veterinarians are the only ones who are supposed to sell these products, how do they end up on 1-800 Pet Meds or Amazon.com? Typically through diverted product. Most companies state they do not sell to non-veterinary distributors, so what often happens is either staff are literally stealing product from the veterinary hospitals to resell or veterinarians no longer in practice may also purchase huge quantities from distributors just to resell them to these companies. They also may come from other countries (many report they have different labels or stickers over the top of the original label). Other products such as probiotics and joint supplements labeled only for sale through vets may be purchased in large quantities to get good prices, but they end up being about to expire, so a less than legit clinic or staff may sell them on Amazon. A bottle of Dasuquin that is supposed to last 5 months that expires in a few weeks is not particularly ideal.
Another reason to purchase products from your veterinarian and not from online is that if you have a problem or your dog has a reaction, the reputable manufacturers will typically pay for some or all of the treatment. For instance, I once had a client whose collie had a strong reaction to Advantage Multi, even at an appropriate dose for collies and even though he had been on other types of heartworm prevention before. I am not married by any means to Bayer (the maker of Advantage Multi), but they did compensate me so I could treat the dog since the product came from me. If the client would have purchased it online from one of these other outlets, it would have cost her well over $1000 to treat.
In addition, the reputable companies will also pay for heartworm treatment if your dog comes down with heartworm disease and you can prove your dog has been on it and purchased from a licensed veterinarian. Heartworm treatment usually costs anywhere from $500 to well over $1000, so while heartworm resistance is still quite uncommon, it is worthwhile to get the legitimate product rather than trying to dose it yourself with cattle ivermectin or with product from an online pharmacy that has no guarantee from the company. Also ask your veterinarian if any of the products they recommend are currently running specials for rebates or free doses. This often brings the price to very reasonable levels as competitive if not more so than online pharmacies.
Lately I have also been seeing many posts on Facebook about mixing up homemade remedies to keep away fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. Unfortunately, these are typically only marginally effective and have to be applied multiple times per day per animal at best. Two weeks ago, I had a client who used a natural remedy out of essential oils to apply on her dogs. Both ended up testing positive for ehrlichia, a tick borne disease. Although I am a holistic vet myself, these home remedies do not typically work as well.
Lastly, remember that your local vet is also likely a local small business. Unless they are owned by Banfield or VCA, they are likely locally owned with locally employed staff and work hard to provide the best care for your animals. It is harder and harder to compete with the "big box stores" and many clients don't always perceive how much overhead goes into keeping a clinic running. Support your local vet and they will be there for you to provide excellent care for your working dogs.
For more information on the FDA's recommendations concerning online pharmacies, see the following link: