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How to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021]

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The Responsibility of Pet Ownership Includes Pet Meds

One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds.

The fact is, at some point in your pet’s life, he or she will need medication.  From preventatives like flea, tick and heartworm medications, to antibiotics and pain medications, the list of possible pet medications your dog will need is endless.

Saving Money on Pet Meds

In this post you will learn:

  • Why pet meds cost so much and why that cost is rising
  • Where to buy pet meds using three different methods
  • 5 tips for saving money on pet medications
  • How pet insurance can help cover the cost of pet meds
  • Proper handling of pet meds for safety and efficacy
  • How to dispose of pet meds

Pet Meds for Big Dog Owners

I have discussed how expensive big dogs are to purchase (through a reputable breeder), feed (naturally), and provide medical care for in numerous articles. 

Among these are:

It boils down to this. 

Big dogs come with big expenses.  While this post WILL help you save money on your dog’s pet meds, you need to budget accordingly if you choose to take on the responsibility of owning a large or giant breed dog. 

Because despite the unconditional love and laughter they bring to our lives, that love comes with a cost…. higher doses, more pills, and as a result, higher pet med costs.  

This is our reality.


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Why are Pet Meds So Expensive?

There are several reasons for the increasing cost of pet meds.  

Keep in mind, this is not an all-inclusive list.  

Increasing Cost of Research and Development

Like with human medications, one of the reasons for the increase in costs is due to the sheer number of new and improved diagnostic and therapeutic treatments on the market.  Research and development are not free. They come with a cost.

And depending on how novel the treatment and how long it was studied, the expense of that research needs to be made up for somewhere. [3]

Increase in Preventative Care 

Preventative care is another reason the amount of money spent on pet medications has increased.  In fact, flea, tick and heartworm preventatives make up more than half of all pet medication expenditures.

Retail Markup of Prices

If you obtain your pet medications from your veterinarian, expect a mark up between 100% – 160% plus a dispensing fee. 

And for some medicines the markups are even higher: 567% for the anti-inflammatory steroid prednisone, 800% for the pain reliever tramadol, and more than 1,000% for the antibiotic amoxicillin, according to a 2009 survey of vet pricing conducted by the market research firm LHK partners.

Status Quo

Lastly, pet owners often unknowingly support the status quo because they are either unaware of their ability to get their pet medications elsewhere, or they prefer the convenience of getting them directly from their veterinarian.  

Believe it or not, Congress has actually gotten involved when it comes to pet owners being “unaware” of their ability to get a prescription for their pet medication.  H.R.623 – Fairness to Pet Owners Act of 2017 seeks to “promote competition and help consumers save money by giving them the freedom to choose where they buy prescription pet medications, and for other purposes.”  [2]

It has been introduced in the House, but to my knowledge, has not yet made it out of committee.  

If you feel strongly about this issue, reach out to your representative and let them know how you feel. 

Let’s not wait for Congress to act.  We have the power to control our own financial destiny and the healthcare destiny of our pets.

Lastly, in my research for this post, I came across an interesting FTC staff report from May 2015:  Competition in the Pet Medications Industry Prescription Portability and Distribution Practices. [1]

While lengthy, this report discusses in-depth competition, automatic prescription release laws, and exclusive distribution of certain pet medications.  

It is well worth the time if you are interested in reading about this topic further.

Let’s not wait for Congress to act. We have the power to control our own financial destiny and the healthcare destiny of our pets. Click to Tweet

Where to Buy Pet Meds

We are going to break this section down into three separate categories.

  1. How to Get Pet Meds With a Veterinarian Prescription
  2. How to Get Pet Meds Without a Prescription
  3. Where to Buy Pet Meds Online
How to save money on pet meds

How to Get Pet Meds With a Veterinarian Prescription

When your veterinarian prescribes a medication for your dog, you can opt to have it filled in one of two ways. 

If the veterinarian has the medication on hand, you can simply have them fill it before you leave. 

As I will explain in a minute, this is likely to be the most costly way to obtain your pet’s medication. 

What I usually do is ask for my veterinarian to provide me with a handwritten prescription that I can take to the pharmacy of my choice.  I have also opted to have my vet’s office call my dog’s medication directly into a specific pharmacy. 

How to Get Pet Meds Without a Prescription

Most pet medications will need a prescription.  

The prescription is essentially the signal to any legitimate online or retail pharmacy that your dog has been diagnosed with a condition by a certified veterinarian. 

 However, there are many pet meds, over the counter meds, and home remedies that can be purchased without one.   

