Handling Pet Medications On The Road
Pre-Post Note/ This is the last of my pre-Europe posts. We’re headed off to the Florida Keys later this week (wheeeee!), so I’ll update you on that (I’m sure many folks are curious to see how the Keys are doing post-Irma). Plus we are in deeeeeeeep planning & doing for our move to Europe. Lots going on there, so I’ll get to all that soon too.
Earlier this year Polly got diagnosed with Pannus. It’s an auto-immune disease of the eyes, often breed-related (Shepherds and herding breeds are susceptible) and unfortunately it requires life-long management with steroidal eye drops. The good news is that, as long as the meds work, they are pretty good at halting the progression of the disease. The bad news is that the meds require a script so that meant we had to figure out how to handle that while we were traveling on the road.
So how exactly do you do that? How do you get pet prescriptions filled on the road? What if you’re in a different state when you need the re-fill? Do you need to visit a vet each time? How do you handle follow-up prescriptions?
I’ve talked about how to handle general pet care & emergencies in previous posts, but these are new questions that I haven’t written about before. So, here we go….
We Have Some Experience
We’ve been traveling with pets for 8 years now so we have some experience in nomadic vets and vet care.
In 2016 one of our cats developed a serious health issue (hyperthyroidism) for which we had to medicate her (for 6 months) after which we got radiation treatment in a special clinic in NY. That same year our dog tore her ACL which required TPLO surgery (again we went to a specialized clinic, this time in ID) followed by ~3 months of rehab.
The biggest upside to doing all this in an RV is that we’ve had the freedom to travel to specialty clinics that offer the best treatment in the USA. So, we’ve literally been able to chose exactly where and how our pets got their care.
The hardest thing about doing all this in an RV has been coordinating all those vet visits & follow-ups on the road, as well as keeping track of vet documentation and prescriptions. In many cases it’s required cancelling (or changing) our travel plans, as well as planning & diligence to make sure we’re staying on-track down the road.
Network Clinics That Can Help (To A Degree)
One of the easiest ways to centralize all your pet care & prescriptions on the road is to join a network of nationwide clinics such as Banfield.
With these clinics you pay a monthly fee and in return you get yearly check-ups, vaccinations and inexpensive care at any Banfield location you choose nationwide. For RVers one of the biggest upsides is that they centralize all your pet records, so you can literally walk into any Banfield cross-country and they’ll be able to transfer and access your accounts instantaneously. Plus you can get prescriptions transferred and filled with ease. They’re very nomadic-friendly.
But, they have some draw-backs too.
In my experience Banfield is good for basic stuff, but doesn’t cut it for anything serious. And we’ve experienced that personally.
They completely missed Taggart’s weightloss and hyperthyroidism, they initially over-dosed her with meds (I had to do that research on my own) and they certainly weren’t able to do the specialty I-131 treatment that eventually cured her (the first Banfield vet I talked to didn’t even know about it as an option). In their regular check-up they missed all the serious stuff, and if I hadn’t analyzed Taggart’s history on my own and forced them to run the correct tests, I would never have known she was as ill as she was.
So, why do we even use them at all?
Both our cats are older, so they require regular 6-mo check-ups & blood draws (to stay ontop of their health) as well as yearly dentals ($$$$$!). Banfield takes care of all that for a very reasonable price. So the compromise that I make is that I use them for regular care, but analyze all the blood results myself, and if we run into anything serious I take those results and go to a specialty clinic.
Polly (our dog) is not with Banfield. She’s young enough that she doesn’t need dentals yet (her teeth have always been pristine), so it’s been cheaper and easier to simply get check-ups at clinics along the way.
Online Pet Pharmacies Are An Excellent Option
If you’re not with a centralized set of clinics like Banfield, or you simply want more flexible access to your pet meds, then online pet pharmacies can be an excellent alternative. As long as your vet is OK with using online pharmacies (not all are, so you just have to ask up-front), then it’s super easy to do too.
There are basically three ways to go about it:
- Mail In The Prescription: Your vet can write you a paper prescription which you can then send in by snail-mail to an online pharmacy.
- Call-In The Prescription: Your vet can call-in the prescription into an online pharmacy.
- Pharmacy Contacts the Vet: You can ask the online pharmacy to contact the vet to get the prescription.
We’ve mostly used #1 and #3 and we’ve done it multiple times, especially for stuff we need on a regular basis like heartworm meds for the dog. When you order the meds it’s just a question of clicking the option you want, and once the info is “in the system” re-orders are simple:
We’ve used several online several pharmacies over the years which we consider reliable. I recommend shopping around before you buy, as prices (and availability) can vary quite a bit between pharmacies. Also be aware that many pharmacies offer free shipping above a certain $$ purchase, but that usually means ground shipping which can take up to 7 days. So when you order, make sure you have enough time to get your meds before you move on to your next stop (when in doubt, we just order to our mail forwarding address and have it forwarded to our next stop from there). Here are our 3 top recommendations:
- Foster & Smith – (link HERE) We’ve used these guys extensively for Polly’s heartworm meds as well as for Taggarts hyperthyroid meds. Their prices are always competitive and they are one of the few guys who consistently stock Interceptor, which is the heartworm med that we prefer for Polly (she is sensitive to Ivermectin-type meds, so we focus exclusively on Milbemycin
Oxime-type meds -> a common thing with herding breeds).
