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Save Money by Filling Pet Prescriptions at a Regular Pharmacy

A man giving his small dog a pill.

A lot of people don’t know you can fill your pet’s prescriptions at the same pharmacy they get their medication from. You can even save a bunch of money doing so! Here’s what you need to know.

While most people have heard of mail-order pet medicine delivery because of services like 1-800-PetMeds, it simply might not have crossed their mind to walk into the local Walgreen’s or Costco Pharmacy and get a prescription filled for ol’ Fido.

But many of the prescription medications animals take are the same as medications prescribed for various human ailments. There are a few ins and outs to be aware of, however, to have a smooth experience, save the most money, and avoid the rare hazards of using a human pharmacy for pet medication.

What Pet Prescriptions Can Your Pharmacy Fill?

The good news is your local pharmacy can fill quite a few common pet prescriptions! Here’s a breakdown of what can be typically filled where, and how to still save money even when you run into situations where a particular medication is veterinarian-use only.

Pharmacies Can Fill Human Medications for Animals

Although finding out your dog with a heart problem needs medications like enalapril, furosemide, or spironolactone might be the first time you hear those medication names, they are common medications available not just at the pharmacy in your vet’s office but at the regular pharmacies right down the street.

There’s a lot more crossover than you might realize. Your dog might even end up on sildenafil to treat pulmonary hypertension. Sildenafil might not be in your mental index of medications but the brand name, Viagra, probably is—no really, Viagra started life as a heart medication and the more famous use was a secondary side effect discovered later.

Practically speaking most pharmacies can fill any prescription for which a human equivalent exists. Blood pressure medications, blood thinners, diuretics, antibiotics, pain medications, steroids, you name it, there is a huge overlap between human and veterinary medicine. The only real difference is dosage. Your pomeranian is going to take a very wee dose of the same pain therapy medication you’d take.

Pharmacies Typically Don’t Stock Animal-Only Medications

If a drug is used to treat hypertension or such in both humans and animals, there’s a good chance you can get the prescription filled at your local pharmacy.

For drug formulations that are strictly used in veterinary medicine, however, like treatments for heartworm, prescription flea treatments, and such, it is practically unheard of to find them at a regular human pharmacy.

There Are Some Exceptions to the Animal-Only Issue

When it comes to finding veterinary-only medications at pharmacies there are two notable exceptions to be aware of.

The first is pharmacies at warehouse clubs like the Costco Pharmacy, found in-store in Costco locations across the United States. Costco will not only fill medications that are used in human medicine for your pet, but they have a program where they offer around 150 common veterinary medications at a discount.

This includes not only preventatives like Nexgard and Heartgard but substantial discounts on expensive heart medications like Vetmedin. If you have a Costco near you, I can’t recommend this option enough. Thanks to the savings at Costco a 3-month prescription fill costs less than what I used to pay for a 1-month fill. While mail-order services like 1-800-PetMeds have better prices than my veterinarian’s office, the Costco pharmacy even beat those.

Sam’s Club has a similar program where you can pick up both traditional medications and veterinary-only medications at the in-store pharmacy.

The other option is to contact your local compounding pharmacy. Compounding pharmacies are used to working with a much wider range of medications. From special formulations for your pet to less common medications for yourself, it’s always a smart move to call your local compounding pharmacy and check.

What Do You Need to Fill Pet Prescriptions?

A pharmacist pulling medication off the shelf.

Filling your pet’s prescription at a regular pharmacy is pretty straightforward. Even if you feel like you’re the oddball for calling Walgreen’s to fill a script for your dog, we can assure you likely one of a long list of local customers doing the same.

In fact, in some instances, you might even be required to visit a regular pharmacy to fill the script. Not many veterinarian offices keep hydrocodone syrup on hand, for example, and you’ll need to call around to find a pharmacy that does.

Here are a few things to keep in mind and expect from the experience.

  • The pharmacy will likely make a customer profile for your pet linked to you, especially if the prescription is for a controlled substance. If your name is John Smith and your dog’s name is Skipper, there’s likely going to be a John “Skipper” Smith in their system.
  • For the majority of prescriptions, the pharmacy will only need the prescription with the veterinarian’s license number on it.
  • Most medications can be phoned in by your veterinarian’s office. Prescriptions for narcotics and controlled substances typically must be presented in person at the pharmacy.
  • For controlled substances, the pharmacy will also need the veterinarian’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) number. This is the veterinarian equivalent of a human doctor’s National Provider Identifier (NPI).
  • You usually won’t be able to fill a multi-month prescription of a controlled substance like tramadol or hydrocodone syrup. You’ll likely need to refill your pet’s supply on a monthly basis.
  • Further, for controlled substances, you’ll likely need to sign additional forms and even be run through a database (but if you’re already getting the meds at your vet you’re familiar with this process).
  • Insurance discounts don’t apply unless you have pet insurance or use a general discount card like GoodRX.

Other than adjusting to the particular workflow needed for your pet’s prescription (such as stopping by the vet first to get a paper prescription for a controlled substance before visiting the pharmacy) it’s really quite straightforward.

Is It Safe to Fill Pet Prescriptions at a Regular Pharmacy?

If you’re a doting pet parent you probably have one final and important question. Is it safe to fill pet prescriptions at your local pharmacy?

The answer is that in almost every instance, yes, it is perfectly safe to do so. The local pharmacy is will be just as rigorous with safety checks and standards, if not more so, than your veterinarian’s office.

There are however two situations to keep in mind where using a regular pharmacy might pose a problem.

Dosage and Pill Cutting Problems

If your pet needs a very small and precise dose of particular medication you might run into issues. The local pharmacy might only stock larger tablets and, in the case of medications that are particularly crumbly, using a pill cutter to halve or quarter them could end up imprecise enough that your pet is getting too much or too little of the medication.

Discuss this with your veterinarian when considering having the medication filled at another location.

Be Aware of Toxic Ingredients

Your veterinarian is not going to prescribe a medication for your pet that is toxic. The pharmacy, however, might prepare the medication in a fashion that is toxic to your pet.

In very rare cases the way medication is prepared for humans the medication may contain compounds that are dangerous to your pet.

For example, some pharmacies will sweeten cough syrups and other liquid medications with xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener. Xylitol is fine for human consumption but toxic to dogs and can cause hypoglycemia, liver damage, and even death.

When having a prescription filled at a regular pharmacy, talk to your veterinarian in advance about this potential problem so you can take appropriate precautions at the pharmacy.

Not only can you potentially get all your pet’s prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy you use, but you can even save a bundle doing it!

Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in Chief of LifeSavvy. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at LifeSavvy, Review Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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