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The Difference Between Human versus Pet Pharmacies

You know that big box pharmacies and online pharmacies sell affordable pet prescriptions. But did you know that the difference between human versus pet pharmacies is huge — and could be a matter of life or death for your animal?

What to Know About Human Versus Pet Pharmacies

human versus pet pharmacies
Do human pharmacies understand veterinary prescriptions?

It’s a safe bet that your big box store pharmacy staff lacks the same level of veterinary pharmaceutical knowledge found in your vet clinic. If a human pharmacist wants to legitimately become a veterinary pharmacist, they must receive additional training and certifications.

Many pet medications began as human prescriptions. Gabapentin, aka Pfizer’s Neurontin®, is one example. But that doesn’t mean we can share those drugs. An animal given Neurontin® could die from Xylitol that’s included in the liquid form of the human version. Can you guarantee that your pharmacist knows the difference between the two?

The veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly puts it best in her blog post “Why Human and Veterinary Pharmacies are NOT Created Equal.” She tells of a feline renal failure patient who nearly died after a human pharmacy mistakenly put Meloxicam, not Mirtazapine, in the cat’s prescription bottle:

After examining the pill and looking it up online (thank you, drugs.com)  it was clear that the pharmacy had given her the wrong medication. It was 7.5 mg, just like the mirtazapine was supposed to be (it even said 7.5 right there on the tablet), but it was decidedly not mirtazapine.

Unfortunately, this was meloxicam, not mirtazapine. Which is a very bad thing indeed. Let me count the ways:

  1. 7.5 mg of meloxicam is an appropriate dose for a 150-pound mastiff, not a seven-pound cat.
  2. Meloxicam is only approved for cats as a one-time injectable dose for post-operative pain.
  3. This drug is an NSAID, a class of drugs well known for their potential renal side-effects.
  4. Meloxicam is expressly contraindicated in the case of renal compromise.

In other words, I can’t think of a worse pharmacy mistake. Well … maybe I can, but I’ve never personally treated a patient who experienced one more more potentially catastrophic. (READ MORE).

In their excellent article about buying pet drugs online, The United States Federal Drug Administration even warns against buying pet prescriptions like Meloxicam from human pharmacies and says “NSAIDs should not be purchased on the Internet without a veterinarian’s involvement. . . ”

That doesn’t mean you can’t buy from online or human pharmacies. Or that your vet is being greedy and grumpy about losing business to bix box stores. We all love saving money, but when we do we must be extra smart about buying pet prescriptions from anyone but our vet. “I also recommend you look up your pills online to be sure they’re what the pharmacy says they are,” suggests Dr. Khuly.

Play it Safe with Veterinary Compounding Pharmacies

Our animals are worth so much more than a few dollars we save at human pharmacies. If you want to play it safe, many legitimate veterinary pharmacies offer equally affordable animal prescriptions. Roadrunner Compounding Pharmacy is one. We bought metronomic chemotherapy drugs from Roadrunner for Spirit Jerry, and they were excellent to work with.

When we had the chance to meet Roadrunner staff at the 2016 AAHA Conference, we asked them to explain what veterinary compounding pharmacies do:

A legitimate online veterinary compounding pharmacy like Roadrunner creates customized medication for animals. The AVMA supports compounding veterinary pharmacies and says this service “is needed in veterinary medicine to provide individualized medication for specific patients with special needs not met by FDA-approved drug products.” The drug you receive is based on size of the animal, strength of the prescription the veterinarian wants and the form that our animal will tolerate best (pill versus liquid, for example).

Compounding pharmacies can be very affordable and fast too. Roadrunner even offers free express shipping.

We encourage you to talk to your vet about the best places to get your pet’s medications. Learn more from this excellent article by the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Prescriptions and Pharmacies: For Pet Owners.

Read More About Human Versus Pet Pharmacies

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13 thoughts on “The Difference Between Human versus Pet Pharmacies”

  1. Good point Mark! The human version may, but no qualified veterinarian would prescribe that compound. Hence the reason for this article, and why every responsible pet parent should do their homework, like you have.

  2. My vet said to use my human gabapentin on my cat and to give 100 mg. Cat went completely limp, nearly had to give her MTM to keep her breathing, vet says this sometimes happens, next time give only 50mg…as if. This was to keep cat calm for long ride to vet, she has stage 3 kidney failure. I am at a total loss of what to believe about anything anymore. Thank you for this article. My vet says it is totally incorrect, and that my human gabapentin doesnt have xylitol in it. The drugs. com website does not give inactive ingredients for the brand of gabapentin i had at home and gave to my cat.

  3. Ellie I’m sorry about your cat, that’s so scary! Is she OK now? Why the Gabapentin? I apologize, there was a mistake in this article and I should have specified that it is the LIQUID form of the human version of Gabapentin that contains Xylitol. We previously discussed that here in our long-form Gabapentin article. Rest assured the information is from a veterinary pain management expert, Dr. Mike Petty.

    Our own Tripawd takes the human version but in PILL form and yes it is safe. I hope your cat is doing better!

  4. So I have the opposite question. I’ve been prescribed and taken Gabapentin for years but my doctor suddenly died and I moved out of state. Long story short I haven’t been able to fill my prescription and coincidentally my dog just had surgery and was prescribed 100mg of gabepenin for pain. Is it the same gabepentin that I would take just in a much lower dose? I would never deprive my dog obviously but there’s a ton. It is safe for me to take? I usually take 600mg , pets only prescribed 100mg . Can I take 4 without dying? I already feel like I am dying without it. I’m trying to get a new doctor but in the meantime is this safe for humans?

  5. Hi Lexi. I’m so sorry, that kind of question is something that only a doctor can/should address. If you’re still searching for a doctor I suggest trying telemedicine. We use a service called DialCare and it’s pretty affordable (less than $15 a month). I believe their MDs can help with something like this. Good luck and we hope you feel better soon.

  6. Hi my dog has just been prescribed gabapentin, I have gabapentin which my Gp has prescribed to me, is it safe to give my dog my gabapentin as it is the same dose, I have had a massive vetinary bill and my dogs prescription cost £56 for 28 tablets and gabapentin was added at another cost at around £22 , thats a huge amount which I cannot afford every month.

  7. Hi Sarah Jane, great question. I know that here in the U.S. the capsule form of Gabapentin is exactly the same for humans and pets. I can’t speak to the formula used in the UK so it’s definitely better to ask your vet than us OK? Let them know the cost is a hardship, they will find a way to work with you so your pet receives the pain management s/he needs. Keep us posted!

  8. To: Lexi, I highly recommend Aleeve Back & Muscle Pain. It does not interfere with other medications, but consult a pharmacist so they can advise you on proper dosage and print you a list of any possible side effects. They have been life savers for me recovering from knee and back surgery.

  9. Is the human form of Gabapentin in the U.S. The save as the pet form? Can I give my dog the same 100mg pull that I take?

  10. Do not give your pet any human form of medication without specific direction from your vet. And please, consult your veterinarian befor considering any changes to prescribed medication.

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