- RoadRunner Pharmacy (link HERE) – We’ve not used these guys ourselves, but know many, many friends who’ve used them for compounded medicines (e.g. for cats who can absorb certain medications via transdermal gels on their ears). They tend to be pricier than some of the other guys, but they are one of the top compounders in the nation (very consistent quality), plus they often carry specialty meds that the other guys might not have.
- 1-800 Pet Meds (link HERE) – Big name, lots of users. We’ve used them a few times and they generally have competitive prices and good customer support.
Human Pharmacies Can Be Even Better
Did you know that many pet prescriptions can be fulfilled at human pharmacies, as long as there is a hooooman equivalent? There are actually a ton of advantages to this, including price and ease of fulfillment.
As an example, when Polly got diagnosed with Pannus we discussed med options in detail with the vet. Common meds for this condition include corticosteroids, cyclosporine, and tacrolimus, but they very TREMENDOUSLY in price and availability. When we chatted with the vet he offered us a pet-only option (which was only available through his clinic, and rather expensive I might add) or a human-type option which he admitted was likely going to be just as effective (but available everywhere, and much less expensive). Obviously we went for the latter.
Not all vets are willing to discuss human-based options, but the truth is that many pet meds are based on exact human equivalents, just in different doses or forms (e.g chewables versus pills). In my experience if you explain your RV situation (we’re always traveling, always in a different town), and ask specifically (is there a human form I can buy?) most vets will open up. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s always worth a try IMO.
If you can get a script for a human equivalent, you suddently have A LOT more flexibility:
- You Can Use GoodRX To “Shop Around”: If you’ve never used GoodRX for your cash-pay prescriptions, then go check it out RIGHT NOW! It’s free to use, and will likely save you a ton of $$$. We use the phone App version and once we know what med we need, we simply do a search and it spits out the cheapest coupon-cash price in all the nearest pharmacies. Then, once we’re at the pharmacy we just show them the coupon code (on the phone) and we’re good to go. We’ve often been astonished at the prices on GoodRX, and have found them to be much lower than any other method we’ve used (calling around, using other apps etc.). I honestly don’t really understand how or why this app works, but it just does.
- You Can Chose Your Pharmacy & “Automate” Your Refills: Many nomadic RVers will keep their human prescriptions at nationwide pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, or Walmart. Not only do these guys have physical locations just about everywhere, but as long as the prescription is not a controlled substance, it’s a simple matter of transferring the prescription from one location to the next as you travel down the road. In principle they’re all quite similar, except for price (which can vary quite a bit between pharmacies) and how exactly they handle refills in different cities. Some require that you walk-in or call-in to transfer your prescription. Others have online systems which allow you to do it automatically.
- You Don’t Have To Wait For The Mail (But You Can If You Wish): With human pharmacies you typically get the option to either pick-up your prescription in person or get it sent by mail. I prefer to pick-up meds when I can, but it’s wonderful to have the option to get them by mail too.
For Polly we wanted to make everything as automated as possible. I hate spending time standing in line at pharmacies, and I hate calling them even more. What I wanted was an option where I could just click a button and my phone and the script would automatically be delivered to the nearest pharmacy.
Walgreens was the winner!
Not only were their prices super competitive on GoodRX, but the Walgreen’s App is a BREEZE to use! Polly got her own profile as a family member-dog (managed by me), and once her prescription was in the system, I was able to do re-fills directly from the app with just a single click.
I simply clicked on the re-fill button in the app (or scanned the prescription bottle with my phone), then I chose the nearest pharmacy for delivery (wherever we were, nationwide) and I was DONE! A day or so later, I got a text that the prescription was ready for pick-up. Since I chose a Walgreens location w/ a drive-thro window, I didn’t even have to get out of the car to get the meds. I just breezed by and picked-up the script on the way home.
Zero calls, zero waiting in line, zero hassle. It literally couldn’t be any easier.
Always Ask For Refills And/Or Longer Term Prescriptions
The other thing I always recommend is to ask for multiple refills or longer-term prescriptions. This works for both humans and pets, and it REALLY simplifies your nomadic life.
If you get a script with multiple re-fills you don’t have to go back to another vet (in potentially another city) to get your pet re-checked and get the script re-issued. Instead you can simply store that prescription on file (say online or with a human pharmacy) and then re-fill the next time you need it. Not all vets will do this and some prescriptions require re-checks (e.g. a physical exam or blood test) before they can be re-issued, but if you have the option to do it, I highly recommend it.
As an example, for Polly’s Pannus we got a one-time initial prescription from a vet in PA, but then we had to get her re-checked a few months later to see if the prescription was doing its job. Once we got her re-checked (at an vet ophthalmologist in Rochester NY) and explained our traveling situation to him, he was happy to give me a prescription with 6 refills that would last us a year. Easy peasy.
Hope that was helpful! If you’ve got any pet prescription tips to share below, DO go ahead!!
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