Access to veterinary medicines is changing – and there’s a massive role for pharmacy to play, says a Sydney pet pharmacist
When animal lover and pharmacist Janet Lieu saw an opportunity to work in the veterinary medicine space, she jumped at it, saying the role brings together her two passions.
“I have always wanted to become a pharmacist from a young age of around 16 as I wanted to become involved in the community health sector,” says Ms Lieu, pharmacist in charge of Western Sydney’s Pet Care Pharmacy.
With more than 10 years in community pharmacy, six as a registered pharmacist, she has managed several pharmacies and done one significant rural placement while studying, and is now working to help pet lovers understand that there are more options than the vet when it comes to buying medicines for their animals.
She’s “always been an animal lover! Have had pets from a young age – from cats, dogs, guinea pigs, chickens, roosters, etc,” she told the AJP.
“I believe animals bring a lot of happiness to one’s life and now, especially more than ever, they are considered a part of our family.
“When I saw an opportunity to work in pharmacy in relation to animals I was intrigued to try it out.”
The availability of prescription animal medicines in pharmacy is still very new in Australia, says Ms Lieu.
“Originally vets were the ones who had access to these medicines and so vets were the only ones involved in the supply of prescription medicines to pets,” she says.
“With the rise of online businesses and e-commerce, we have seen a rise in the availability of prescription animal medicines available from pharmacies – both online and in your ‘standard’ bricks and mortar pharmacy.
“As in human prescribing, doctors aren’t typically involved in the supply of medicines for many different reasons.
“We believe the animal model is shifting towards that of the human model where consumers are given the option to choose where you purchase your medicines – both providing affordability due to competition as well as accessibility (especially in rural areas in Australia).”
Also as with human prescribing, the intent is not for the pharmacy to compete against the prescriber – in this case, the veterinarian – but to help ease the pressure on both vets and pet lovers alike.
“Our main goal is to not to work against the vets but to work alongside them – Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership and it is rising,” says Ms Lieu.
She cited 2016 Animal Medicines Australia statistics which showed there were more than 24 million pets in Australia, with 62% of households having a pet living there. Almost two in five households had a dog, and nearly three in 10 had a cat.
“Many people cannot afford the costs of owning a pet, especially with the high cost of living,” Ms Lieu told the AJP.
“We aim to take the strain off vets and let them focus on emergencies, consultations, surgeries, diagnostics, etc and let us handle the medicine side of things – especially when it comes to chronic conditions in pets – examples include hyper/hypothyroidism, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, arthritis, epilepsy etc – same as what we do with humans.”
The biggest challenge is awareness, as Australians are so accustomed to buying their medications direct from the vet.
“It does become a challenge breaking away from that,” Ms Lieu says. “Vets themselves can become a hurdle too as they are not legally obligated so supply prescriptions.
“Some vets will refuse to issue a prescription and thus only allows their clients to purchase it from them, which they are legally permitted to do. Some vets will charge substantial prescription fees too which can also deter clients from purchasing it elsewhere.
“At the end of the day they are running a competing business too but at the same time, we see a massive role for pharmacy to play in this industry which allows them to focus directly on their patients and giving them the best care they can.”
Pet Care Pharmacy is raising awareness of availability of medicines outside the vet clinic through social media, and through its involvement with the local community, including events.
“I think consumers, patients and pet owners need to be made aware of the availability of what they have access to – with major importance in affordability and accessibility.
“With our lives being so busy, people find it hard to make time to go out to book appointments with the vets to get their pets medications – when in reality, they can get it from a pharmacy and shipped direct to their home – making vet visits more for the purpose of medical examinations, check-ups and general review of the pet and their medical condition – same as what we do with humans.
She encouraged pharmacists who are uncomfortable filling veterinary scripts themselves to discuss options such as Pet Care Pharmacy with their patients’ owners.
“I know almost every pharmacist has done a script for pets (eg. Lovan) but when it comes to drugs they are unfamiliar about, many pharmacists I know just shrug the customer off and ask them to go to a compounding pharmacy, which isn’t actually necessary all the time.”
Ms Lieu says that her experience and expertise in community pharmacy is directly applicable to her work at Pet Care Pharmacy.
“At the end of the day we are still like any other pharmacy – the biggest difference is that we get to deal with pet medicines and pets as our patients themselves.
“Dispensing, counselling, calling prescribing vets regarding prescriptions and even just building our relationships with our customers are very much similar. We give advice and use our resources to provide the best care and advice we can get them. We refer when we deem necessary and know when we’re out of our depth.”