For example, many flea and tick medications can be purchased without a prescription.  As can pet-safe over the counter human medications like Benadryl, Pepcid, or Gas-X

I have a plethora of home remedies here on Big Dog Mom as well in which getting the ingredients is as simple as going to my Amazon store.  Conditions such as dog elbow calluses, panosteitis, and natural pain relief for dogs

Easy peasy. No need for a prescription. 

CAUTION:  If you find an online pharmacy that is not requiring a prescription for a medication that should have one (i.e all other pharmacies require it), BEWARE!  

Keep reading for the details on how to vet online pharmacies and ensure they are accredited and legitimate. 

Where to Buy Pet Meds Online

Obtaining pet meds through online pharmacies is both simple and convenient for many pet owners. 

And going this route can often save you a great deal of money. 

Look for online pharmacies that have been verified by the Vet-VIPPS program.  

VIPPS stands for Veterinary Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites and is a program run by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.  It is an accredited list of online pharmacies who have been verified to comply with federal and state licensing requirements and quality assurance.[4]

At the time of this writing, there are 77 online pharmacies to choose from!  Grab the current list here

Big Dog Mom Experience with Pet Medications

The catalyst for this post actually arose out of my experience with Junior. 

After having two separate bouts of chin acne gone bad and then a lump on his shoulder, I have had numerous opportunities to put into practice the tips I am about to share with you.

Despite all of my best efforts to keep his wrinkly chin dry and clean, Junior suffered for about six months last year with chin acne.  On two separate occasions, he was prescribed Cephalexin, a cephalosporin antibiotic commonly used for surface bacterial infections like chin acne.

Following that, I found a lump on Junior’s shoulder which seemed to be causing him pain in his neck.  My vet theorized the lump started as a reaction to a vaccine but turned into an abscess.

She recommended we try Clindamycin, an antibiotic reserved for serious infections like an abscess before we go in and remove the lump surgically.  

For this particular issue, he was prescribed Rimadyl, for his pain, and Clindamycin.

Who would have thought prepubescent dog acne and a lump would change my life the way they have?

It wasn’t until I had the sense to ask for a prescription for Junior’s first round of Cephalexin that I realized the opportunity for savings that existed.  

So, in my desperate effort to find a more economical way to access Junior’s medications, here is what I uncovered:

Antibiotic Pet Meds Costs

As further evidence of the disparity in the price of pet medications, Junior was recently diagnosed with Valley Fever, a fungal infection endemic to the Arizona area.  The cost of treating a 240-pound Mastiff with anti-fungal medications is outrageous, but the tips I am about to share with you enabled me to save BIG TIME! 

Valley Fever Pet Meds Costs per Month

This shocking disparity was the impetus for assembling the following 5 tips for saving money on pet medications.

The cost of treating a 240 pound Mastiff with anti-fungal medications is outrageous, but the tips I am about to share with you enabled me to save BIG TIME! Read more here... Click to Tweet

5 Tips for Saving Money on your Pet Medications

1. Ask for a Prescription, Check Prices, and Shop Around

Whether needing an antibiotic or a valley fever medication, prescription drug prices vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy so shopping around is critical.

GoodRx for Pets is a free site that

“collects prescription drug prices, coupons and discounts at more than 60,000 pharmacies and shows you how to save up to 80% on your prescriptions.”  

As an added benefit, you can download their mobile app and have the ability to check the prices of your pet medications at the click of a button on your phone.  

Another tip when your dog is prescribed medication is to ask for a less expensive, human equivalent or a compounded version for that medication.  

Often, these human equivalents will be significantly cheaper, but no less effective.

Shopping around for the best price for Junior’s medication enabled me to save more than $96 for the Cephalexin, $171 for his Clindamycin, $117 for his Fluconazole, and a whopping $228 for his Itraconazole.   

For most people, these savings are significant and absolutely worth the time invested in finding them.

If you are a Costco member (or not), I highly encourage you to include them in your research.  I have found Costco’s prices to be some of the most competitive out there for pet meds.  Click here for the Costco pet meds price list.

2. Inquire About Price Matching

When asked, many veterinarians will match the prices offered in retail or online pharmacies in order to retain your business.   

With more people seeking ways to save money on their pet meds, many veterinarians are feeling a bit of pressure to bring their prices down to be more competitive in the marketplace.

Marketplace competition benefits consumers [pet owners] by reducing complacency, fostering innovation, and, as a result, lowering the prices of pet meds.

Marketplace competition benefits consumers (pet owners) by reducing complacency, fostering innovation, and, as a result, lowering prices of pet meds. Click to Tweet

3. Explore Online Pharmacies

Online pharmacies can be particularly valuable for dogs with chronic conditions for which medication is needed on an ongoing basis.

