Could pet meds be the new flu shots?

Two new retailers launch prescription pet med programs

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — The past two weeks have seen two new additions to the list of retailers selling prescription drugs for pets, showing that this space, while still small, is growing in importance and offers a good way for retailers to drive customer traffic.

(THE NEWS: Kmart and Kerr Drug launch pet med programs. Click here and here to read the stories.)

As Drug Store News reported in its April 23 Annual Report issue, two key trends are converging to make drugs for animals an increasingly important component of the prescription drug category, to say nothing of OTC products.

First, there's a growth in pet ownership, driven by younger people putting off having children and older people becoming empty nesters and looking for "fur kids" to replace the human ones who have moved out. Second, like their human owners, pets are living longer and becoming more susceptible to chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

At the moment, the pet drug category is dominated by veterinarian offices, which have traditionally been able to buy animal-specific drugs directly from manufacturers, while retailers have to go through distributors and thus pay extra, though many human drugs dispensed at lower doses can be used in animals as well. But even if, for the time being, retailers can't guarantee the lower prices that vets can, they can offer convenience. Offering pet meds in a retail pharmacy allows customers to pick up all their drugs at once, and the fact that many retailers launching pet med programs are also hiring vets who can answer customers' questions only adds to the convenience.

Another thing that might help is a bill going through Congress, H.R. 1406, the Fairness to Pet Owners Act of 2011, which would require vets to allow pet owners to have prescriptions filled anywhere instead of making them obtain drugs at the office.

According to Packaged Facts, sales of pet medications through online and brick-and-mortar retailers and veterinarian offices reached $6.7 billion in 2011. That's not a huge number compared with, say, the annual sales of a single blockbuster human drug, but analysts think pet meds could be a way to bring more customers into stores, whether or not they make a lot of money in and of themselves, thus benefitting retailers in the same way that vaccinations do.

And the retailers that offer pet meds — ranging from national chains to independent pharmacies — have reiterated variations of the same point: One's family comprises more than just its bipedal members.

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