Risks of Giving Heartworm Pills Without a Prescription

Clare Deming
Poodle pet dog

Heartworm disease is a serious illness in dogs. Fortunately, it is easy to prevent with prescription medication. While it might be tempting to save money by avoiding a visit to your veterinarian's office, there are risks involved with getting heartworm preventative medication without a prescription.

Heartworm Disease Prevention

Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, so it is impossible to know if your pet has been bitten. It should be noted that topical flea and tick preventives do not reliably prevent mosquito bites. You can only prevent heartworm disease with monthly medication. Monthly heartworm preventive medications are very safe, while treatment for a dog that has become infected is expensive, painful, and carries a risk of serious or fatal complications.

Heartworm Preventative Medication

The most popular preventative medications for heartworm that require a prescription are:

  • Interceptor® (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel) is a chewable tablet made by Elanco.
  • Revolution® (selamectin) is made by Zoetis and is available as a topical solution.
  • Trifexis® (spinosad and milbemycin oxime) is a chewable tablet made by Elanco.
  • Heartguard® (ivermectin/pyrantel pamoate) is available as a chewable tablet and is made by Merial.
  • Sentinel® (milbemycin oxime/lufenuron/praziquantel) is a chewable tablet made by Virbac.
  • Tri-Heart Plus® (ivermectin/pyrantel) is a generic version of Heartguard made by Merck.
  • Iverhart Max® (ivermectin/pyrantel pamoate/praziquantel) is made by Virbac and is available in a chewable tablet.

Purchasing Medications Without a Prescription

All effective heartworm medications require a prescription in the United States. It is illegal to obtain an FDA-approved prescription medication without a prescription. According to Consumer Reports, it is also illegal to import prescription medications from other countries. The FDA is unlikely to take legal action against individual purchasers of medications without a prescription, preferring instead to go after the suppliers. Many states have laws about possessing drugs without a prescription or even possessing drugs that may be legally obtained but are not yours although enforcement of these laws is not strict. This depends however on the type of drug, as possession of narcotics without a prescription can be a felony, although this would be an extreme case compared to drugs such as heartworm preventatives.

Warning Signs of Rogue Pharmacies

It is becoming more common to order medications from Canada or through other overseas locations. The Canadian International Pharmacy Association has a seal to help identify certified pharmacies. However, the CIPA has reported fraud in which rogue websites have been using the CIPA seal. Before ordering online, do as much research as possible about the pharmacy. Rogue pharmacies have been shown to sell counterfeit or contaminated drugs. The warning signs of a rogue pharmacy include:

  • No prescription required
  • Prescriptions provided after only completing an online questionnaire
  • No pharmacist available for consultation
  • Lack of phone number or street address
  • Requires you to sign a waiver
  • Offers only a limited selection of medications
  • Use of an international website
  • Sends spam email

Reputable Online Pharmacies

Purchasing medications from an online pharmacy is not necessarily the same as obtaining a medication without a prescription. Many online pharmacies are reputable and follow standard pharmaceutical practices. One way to tell if an online pet pharmacy is trustworthy is to look for the VET VIPPS seal. This is a certification through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy that shows that the pharmacy's license, policies, and procedures have been verified. A reputable online pharmacy will require a prescription prior to fulfilling your order. They may either require that you upload a scan of your prescription, fax or mail it to them, or many will contact your veterinarian for you to verify the prescription details.

A Prescription From Your Veterinarian

Your veterinarian will probably require that your pet have a recent examination and a negative blood test for heartworms before writing your dog a prescription for heartworm preventatives. The American Heartworm Society recommends annual heartworm testing for all dogs. If your veterinarian authorizes a heartworm preventative, you can either purchase it directly at your vet's office or you can ask for a written prescription. As long as your pet is seen regularly for preventive care and vaccinations, you won't need to schedule a separate visit. You should be able to obtain refills for the rest of the year without another prescription.

Saving Money Buying Prescriptions Online

Many pet owners prefer the convenience of purchasing their prescriptions online. They can be shipped directly to your home and you may also see additional cost savings over what your veterinarian charges for the same prescription. Keep in mind though that many veterinarian offices will offer to match the price of online pharmacies for heartworm preventatives. Others may offer to sell the medication with an extra dose included for the same cost. Sometimes rebate programs are available if you purchase from your vet's office. Also, be aware that online pharmacies may charge for shipping, so the initial savings that you might find could vanish by the time you finish the order.

Buying Heartworm Preventatives Online or In-Store

If you decide you want to purchase your preventative medications online, you can use services such as Chewy.com and 1800PetMeds. If you want to buy medications in stores such as PetSmart, you can do so if you're a current customer of their Banfield veterinary clinics, as well as order them online. If you are not a current Banfield customer you will need to bring a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase the medications in the store. You can also buy many pet prescriptions at in-store pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS.

If Your Pet Develops Heartworm Disease

While heartworm preventive medications are extremely effective, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reported sporadic resistance to the drugs in 2013. If your dog is taking a heartworm preventive purchased through your veterinarian's office, the pharmaceutical company may pay for treatment if your pet is later diagnosed with heartworm disease and you and your veterinarian can clearly demonstrate that this was due to a failure of the product. If you purchased a heartworm preventative without a prescription, it is doubtful that the pharmaceutical company will get involved. They will also not likely get involved if the prescription was purchased online, even via a legitimate prescription, as it is much harder to demonstrate quality control with an online pharmacy.

Although heartworm preventatives are very safe, a few dogs may experience side effects. In some cases, the pharmaceutical company may help out financially with treatment for these side effects if the product was purchased through a reputable outlet.

Talk to Your Veterinarian

If you have concerns about the cost of preventive care for your dog, speak to your veterinarian about which medications, vaccinations, or blood tests are needed the most. While heartworm preventatives can be purchased online without a prescription, there are many risks involved with this approach.

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Risks of Giving Heartworm Pills Without a Prescription