Some popular online pharmacies that are now VIPPS accredited are:

How to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021] One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds.
How to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021] One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds.
How to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021] One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds.
How to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021] One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds.

4. Take Advantage of Discount Programs

If you choose to obtain your pet medications from a local retail pharmacy, be sure you ask about any discount programs they offer.  The following are a few options for increasing your savings on pet medications.

5. Purchase Pet Health Insurance

While I do not currently have pet insurance for Sulley and Junior, depending on your circumstances, it may be a great option for your dog.

We had pet insurance for Burton and Maya many years ago and between Maya’s spay and Burton’s mast cell tumor, our savings more than paid for our premiums at the time.  

Most pet insurance companies cover prescription medications for medically necessary diagnosis. 

My top recommendation for big dog owners is going to be Embrace Pet Insurance (keep reading to find out why)

Up to 90% back on Vet Bills - Embrace Pet InsuranceHow to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021] One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds. How to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021] One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds.How to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021] One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds.

How Pet Insurance Can Help Cover the Cost of Pet Meds

“Control your own destiny, or someone else will.”  ~ Jack Welch

I commented above that high medical costs are the reality for big dog parents, but I do not believe they have to be.  

Yes, Mastiffs will always be more expensive to own than Chihuahuas.  

But it does not have to be the case that medications are given to prevent a surgery be more expensive than the surgery itself.  Or that your dog needing an MRI or surgery should be put off so that you can afford to pay for food.  

Cost of Dog Blood Pressure - Pet Meds

Outside the scope of this post is to address my feelings about the rising cost of certain vet services (which can only be explained or rationalized in Bizarro World).   

For now, I will just say, save yourself the headache and get pet insurance.  

In less than a year we have dealt with several bacterial infections, Wobbler Syndrome, Valley Fever, and proteinuria and spent tens of thousands of dollars in vet bills and pet medication costs. 

I’ll let you guess how many times I have cursed myself for not purchasing pet insurance when my boys were puppies.  

I’ve lost count. 

If you are undecided about purchasing pet health insurance, consider these three key points that must not be forgotten in this discussion.

1. Preventative care is essential.

This includes annual veterinary visits, immunizations when appropriate, a natural, species-appropriate diet, and breed/age-appropriate exercise, training, and socialization.  

A foundation of optimal care and, as a result, better health will reduce future financial burden.

The price tag for all of this in the first two years of your dog’s life can be high.

READ: Annual Cost of Owning a Big Dog: Can You Afford One? [Survey Results!]

How to Save Money on Pet Medications for Big Dogs [2021] One of the inevitable responsibilities of pet ownership is the need for pet meds.

2. Veterinarians are our partners.

It is unlikely that you will raise your large or giant breed dog into his senior years without a veterinarian partner by your side. 

The relationship you have with your veterinarian is a partnership or should be.  Have an open dialogue with your vet about the cost of your pet’s medications and other veterinary services.  

Ask for price matching – then a prescription.  Not the other way around.  

Give your vet the first right of refusal for your business.  

A great vet will appreciate it and understand your desire to save money while providing the best care for your dog. 

Pet insurance will provide you the freedom and flexibility to make better healthcare decisions and give you peace of mind should the unexpected arise.  

3. Plan ahead for these costs BEFORE you buy your large or giant breed puppy.  

Do your due diligence.  Have an idea of how much your new puppy will cost you in the purchase price, food and healthcare for the first two years and start saving.

I recommend you include a line item in your budget for pet insurance

I’ll let you guess how many times I have cursed myself for not purchasing pet insurance when my boys were puppies.  I’ve lost count.  Click to Tweet

How to Handle Pet Meds Properly

I mentioned in Probiotics for Dogs: The Facts and Strains that Matter Most how it is as important to consider WHAT probiotics you are giving your dog as HOW you are giving them. 

It is no different from pet medications.  

The safety and efficacy (how well the medication works) of the drug will be dependent on whether it is handled and given properly.

Here are 7 tips to keep in mind as it relates to proper handling of pet meds. 

1. Never split pills unless prescribed to do so.

With some pet medications, splitting will be required and the pills will be scored accordingly to ease splitting.  But if the pet med is not scored, the likelihood is that splitting is not recommended.

