Kroger fills pet prescriptions
The retail chain now carries many animal-only medications in all of its pharmacies -- and dozens are included in the store's $4 generic drug program.
When their fat cat, Jeannie, needed to take daily doses of prednisone a few years ago, my friends Jill and Andrew spent hundreds of dollars filling her prescriptions at the vet's office. Now, if her health issues flare up again, they can get Jeannie's meds from the local Fred Meyer, part of the Kroger chain of stores.
After a successful pilot program last year, Kroger is now offering prescription medications for pets at all of its pharmacies nationwide, the Houston Chronicle reports. The chain operates more than 2,400 grocery-retail stores in 31 states.
Hundreds of pet medications are available at the pharmacies, and many are included in Kroger's generic drug program, through which typical dosages are available for $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply, according to the Kroger website.
Though many pharmacy chains fill pet prescriptions when the medications are those used by both humans and animals, Kroger is one of relatively few that sell pet-specific medications, according to the Chronicle. Also, Target offers its PetRX pet prescriptions program in 670 of its pharmacies in 24 states.
Tapping into a growing industry
Americans love their pets, and we spend a lot of money on them. According to a recent survey of pet owners by the American Pet Products Association, 62% of U.S. households -- 72.9 million homes -- have at least one pet. The APPA estimates 2011 spending on pets to top a record $50 billion.
Prescription pet meds were once mostly available only through veterinarians, with a markup of up to 100%, Bob Fountain of Fountain Agricounsel told the Chronicle. The entry of retailers such as Kroger into the pet meds business, as well as a growing online market, is a significant change in the industry.
Participating retail pharmacies and online services can provide most pet medications when given a prescription from a veterinarian. The catch, however, is that vets are not required to provide written prescriptions, even if clients ask for them -- although the American Veterinary Medical Association advises that they do so. Post continues below.
The proposed Fairness to Pet Owners Act, introduced in Congress last April, would require vets to write out prescriptions when customers ask for them. This would make it easier for pet owners to shop around and find the best price, but could cut into veterinary office profits.
Veterinarians, who depend on prescriptions for as much as one-fourth of their income, say that as drug sales decline, their fees will go up, which may make their services too expensive for some people, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
Cheaper may not be better
The increased availability of pet meds via retailers and online services could be bad for Bowser in other ways.
Pharmacists accustomed to serving human patients won't have the expertise to closely supervise a pet's medication, and might not catch errors, inconsistencies or drug interactions that could negatively impact animals.
"One of the important things to think about are that the pharmacists may not show the pet owner how to apply the medication on their pet," Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, chief medical officer with Banfield Pet Hospitals, told Business Insider. "You'll get the drugs cheaper at drugstores, but what's often missed is the education the veterinarian provides."
Vets also question whether retailers and online providers are buying directly from the manufacturer or from third parties, where the quality could be questionable.
But Marla Fielder, assistant director of pharmacy in Kroger's Southwest division, told the Chronicle that its pet medications come directly from the manufacturer. She said:
We follow very strict procedures to make sure we keep the pedigree intact and give our customers high-quality products. We do use a secondary wholesaler on occasion, and their products are shipped directly from the manufacturer as well.
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