Pet health: Animals to the rescue?

Could the pet health category help to replace some of the income pharmacies are losing through funding cuts, service decommissioning and falling NHS remuneration?


Learning objectives

After reading this feature you should be able to:

  • Identify those healthcare issues that have the biggest impact on pets
  • Raise awareness of the importance of regular preventative healthcare in companion animals
  • Merchandise OTC animal medicines effectively and advise on their use.


There is a greater need than ever to help support and educate pet owners, according to the vet charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA). Several online pharmacies have expanded their business into the pet health market, offering prescription and non-prescription veterinary medicines, pet food, toys and accessories at discounted prices – so should community pharmacies be doing the same?

Julia Powell from the Paydens Pharmacy group, which offers pet medicines online and in-store, says that pet health is currently a minor category for most pharmacies, with only a handful offering an extensive product range.

“The advantages of pharmacies offering the service include their locations, the lack of need for an appointment and long opening hours,” she says. “There are an estimated 3 million pet owners entering a community pharmacy each day, so there is an opportunity for pharmacies to promote an awareness of animal health issues.”

It is estimated that pharmacy has less than 10 per cent of the market and there is plenty of opportunity to increase this, she says. “For example, half of the 7-8 million cats in the UK appear not to be wormed. Of those that are, few are being wormed four times a year, as recommended.”

Pet medicines category explained

The latest figures from the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) reveal that the UK market for animal medicines in the 12 months to June 2015 was worth around £618 million. Over half of animal medicine sales, by value, are for companion animals (i.e. dogs, cats and rabbits).

POM-V medicines, which can only be prescribed by a vet, account for 75.7 per cent of the market. POM-VPS medicines, which can be prescribed by a vet, pharmacist or other Suitably Qualified Person (SQP), account for 17.1 per cent of sales; NFAVPS (the equivalent of P-medicines) 6.1 per cent and AVM-GSL (GSL medicine equivalents) 1.1 per cent.

According to the Retail of Veterinary Medicines Guidance from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), published in June 2015, “a pharmacist supplying veterinary medicines (other than ones classified as AVM-GSL) must be present when they are handed over, unless the pharmacist authorises each transaction individually before the product is supplied or is satisfied that the person who hands it over is competent to do so”. It is therefore essential that pharmacists, and/or their teams, are trained to deal with animal medicines in the same way that they advise on the human equivalents. 

“Every pharmacist can dispense prescriptions from a vet, but it is important that they are familiar with the products they supply,” says Rob Morris of Roma Consulting and chair of the RPS Veterinary Pharmacy Forum. A lot of pharmacies have taken advantage of the reclassification of flea and worming products as over half of their customers have either a dog or cat in the household. The legislation, he says, has enabled them to stock, advise on and sell NFA-VPS products.

Emma Charlesworth, Numark’s marketing manager, says that, historically, there has been very little support for pharmacy in understanding the changes in the regulation of animal medicines over recent years and how to maximise the opportunity. “The multiples have got behind this more than independents, with Boots and LloydsPharmacy, for instance, having mobile floor displays and other fixtures displaying flea and worm treatments,” she says.

“I think the multiples have been faster to identify the income potential and independents should really take note. Another reason for independents not embracing this category more is a lack of knowledge. I have seen only limited training support available from manufacturers.”

Training essentials

Pet stores are pharmacies’ biggest competitors for flea and worming products. According to the Pet Industry Federation, there are around 3,500 pet shops in the UK. Independent retailers are usually privately owned and managed, but pet superstores, pet shop chains and garden centres with a pet section require trained staff to be present at all times.

“All big pet stores have a Suitably Qualified Person on site who is responsible for the sale of NFA-VPS products,” says Rob Morris. “It is a bone of contention with them that some pharmacies sell these products without having suitable training in place.

“Pharmacists must treat NFA-VPS products as any other P medicine and ensure they ask the right questions and offer appropriate advice to animal owners. It is essential that they check whether the owner can competently use the medicine, the weight of the animal and whether there could be any contraindications. Further training is available through the RPS Veterinary Pharmacy Education Programme (VPEP.net) in the form of a Companion Animal Certificate.”

PDSA vet Vicki Larkham-Jones agrees that pharmacists have an important role to play in the supply of pet medicines, as long as they have had the right training. “Pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals and know when to send someone back to their GP, or vet in the case of a pet’s health,” she says.

“It is important that customers visit their vet for specific advice. Pets need to be weighed for the correct dosing of medicines – most pharmacies won’t have the right equipment available – and any health problems need to be assessed. That said, with the right knowledge and training, pharmacists can dispense POM-V and POM-VPS medicines, and sell NFA-VPS and AVM-GSL medicines, and become involved in keeping pets healthy and happy.”

Shelf space

If pharmacies wish to expand their range of pet products, they need to decide how much space they have available. “Pharmacies need to be competitive and look at local pet stores,” says Rob Morris. “They could offer a small range of AVM-GSL products, which can be placed out on the pharmacy shelves – for example, certain flea, worm and dental products – and place dummy packs of NFA-VPS medicines on the shelves, so customers know they can go to the pharmacy counter.

Consumers are very aware of key pet health brands, such as Frontline and Drontal, so will identify with them if these are displayed in-store.”

Julia Powell suggests pharmacists begin by stocking worming, flea and tick treatments. “Stock the market-leading brands, as this gives a good start to involvement in a new sector, and customer awareness and satisfaction leads to repeat purchases,” she says.

“There is plenty of advertising and promotional material available from the product manufacturers to create a visually impactful and informative display. There should be an emphasis on the advice rather than the product – for example, how often cats should be wormed.”