This may be due to the way the medication was formulated and encapsulated causing an uneven distribution of medication unless the pill is taken as a whole unit.[8]

2. Food intake matters.

If the medication says “give with food” or “take on an empty stomach” do it.  Some medications need to be taken on an empty stomach to increase their absorption and effectiveness.  Side effects and absorption rates can also be affected if a pet med is not taken as directed.[7]

3. Consider the expiration date of your pet’s medications.

Expiration dates are required by law, but may not represent a hard and fast date after which the medication should not be taken.  Many pet meds can be taken well after this expiration date and deliver maximum efficacy if maintained properly. [6]

4. Store at the appropriate temperature.

Most pet meds will be kept at room temperature, but there are some which require refrigeration.  Be sure to consult with your pharmacist and veterinarian to ensure you are storing your pet meds at the proper temperature. 

Storing at temperatures that are too hot can potentially degrade and destroy the potency of the drug rendering it ineffective. [5]

5. Review the medications your dog is on at each vet visit.

This will ensure your dog is not still taking prescriptions that are unnecessary… thus saving you money!

6. Consult your veterinarian before giving one dog’s medication to another dog.

With some medications, this won’t pose a risk, but with others, it could. 

Not only will weight-dependent dosages be different, but underlying health conditions could also be a contraindication.  So to be safe, consult your veterinarian first before sharing pet meds between pets. 

7. Dispose of pet meds properly.


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How to Dispose of Pet Meds

According to the FDA,

“Consumers and caregivers should remove expired, unwanted, or unused medicines from their home as quickly as possible to help reduce the chance that others accidentally take or intentionally misuse the unneeded medicine, and to help reduce drugs from entering the environment.” [10

How to Save Money on Pet Meds

In fact, the FDA reports that about

“25 percent of all phone calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center are regarding pets that ingest medications intended for people.” [9

If you have pet meds that you don’t need anymore, consider the following options for disposing of them. 

1. Ask your veterinarian if they take pet meds back.  Most veterinarians will so it is worth a phone call to check.

2. Throw pet medications in household garbage.  The FDA advises the following steps before tossing medications in the trash. 

  • Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds;
  • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag;
  • Throw the container in your household trash; and
  • Delete all personal information on the prescription label of empty pill bottles or medicine packaging, then dispose of the container.

3. Flush down the toilet if appropriate.  Check here for the specific instructions and to see if this option applies to the pet med you are disposing of. 

Summary

With all of this information about pet meds, I am curious about what you think.  Are there other ways that you have found to save money on your dog’s medications?  Do you obtain your pet meds through your vet? If not, where are your go-to pharmacies for your dog’s medications? 

Please share these tips with other pet parents in your life using the share buttons below and let me know in the comments what additional savings tips you would add. 

Resources

  1. Competition in the Pet Medications Industry Prescription Portability and Distribution Practices
  2. H.R.623 – Fairness to Pet Owners Act of 2017
  3. From an Idea to the Marketplace: The Journey of an Animal Drug through the Approval Process
  4. Find a VIPPS-Accredited Pharmacy
  5. Why You Should Never Store Medications at High Temperatures
  6. Drug Expiration Dates — Do They Mean Anything?
  7. Side Effects of Not Taking Pills With Food
  8. Splitting Pills May Have Risks
  9. Proper Storage of Pet Meds, Food, and Treats
  10. Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know

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29 Comments

  1. So many great tips here! Pet medications can really be costly and having a full gang (4 cats and 1 dog) can be challenging for the budget. I have them on per insurance but some of the meds are not covered. I guess depends on the state. But had no clue about the discount programs I know those are available for humans but was not aware they are available for pets too.

    1. Thank you, Adriana! I didn’t know about the discount programs either until Junior’s first round of antibiotics. It’s a tremendous resource that I don’t think many people take advantage of.

  2. I will most definitely be asking for a prescription going forward. I’m going to have to look around to see what the rules are here in Canada. Thanks for the interesting info! I have a pup who’s on a lifetime of thyroid meds.

    1. Oh, man, that can’t be cheap! Yes, please check into it. I wish I could be of more assistance. I would love to know what you find out if you don’t mind hopping back over here and sharing. I have quite a few Big Dog Mom audience members from Canada and I’m sure they would appreciate it. 🙂

  3. Tried to post and it went “kerflooey” so here’s a 2nd try. I’m book marking the post, it’s so important, especially now with Bravo-Boy in the house (bull mastiff pup). Thank you!

    1. This one came through, perfect! Thank you, Amy! If you are considering pet insurance, do it now while Bravo is still young. The premiums will get higher the older he gets.

  4. Hindy Pearson says:

    Thanks for the great tips!! Red is on quite a bit of medication, some of them super crazy expensive. I order online, and even with the cost of getting the prescription written up, there’s still a huge price difference. Definitely shop around and make sure you’re buying from a legitimate online supplier.

