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Thinking about stocking veterinary products in your pharmacy? Read on!

With remuneration for NHS prescriptions continually decreasing, there is no better time than to consider expanding your business with veterinary products. Rob Morris explains

Dog and cat

Dog and cat

Source: Tzooka/Dreamstime.com

Jungles can be forbidding places for the unprepared. You need a good guide, the right equipment and, most of all, courage — think Indiana Jones! Entering the veterinary medicines jungle is challenging but ultimately rewarding in terms of added knowledge and skills for your pharmacy team, not forgetting increased pharmacy profitability. In the current economic climate that has to be worth considering. Have you ever thought about how many pets there are in the UK? Take a look at the chart and you might be surprised by the figures.

Consequently the value of the pharmaceuticals used in this market is about £550m at consumer prices (source: National Office of Animal Health, March 2013). That is a lot of medicine required to keep pets healthy and free from disease but, to most pharmacists, veterinary pharmacy is a jungle they have not dared enter for fear of encountering animal species and products they know nothing about and complex legislation to hack through.

Who supplies the medicines?

At the top of the medicines supply food chain in this jungle are the veterinary surgeons who, with their extensive training and skills, can diagnose, treat, prescribe and dispense medicines to animals under their care. Vets can be territorial and not keen to share their “prey” with others. However, this attitude is partly because pharmacists have shown little interest or knowledge of veterinary medicines, hence the perception that pharmacists are indifferent and do not deserve any share of it. This needs to change and that is a big challenge for pharmacy in order to be taken seriously by customers and allied health professionals.

Further down the food chain are the large-animal health trade outlets which employ Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs) to prescribe and supply mainly farm animal medicines for parasite control. There are also SQPs in the large pet stores who supply mainly flea and worm treatments to customers. And at the bottom of the food chain we have the general sale list-type veterinary medicines associated with supermarket shelves and garden centres. Again, these include many simple flea and worm treatments that can be bought without any advice.

Pharmacists were on the verge of “extinction” in this jungle until legislation changes brought new pharmacy-type medicines (NFA-VPS; non-food animal medicine — veterinarian, pharmacist, SQP) to the market in 2007. Many will be familiar with fipronil products for fleas but the market can be so much more than that.

So where does the pharmacist come in and should he or she risk going into the veterinary jungle or steer well clear? With veterinary medicines, the amount of preparation and knowledge is not that challenging for a highly trained health professional. Help is also at hand with a comprehensive range of postgraduate courses that we will come back to later. Further good news is that most of the medicines used in animals (particularly those on prescription) are familiar to pharmacists.

An example of how it can be done

If you need any convincing about the potential for veterinary medicines in your pharmacy then take a trip to Derbyshire to see how Manor Pharmacy Group does it. It has 65 pharmacies in the East Midlands with a large proportion of its over-the-counter medicines turnover derived from medicines for cats and dogs.

These are not the types of product sold in pet shops and garden centres but ones you would associate with veterinary practices. In fact 10 per cent of its veterinary sales come from POM-V products where the owner brings in a veterinary prescription (as rare as hens’ teeth in most community pharmacies).

The director of Manor Pharmacy Group, Andrew Evans, says: “Veterinary medicines have huge potential in every community pharmacy. In the past pharmacists thought you had to be in the countryside to sell veterinary products but that isn’t the case; 60 per cent of your customers have either a cat or dog in their household and they need medicines, usually on a monthly basis. Considering most pet owners visit the vet once a year the convenience and opportunity for pharmacies to supply professional vet-type products is very clear.”

Panel 1 below shows examples of sales from different types of pharmacy that you could realistically expect to achieve in the current market. In the case of this particular company, veterinary medicines are the third biggest OTC sector after pain relief and cough and cold.

Panel 1: Example of sales from different pharmacies

Pharmacy type

NHS items per month 

Monthly OTC sales (ex VAT) 

Monthly vet sales (ex VAT) 

Busy town high street 

5,400 

£33,000 

£6,700 (20 per cent) 

Busy dispensing 

5,400 

£19,800 

£9,000 (45 per cent) 

Village pharmacy 

5,800 

£9,000 

£3,500 (39 per cent) 

Below is a typical example of breakdown by type of product:

  • Ectoparasites 38 per cent
  • Diet/nutrition 20 per cent
  • Endoparasites 12 per cent
  • POM-V 10 per cent
  • Other 15 per cent
  • Horse 5 per cent

It is not surprising that half of the turnover is in medicines for ecto- and endoparasite control (fleas and worms) in cats and dogs. These products include Frontline and Drontal (and the generic equivalents) that are already stocked by many pharmacies.