The PDSA is planning to launch a range of nutraceutical products later this year and pharmacies may be an ideal outlet, says Vicki Larkham-Jones. “Nutraceuticals, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, in particular, are ideal products for pharmacists to supply to pet owners,” she says. “Increasing the availability of other products, such as shampoos, skin supplements and ear cleaners, may be more convenient for customers rather than visiting a local pet shop.”

Pet owners aren’t used to the concept of buying animal medicines from pharmacies, so marketing is essential. “We need to educate consumers that they can access pet medicines from pharmacy,” says Emma Charlesworth. “To create interest within the pharmacy, a stand is useful for both visibility of the category and self-selection of products. People need to know that you stock pet products and you should make use of any point-of-sale materials supplied by manufacturers.” However, don’t get carried away with what you stock, she cautions.

“There is little evidence to suggest that pharmacies should expand pet medicine ranges beyond cat and dog treatments, unless their location or customer base indicates otherwise. The category is comparatively new and the real growth appears to be within flea and worm treatments at this stage.”

Linking categories

One way pharmacists can approach the subject of pet health is to relate it to the health of their customers. “If customers come in with flea bites, pharmacists can ask if they have a pet and mention the importance of regular flea, tick and worming treatments. Likewise, if pets have fleas, pharmacists can offer suitable bite treatments and advice for their owners. Pharmacists can also discuss pet obesity if they are speaking to customers about their own weight.”

Andrew Bucher, co-founder and chief veterinary officer of MedicAnimal, an online pet healthcare retailer, says pharmacists should increase the awareness of diseases that can be transmitted to humans by ticks and worms, such as Lyme disease, Toxocara canis and toxoplasmosis.

“Every dog and cat needs to be wormed regularly to reduce the shedding of infective eggs,” he says. “This can be monthly or quarterly depending on the treatment used. Pharmacists need to know their limits in terms of what they can recommend without a prescription and refer to a vet should they have any doubts.

“There are cases where using a prescription medicine for the pet would be preferable to using a combination of nonprescription medicines to provide proper preventative healthcare. This is particularly true with the prevention and treatment of lungworm in dogs and cats.”

Half of the seven to eight million cats in the UK appear not to be wormed

Pet health and welfare

The 2014 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report identified obesity and problem behaviour as the biggest issues for UK pets. A lack of awareness of preventive health measures, such as vaccinations and neutering, is also a major concern.

Obesity and exercise

According to the PDSA, a third of dogs and a quarter of cats are now classed as overweight or obese. Many overweight pets develop potentially life-threatening and/or debilitating conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis.

In February, the PDSA warned that bad diets are fuelling the pet obesity crisis, with many owners giving their pets fatty, sugary and, in some cases, dangerous foods (e.g. chocolate). Over 4 million pets are actually fed table scraps or leftovers as their main meals.

All animals need regular exercise, whether it is a daily walk for dogs, access to the outdoors for cats or a wheel or exercise ball for a hamster. If pets don’t have the opportunity or space to exercise regularly, this can result in abnormal behavioural patterns as well as ill health and obesity.

Tick advice

According to the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET), mid-spring is when ticks become more prevalent. As well as causing local skin irritation and infections, they can also transmit diseases such as Lyme disease and tick-borne fever. Lyme disease causes a wide range of symptoms in humans, including a circular red ‘bull’s eye’ rash, headaches, a stiff neck, extreme fatigue, and muscle and joint pain.

People who have been walking in tick-infested areas should thoroughly check themselves (including their clothing) and their animals afterwards. Any ticks should be carefully removed using an approved method. Pet owners should also speak to their vet about using one of several tick treatments on their pets.


From April 6 this year, it became a legal requirement in Wales, England and Scotland to have a dog microchipped and to keep the details up-to-date. Compulsory microchipping was introduced for horses in 2009. Other animals, such as cats and rabbits, can also be microchipped; their suitability will depend on their species, size and condition. If the animal is lost, injured or stolen, the microchip can be scanned and matched to the owner’s contact details, which are kept on a database.


In February, animal welfare charities, including the PDSA, revealed that more than 850,000 cats in the UK have had unplanned litters, leaving many owners struggling to find suitable homes for the kittens. The charities warned that a lack of neutering could lead to a population explosion. Neutering not only avoids the risk of an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy but also reduces a cat’s risk of contracting diseases such as cancer or FIV – the feline equivalent of HIV.


Cats, dogs and rabbits need vaccinations from an early age and, in some cases, an annual booster, so owners should make sure vaccinations are up-to-date. Dogs are routinely vaccinated against canine parvovirus, canine distemper virus, leptospirosis and infectious canine hepatitis, and possibly the kennel cough virus. Cats should be routinely vaccinated against feline infectious enteritis, feline herpes virus, feline calicivirus and feline leukaemia virus (if at high risk). Rabbits should be routinely vaccinated against myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease.

Passive smoking

In October 2015, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) encouraged pet owners to avoid smoking for their pets’ benefit. This coincided with new laws that state it is illegal to smoke in a car (or other vehicle) with anyone under 18 years of age.

“There is evidence that tobacco smoke increases the risks of lung and nasal cancers in dogs and of lymphoma in cats,” says Ross Allan of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association. “Many owners might be more likely to give up tobacco for the sake of their pet if they realised the consequence of their smoking.”


Key facts

  • Pet owners should be encouraged to avoid smoking for the benefit of their pets
  • A third of dogs and a quarter of cats are now classed as overweight or obese
  • Pharmacy teams can approach the subject of pet health by relating it to the health of their customers

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