Pets, Vets, and Retail Outlets
Last year, U.S. pet owners spent over $50 billion on their pets. That’s a lot of puppy chow, chew toys, and rhinestone collars. But it also reflects significant expenditures for pet health products and services, including veterinary office visits and medicines. In fact, in 2011 American consumers spent nearly $7 billion on pet medications alone.
Clearly this market is important to consumers and their furry family members, which is why the FTC is paying close attention. On October 2, 2012, we’ll be hosting a workshop to explore issues relating to cost, access, quality, and safety of pet medications — and we welcome public comment and participation.
Most consumers buy their prescription and non-prescription pet medications directly from a veterinarian. But did you know that some pet medications are now available at retail outlets and pharmacies, including online sources?
For non-prescription medications like flea-and-tick preventatives, consumers may not know they can buy these products elsewhere. Or perhaps they question whether products sold by retail outlets and pharmacies are of the same high quality as the products sold by their veterinarians. In addition, most manufacturers of pet medications choose to sell their products exclusively to veterinarians, which may limit what’s available at retail outlets and pharmacies.
For prescription products, consumers may prefer the convenience of buying pet medications during vet visits, especially when they need a medicine immediately to treat a sick pet. But what if a pet needs a long-term maintenance drug that requires a prescription, like heartworm preventatives? Can people buy medications from other places, maybe at a lower price? But to comparison shop, consumers need a “portable” written prescription from a veterinarian, one they can take with them to have filled at an online or brick-and-mortar pharmacy. Some states require veterinarians to provide portable prescriptions to consumers upon request, but others don’t.
The FTC workshop will examine competition and consumer protection issues in the market for pet medications. Veterinarians, manufacturers, retailers, economists and others will discuss current limits on prescription portability, and the pros and cons of manufacturer restrictions on the distribution of pet medications. Panelists also will discuss lessons learned from the FTC’s enforcement of the Contact Lens Rule, which requires eye care providers to give consumers a written prescription so that they can shop around for contact lenses at a variety of retailers.
The workshop — which is free and open to the public — will be held at the FTC’s Conference Center, 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., in Washington, DC. (Sorry, humans only. No pets, please!) There will be a live webcast of the event for those who cannot attend, and we plan to take questions via Twitter at #FTCpets.
Some topics up for discussion:
- To what extent are consumers aware they can request a portable prescription from their veterinarian and have the prescription filled elsewhere?
- What are the price and non-price benefits to consumers of prescription portability for pet medications?
- To what extent do retailer prices for pet medications affect the prices of medications sold at veterinary practices, or other aspects of veterinary clinic operations?
- What are the business rationales for various pet medications distribution practices, and how has competition to sell pet medications evolved in light of these practices?
- How do current distribution practices affect prices, supply, and quality of pet medications?
- How do industry distribution practices and prescription portability for pet medications affect consumer choice?
- Are there significant similarities or differences between the contact lens industry and the pet medications industry, particularly with respect to industry distribution practices and issues of prescription portability? Can lessons learned from consumer experiences in the contact lens industry can be applied to the pet medications industry?