Interestingly a healthy 20 per cent of turnover is in “diet/nutrition” or prescription diets, which a pet is usually on for life. Mr Evans says: “We never intentionally went out to chase this business, but as our sales of veterinary medicines grew our customers started to ask us about diets, particularly vet-only or prescription diets, the main brands being Royal Canin and Hills.”
The “Other” category includes products for pets’ ears, teeth and behaviour, not forgetting the household flea sprays which are also used routinely by many pet owners. Traditionally, horse wormers were often sold in pharmacies but it has become a price-led online business and hence specialised.

Another interesting category is “POM-V”, or prescription turnover, whereby the pharmacy is dispensing POM-V medicines routinely used by animal owners. Like elderly human patients, many old dogs are on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and cardiovascular therapies such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, diuretics and the like.

Making your customers aware that you can supply these products is imperative if you are to develop your pharmacy as an alternative source of supply to the vet. That may sound rather confrontational but the upside is that you can refer a lot of animal health issues to the vet in return so it can be mutually beneficial.

So the message is to think veterinary POMs, not pet store medicines because, although pharmacists are not allowed to advertise POMs, they are allowed to advertise their availability in the form of a price list to customers. POM-V products typically dispensed by pharmacists include:

  • Ciclosporins, such as optimmune eye ointment and Atopica capsules
  • NSAIDs, such as Metacam (meloxicam) and Rimadyl (carprofen)
  • Vetmedin, a calcium sensitiser with positive inotropic and vasodilator effects
  • Advocate Spot-on, which contains imidacloprid and moxidectin for treating fleas and worms
  • Propalin Liquid, a sympathomimetic agent used in urinary incontinence
  • Epiphen, which contains phenobarbital

How to make yourself competitive

You should think about the following if you are to make your veterinary pharmacy business competitive.

Define your target market

Target pet owners — 60 per cent of pharmacy customers have a cat or dog. Do not ignore niche markets such as equine and farm animal if appropriate in your locality.

Ensure bold merchandising

Ensure you give a veterinary range due prominence in the pharmacy. Keep repeating the mantra “Think vet, not pet”. Be seen as a viable alternative to obtaining animal medicines from the vet. Place them with other medicines and use manufacturers’ display material if not your own.

Training and VPEP

Pharmacists often think veterinary medicines is a completely new sphere. It is not. In fact pharmacists know a lot more about the drugs than most vets ever will. However, it is the application within the certain species that need to be learnt.

For pharmacists who want to formalise their training there are a number of courses that have been developed in conjunction with Harper Adams University in Shropshire.

Steven Kayne, course director for the Veterinary Pharmacy Education Programme (VPEP), says: “Registered pharmacists are legally able to dispense and supply veterinary medicines without further training, but in practice many would have difficulty applying the legal requirements and dealing with enquiries from clients confidently.

Our collaboration with Harper Adams, Britain’s first Agricultural University in Shropshire, has led to the establishment of a range of qualifications largely by distance learning, from certificates, diplomas and even a master’s in veterinary pharmacy. This programme provides training for pharmacists and their staff to support involvement in the veterinary sector at different levels.” (Details at www.vpep.net.)

The manufacturers in this sector also provide some good training material suitable for pharmacists and counter assistants so get in touch with the likes of Merial, Bayer and Ceva, which all have suitable medicines for supply from pharmacies.

Marketing and advertising

Be clear about your message:

  • Competitive prices — “Vets can be expensive for animal owners”
  • Convenience — “Your pharmacy stocks the same medicines as the vet but is more convenient”
  • One-stop shop — “Your pharmacy can treat everyone in the family, including pets”

The main thing is to promote POMs and non-medicines as well as the pharmacy NFA-VPS category. Approximately one-third of all animal products (household flea sprays, dental, ear and pet behaviour products) are not classed as medicines and 10 per cent are POMs.

Therefore, although 57 per cent are NFA-VPS medicines, do not solely concentrate on this category. Another tip is to make sure you target your existing customers first; they will be most receptive because they already know and trust you.

Conclusion

Finally, you may be wondering how to get hold of veterinary medicines since it has been difficult in the past. Several short-line wholesalers stock a reasonable range and can supply veterinary POMs if asked. As your business grows you should consider sourcing from specialist veterinary wholesalers because they are happy to supply pharmacies with a good level of sales and deliver daily.
So, have you plucked up the courage to enter the veterinary jungle? Go on, I dare you.

Rob Morris is a veterinary pharmacy consultant at Roma Consulting, and chairman of the Veterinary Pharmacy Forum, Royal Pharmaceutical Society
(Email rob@woottonpharmacies.co.uk)

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11131458

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