    1. I’m so sorry about Red, but yes, definitely shop around. I picked up another round of Clindamycin for Junior yesterday. This time he got 168 pills versus the 84 last time. At Walmart the price for 84 was $206, yet Costco was $35. The price at Costco for 168 was $47! I am not sure why it wasn’t $70, but I was pleasantly surprised. I would love to know if it would have been $412 at Walmart!! Crazy!

  5. Marjorie at Dash Kitte says:

    I am with you on the health insurance (just don’t tell the guy who pays to insurance six cats…) and as for medication * hides under rock * Shopping around means you can find a good buy but always do your research to ensure your pet gets the best medication you can.

    Here in New Zealand we have so little compared to the USA because to be allowed in as ‘medicine’ a product has to undergo tens of thousands of dollars worth of testing. I though this was hair raising until I was told how much companies of the quality of Humarian pay for top quality testing!

    1. Yes, testing is not cheap anywhere, but I feel it is necessary. While I do not want to overpay for pet medications (or human for that matter), I do want them to be safe and effective. And for that I am willing to pay. You made me chuckle with the insurance comment. I loved the insurance we had for Maya and Burton (our first mastiff and our lab), and it was totally worth the premium price. I could kick myself for not getting it for Junior and Sulley when they were puppies! I’m in a bit of a quandary.

  6. I am very fortunate as Layla is a PAWS client and therefore they cover the costs of vets and prescriptions so I do not have to worry. Oy Vey if I did am not sure how I would handle it

    Great information for those that need it

  7. I’ve used goodrx before. It made a big difference. The pill prices kept changing monthly so it was a bit of a pain to shop around.

    1. I bet that is a pain, especially considering how many options there are now with online pharmacies growing in popularity. If it were me, I would stick with the VIPPS pharmacies and compare their prices to local retail pharmacies. Maybe have 2-3 of each that you check each month. I’m sure its a pain, but my guess is you would find a significant savings for that investment in time.

  8. These are some great tips! I often get prescriptions and shop around. I’ve saved a lot of money that way. And GoodRX too. I’ll have to check out those other discount sites too. Thanks!

    1. You are one saavy dog mom, Debbie! I still can’t believe what a difference this has made in my life. I’m hoping more people will find this and know they have so many more options when it comes to paying for their pet medications.

  9. Health insurance is something I would never ever go without anymore. Wouldn’t even consider it. Not after we ended up spending $75,000 total for Jasmine’s health care. Still paying it off.

    1. $75,000! Wow! That’s unbelievable! I can completely understand your passion for pet health insurance, considering your experience.

  10. Great post! I have shopped online for drugs many times and my vet is pretty cautious. She always checks out the supplier and makes sure that they don’t sell a knockoff that is not as effective. One other tip is to shop for drugs in Canada – they are a lot cheaper, but again, do your research or have your vet do it.

    1. Thank you, Sandy! I think being cautious about online pharmacies is prudent. I personally would look for one that has been accredited by Vet-VIPPS.

  11. I’ve never thought about the ability to get my cats’ medication somewhere else besides the vet. I’m usually so concerned about the girls that I get the medication from the vet. I’ll check out the resources.

    1. Most people don’t know or think to ask about an alternative to getting their pet’s medications at the vet. Before Junior, I didn’t either. My guess is if you ask, your vet will price match. Every little savings can help.

  12. Check in weird places you wouldn’t think about too. The local pharmacy in my grocery store has a membership program and you get all your scrips for $7. I was pleasantly supervised to discover that family membership includes the furry family members! When I was going through the IBS nightmare with Shadow we used that benefit a lot! The cure was a raw diet, but I appreciated the medical benefits. Sometimes I’ve worked around the system too for smaller things.

    1. Wow, Holly, what a great find! I’m so happy you were able to find a more cost-effective solution for Shadow, and switch to a raw diet in the process!

  13. What a great post! I remember having to get amoxicillin for my cat Precious and how expensive it was, just like human prices. At the time I only knew about 1-800 Pet meds but didn’t have any other resources to get cheaper medicine discounts. Thanks for sharing your experience and suggestions. Will definitely share with other pet parents.

      1. Eileen Schaeffer says:

        I have started buying meds at Costco but found that they are not fresh and the recent Tri Heart Plus expires before the supply is used. So a word of caution is to check all expiration dates because saving a bit is not worth it if you have to throw it out.

        1. Terrific advice! Thank you so much for sharing that!! I would make sure you let the pharmacy know as well. You would think they would look at this, but perhaps sometimes things slip through??

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