“Could I please refill my dog’s or cat’s prescription?”

“Yes, no problem,” is the answer if your pet has been examined at the veterinary hospital for that problem in the past year and received the medication during that visit and this is the medication that you are now requesting a refill for, according to the California Veterinary Medical Association.

Clients are so relieved to get refills for flea and tick medications, pain medications for their dogs’ arthritis, cardiac drugs, seizure medications, medications for thyroid disease and medications to stop the intense itch of skin allergies, to name a few.

This refill policy also applies to injectable medications that are typically administered on a timely basis, such as once a month. These medications include injections of cytopoint for itchy skin, Percorten for Addison’s disease and adequan injections given for arthritis.

These injections will typically include a technician charge for administering them, but not an examination. An examination is required only if your dog or cat’s symptoms have changed since your last exam, which may indicate a need to adjust the dose or frequency of your medication; or perhaps the need for your veterinarian to prescribe a different medication and run new diagnostic tests.

An example of this is a dog with diabetes. You are giving daily insulin injections and want to have the insulin refilled, you had an examination less than a year prior but your dog or cat is now drinking and urinating more than normal.

It is necessary to recheck their blood sugar levels to be sure the insulin dose is still keeping their blood sugar at a controlled level and to check if they have developed an insulin resistance to that type of insulin and are in need a new type.

At this examination the veterinarian will discuss the insulin injections, asking how much you give, when you give them, how you give them, where you store them, as well as what and when you feed your dog in case the symptoms are from “owner compliance.”

Your veterinarian may draw a blood sample and get a urine sample to evaluate the diabetes and possibly run a glucose curve to evaluate how well your dogs’ blood sugar is being controlled in an eight-hour period.

Another example of the need for an examination instead of a simple refill is if your pet is having a new issue, such as a dog with chronic skin allergies that has now developed an odor coming from their ears or redness and/or pain. This dog needs an examination to treat for a possible ear infection or even foxtail in the ear.

In human medicine, all prescriptions issued by a licensed physician in California must now be done electronically. California prescribers must transmit electronic prescriptions (no paper/faxed/oral prescriptions).

There are a few exceptions to this new law but it covers most prescriptions. One exception is for veterinarians, who can still write a prescription and fax or call it into a pharmacy, as well as send them electronically to pharmacies.

Online pharmacies for animal medications are another topic. The easiest way to fill prescriptions is through your veterinarian, who will typically have it in stock. If you prefer, your veterinarian can write or call in a prescription to a local pharmacy.

Or your veterinarian can write you a prescription for your pal that you can fill at an online pharmacy, but beware that some websites sell medicine that may not be safe to use and could put your pal at risk. There are websites that sell medicines that are not from state-licensed pharmacies in the United States or aren’t from pharmacies at all.

The Food & Drug Administration has found that some medicines sold online are counterfeit or “copycat” medicines. They may be too strong or too weak, have dangerous ingredients, are expired, are not FDA-approved (which means they haven’t been checked for safety and effectiveness) and aren’t made using safe standards. Some drugs may not be labeled, stored or shipped correctly.

Be sure the online pharmacy that you use meets state and federal rules. Click here to find a Certified VIPPS Online Pharmacy.

A safe website should be licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the website is operating, have a licensed pharmacist to answer your questions, require a prescription from your veterinarian, and have a way for you to talk to a person if you have questions about the medication or problems with it.

Many veterinarary hospitals gladly — well, maybe sometimes grudgingly — will write you a prescription you can have filled at the pharmacy of your choice. Veterinarians do not have an adequate working relationship established with most internet/mail-order pharmacies and, because of the unknown conditions encountered in transport and storage of medications, the unknown source of products and the uncertain legal status of some pharmacies, it is many veterinary hospitals’ policy not to authorize or approve prescription requests sent to them by fax or email from internet/mail-order pharmacies. But, they will write you a prescription you can use online.

On the other hand, veterinarians typically have a working relationship with local pharmacies and pharmacists. A question to ask yourself is would you be comfortable ordering the medications that you take online? And are you willing to potentially risk the health of your pet to save a few dollars? The few dollars that might be saved are used by your veterinarian to guarantee that all of their medications are purchased through reputable drug companies.

A few years ago I had a cat come into my hospital with a large bald spot on the back of his neck that was inflamed. The owner said it came within a day of application of a topical flea medication, which he had purchased from an online pharmacy. He showed us the box and, by chance, the representative of the company that made that product was visiting our hospital. She told the client that her company would pay for any treatment and refund what he had paid for the flea product.

I treated the cat while the representative contacted her company. As it turned out, the box the flea medication came in appeared to be identical to the one the company sold, but the serial number was not from their company. It was fake. This medication came from South Korea and who knows what was in it. The representative paid for the cat’s care and said this was not an uncommon occurrence from online pharmacies.

Please check out your online pharmacy choices. The cat healed fine with medications but was bald in that spot for about four months. Oh yeah, the owner got his flea medications at our hospital after that.

— Dr. Bonnie Franklin is a relief veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine from a joint program of Washington State and Oregon State universities, a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and does consulting work with the U.S. Forest Service. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Dr. Bonnie Franklin is a relief veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine from a joint program of Washington State and Oregon State universities, a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and does consulting work with the U.S. Forest Service. The opinions expressed are her own.