You may or may not have heard about the lawsuit that the online pet supply retailer, Chewy.com, has brought against Covetrus.
If you haven't, you may or may not know what Covetrus even is.
Covetrus is a global service that provides online pharmaceutical supplies to veterinarians.
Chewy expanded their online market to include a pet pharmacy in 2018. In order for their customers to obtain medications through them, however, they need to enter their veterinarians information in order to get the prescription approved. The lawsuit claims that a company called Vetcove was intercepting the customers' information illegally and redirecting them to purchase their pharmacy supplies through Covetrus.
Vetcove is a privately owned company that is totally unaffiliated with Covetrus and both companies completely deny these claims.
Covetrus, is now countersuing Chewy for not obtaining written veterinary approval for medications and instead opting to call and receive verbal confirmation which they allow to come from receptionists.
What's the Truth?
You all know by now that I'm a vet tech. I can tell you that we get many faxes every single day from Chewy and other online pet pharmacy retailers (such as 1800PetMeds or Allivet) which are given to our vets for approval.
Vets don't generally spend much of their day sitting around filling out faxes. So sometimes they don't get to those faxes the same day that they arrive. Chewy will call us and attempt to obtain verbal approval. I can not speak for any vet office but the one I work for, but we absolutely will not give verbal approval over the phone. That's not how that works. Especially since the person they'd be speaking to on the phone would not be a vet, they'd be a receptionist or a nurse. Neither of which are legally capable of giving medication approval.
IF Chewy is obtaining approvals this way, and I'm not saying they are, I'm saying IF... it would be very much so illegal and very much so bad for the pets involved.
Covetrus has gone so far as to say that Chewy is seeking to cut out the veterinary aspect of their pharmacy sales to get pet parents their orders in a more timely manner.
I can not speak to the validity of that but what I do know, as a veterinary professional, is that if that were to happen, it would be exceedingly dangerous.
I can not begin to tell you how often I hear people ask to just be given antibiotics without a vet visit. They just KNOW it's the same UTI or the same ear infection that their dog had in 2017 and the meds they got back then worked so they just want the meds again and do not want to pay for a vet visit.
Giving people the ability to order pet medication without veterinary approval cuts out what we call the VCP relationship. Vet-Client-Patient. This is the medicinal equivalent to diagnosing your pets using the internet and giving them whatever medication you have laying around your house. Not only is not guaranteed to work but you may give the wrong dose and you may make your pet sicker or worse... overdose them.
It seems simple though, doesn't it? Dog has an ear infection, dog has had an ear infection before, medication was given, medication worked, get the same medication, give it the same way, ear infection gone... right?
I'll show you why.
I'm going to show you three actual slides of an ear swab cytology.
Ear swabs are obtained with a long Q-tip (NEVER put Q-tips in your pets ears. WE know where their ear drums are, do you? Don't try this at home. EVER.). We then rub the Q-tip onto a microscope slide, stain it, burn the bottom, rinse and dry it and then examine it under a microscope.
There are THREE types of things we're looking for in an ear cytology. Yeast, rods, and cocci. Those are completely different infections. They are treated with completely different medications.
So which one does your dog have? Does your dog have just ONE or two of them? Maybe all three?
How do you know?
All three of the above slides show pretty massive ear infections.
None of them are the same infection.
I know which is which.
I will not tell you because I will not risk anyone attempting to figure out how to do this at home.
This is why we can not just give you meds because your dog is shaking his head and scratching his ears and the meds worked last time.
The dog will respond the exact same way to all three infections but the meds will absolutely not be the same.
The same is true for cats. They get the same ear infections as dogs but they're not necessarily treated with the same medications as dogs. But the medications DO vary by type of infection.
And then there's this...
That creepy little bugger... is an ear mite. Mites also present with scratching and head shaking but no amount of ear medication for an infection is going to kill them off.
Wanna take that chance or do you think maybe it's worth the appointment?
UTI is another one that seems simple but what if it's NOT a UTI? What if it's just mirroring the symptoms of a UTI and is actually a bladder stone or a crystal? Just giving meds won't stop it and could actually kill your pet if a stone or crystal is ignored. Depending on age of the pet it could also be incontinence which also has a different treatment.
But even if it IS a UTI, if we continually give the same medication for it, guess what happens?
It stops working!
Just like in people!
And just like in people doctors are required, as are lab tests, to determine the best course of action. You don't just call your doctor and say hi, I have a UTI can you call me in a Z-Pack? They're not going to do that so why do you think your vet will?
How Will The Lawsuit Affect Your Pets?
That all depends on who wins. If the courts side with Covetrus, Chewy could very well lose their right to sell pharmaceuticals altogether which would mean you'd have to either move over to another online pharmacy or get the medications straight from your vet (which can cost more but your pet doesn't have to wait).
If Chewy wins, and they actually are circumventing the VCP relationship, that could be disastrous for not just the veterinary industry but for your pets if you decide to go rogue.
Hopefully this piece has shown you why you shouldn't do that. But if it's available as an option, I can absolutely guarantee that there are people who will.
We get faxes from Chewy regarding prescription pet foods for pets we've never even SEEN. People just pick a vet and decide that their determination that their pet needs this food is simply good enough.
It's prescription for a REASON.
Whose Side Am I On?
I'm on your pets side.
I'm on MY pets side.
I'm NOT okay with circumventing the VCP relationship. I'm NOT okay with companies trying to steer customers away from their right to choose where they want to purchase their meds. But it should be done properly, with written approval and recommendation from a licensed veterinarian following an exam that conclusively determines the best medication for the animal.
Whether or not either is actually happening is a matter of who you believe. Neither scenario works well for the consumer... the pet parents of America. Frivolous lawsuits certainly occur in this country but in terms of companies waging wars against each other, it typically starts somewhere.
Maybe they're both doing things wrong. Maybe in the end, everyone loses.
All I know right now is that people need to do right by their pets, no matter how this all pans out in court. Do NOT skip the exam. Do NOT skip the approval. And if a pet is uncomfortable or in pain, do NOT wait for approval and shipping times. The price difference shouldn't be worth their misery.