Why do I need to visit the vet to get a prescription for my pet?

by Dr. Francesca Matthews


This is a question frequently asked by clients contacting their veterinarian. 


Veterinarians are bound by the ACVM Act (1997), which stands for Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act (1997).

For those of you that are into the details of government legislation, click here to read in detail.


For those who want a brief summary this is what it means in lay terms:

Animals taking controlled medications (that is, those that must have a veterinarian's approval to be dispensed) must be under the direct care of the veterinarian. This means we need to have seen the animal and determined either by clinical examination alone or in combination with other diagnostic techniques that the medication prescribed is appropriate.


Veterinarians are also bound by the Veterinarians Act, which among many other things requires a 'Duty of Care' by us to the animals we act as veterinarian to.


I think we are all pretty clear why a prescription is needed for the first time a pet presents with a problem. The confusion usually occurs when a pet has recurrent needs for the same medication.




Let's consider some specific examples:


Recurrent ear infections


Your dog has previously had an ear infection - let's say 6 months ago - and you are sure he has the same symptoms again. So you call us and ask for another bottle of the same ear drops as last time.

The answer will be no, because:

  • There are many causes of ear infections. The chosen medication may vary depending on the cause.
  • The ear drum may not be intact. If this is the case, then we can't put medications into the ear because they are toxic in the cases of ruptured ear drums. Over the phone this cannot be determined.
  • Depending on the severity of the condition, ear swabs may be recommended to determine the exact causes of the condition.
  • Cases of recurrent conditions need to be investigated for other potential underlying causes that may need attention. For example, with ears there could be an underlying food allergy, or it could be the animal's environmental conditions that make it prone to ear infections.



Recurrent Conjunctivitis


As with ear infections, with recurrent conjunctivitis we will need to see your pet to determine that it is a primary conjunctivitis or whether there is involvement of other parts of the eye. If scratched, the cornea in particular requires different treatment.



Cat Fights


You may have a cat that is continually in fights and you feel like you are continually visiting us at the vet clinic getting more of the same and wish you could just have a supply at home.


Again, this is not possible due to the above acts. A veterinarian must see your cat to determine that the problem is primarily bite wounds. They will also be checking there are no other problems evident and then choose the most appropriate treatment.


Cats continually in fights risk exposing themselves to FIV (the cat version of the human HIV virus) and your veterinarian may talk to you about this. They may recommend you consider further tests and vaccinating against it if a test for FIV is negative.



Why does my dog who has arthritis and will have it for life need to see the veterinarian every six months to continue getting its medication?


This is another common question and applies to all animals on long term medications, including hormone treatments for example. If you were on a long term medication you would also be required to see your GP at regular intervals too, in order to continue getting your medication.

Animal medications just like human medications have side effects. These can be more pronounced the longer an animal is on the medication.


Regular check ups allow your veterinarian to monitor for potential problems of medications as well as pick up new problems that may develop over time.


It is also essential that we see your pet regularly to ensure the medication is having the desired effect on the condition. Over time a medication may not work as well, or new medications may become available and these regular check ups facilitate these checks and changes as required.


As veterinarians, we are trained professionals that have the best interests of your pet in mind. The governing acts, laws and regulations help further to ensure the best interests of your pet are met. Visits prior to receiving medications and check ups for ongoing supply of medications are an essential part of this.


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