FORT LAUDERDALE — Retailers are making it easier and cheaper for pet owners to get the medication they need to care for their cats and dogs.
Winn-Dixie is the latest to extend its pharmacy services to reach sick pets. The Jacksonville grocery chain began offering pet prescriptions recently when it partnered with Center Pet Pharmacies, a Washington, D.C., company that specializes in pet medication. Target launched its pet refills program at stores with pharmacies in 2010, and Walmart began in March.
"We already had a nice-size business of pet owners at our pharmacies who used our services to get discounted prices on antibiotics and other cross-over drugs," said Mike LeBlanc, director of pharmacy business development for Winn-Dixie. "It just seemed natural to provide drugs for pets at the same time."
Most often, pet owners get their prescription medications from their veterinarian's office or online through sites like 1-800-PetMeds.com. But veterinarians like Kristy Lund at Lund Animal Hospital in Boca Raton are seeing more patients opt to have refills sent to places like Walmart or Target, where cheaper generic alternatives are offered.
"In today's economy, more people have to bargain shop, and this provides a service for those who may be struggling with care costs," Lund said.
American pet owners are expected to spend nearly $53 billion on their animals this year, according to the American Pet Products Association, more than $13 billion of that on medical care costs.
"The problem pet owners face is that pharmacists at these stores aren't trained about the medication and how it can affect the animals," Lund said. "The pharmacist or some website isn't going to help you when you're having a reaction at 10 p.m."
Most veterinarian practices have pharmacies inside their offices. Veterinarians are required to attend seminars every two years to keep their drug administering licenses active. Retailers, like Winn-Dixie, partner with pet compounding pharmacies that specialize in developing drugs in smaller dosages for animals, which does not require their employees to have special training to administer animal prescriptions.
Although Publix doesn't offer pet-specific medications, "cross-over" drugs, which are treatments like antibiotics or anti-inflammatory capsules used by pets and humans, can be picked up from its pharmacies.
Most cross-over prescriptions can be filled in the same day, LeBlanc said. Specialized pet medications take 24 to 48 hours to fill. Pet prescriptions filled by Winn-Dixie pharmacies also will include personalized instructions similar to when human prescriptions are filled and delivered. About 75 percent of all Winn-Dixie locations have pharmacies.
"These services make our shoppers' lives easier," LeBlanc said. "They're already purchasing pet food inside the store, and now they have the opportunity to take care of another pet need here, too."