Don’t get duped by dupes

In this day and age, we know the risks of online shopping: you might end up with an item that isn’t quite what the image promised, like a pair of doll-sized pants. Of course, you think if you use a “trusted site” and read the fine print, you should be safe.


The top box is a legitimate box of Frontline, the bottom is a box ordered from an untrustworthy website.

It’s tempting to use whatever site offers the lowest price. While that may be a low-risk gamble for products such as clothes, office supplies, or home décor, it’s not the smartest choice for food products or medications – including for your pets.

That’s not to say it’s not safe to purchase your pets’ food or medications online. Some sites, such as our online pharmacy, are secure and obtain their products from legitimate sources, making them perfectly safe to use. Here’s why you should always go with a legitimate source for your pet’s food and meds – even if it costs a little more – and how to tell the real thing from the fake stuff.

Fake? Yes, fake.

Counterfeit medications for pets and for people are a big business. Here’s how it works. Overseas manufacturers create their own version of a popular medication, such as a flea preventive. They box it in an almost identical box to the real thing so that a casual shopper wouldn’t know they’re not buying the real product, or they put a real label on a cheap, fake product. Then they sell it in bulk at a very low cost to U.S. outlets, including online stores.

A hazard to your pet’s health
What could go wrong? The medication could be an incorrect dose or the wrong compound entirely. It could be a similar, but different, product with unexpected ingredients in it that could pose problems.

Even if the medication isn’t toxic to your pet, it could be ineffective, which leads to an indirect threat to their health. If you think your pet is protected against fleas, ticks, heartworms, and other parasites, for example, and they really aren’t, they could be susceptible to flea allergies, Lyme disease from tick bites, heartworms, and more.

You’re buying from an illegal source
Not only is buying unregistered or counterfeit pet products ill-advised, but the person or company you are purchasing from is running an illegal operation. In 2009, John Buerman, who ran an online business called CatsMart Plus, was charged with trafficking counterfeit goods and knowingly using a counterfeit mark, as well as with distributing and selling a misbranded pesticide.

Buerman was investigated after a woman purchased a product from his store and gave it to her cat, only to have her cat fall ill. Buerman received two years in federal prison, plus 3 years’ probation.

Similarly, in 2017, California businessmen Michael Chihwen Weng and Paul S. Rodriguez Jr. pled guilty to trafficking in counterfeit labels and packaging. The men intentionally trafficked counterfeit labels and packaging by manufacturing, then shipping to Houston, counterfeit and trademarked Frontline, Frontline Plus, and Merial veterinary products. He also trafficked counterfeit Rimadyl labels, a veterinary product from health company Zoetis. The men faced up to 10 years in prison, plus up to $2 million in fines.

As a consumer, you face no penalty for purchasing counterfeit products.

How to spot the real thing from the dupes
Different false products have different characteristics that distinguish them from real products. Some things to look for are:

  • Differences in weight between the outer package and the product inside
  • Lack of English instructions
  • Products not packaged in child-resistant packaging
  • Stickers on box to hide foreign labeling
  • EPA registration number missing
  • Product size is not appropriate for the animal weight listed on front of package (e.g., a large pill for a small dog)

However, many illicit products look very similar to the real thing, making it very hard to recognize it on sight. This is why you should strictly use products purchased from a reputable source, such as our in-house or online pharmacy. When products are purchased through us, they are guaranteed by the manufacturer.

If you have used a product that did not come from a trustworthy source, tell us the next time you bring your pet in for a visit. It’s possible your pet is perfectly healthy, but we want to make sure there are no underlying issues. You also can bring the products in so we can properly dispose of the product, or contact your local government to learn the protocol for disposing of medications.

If your pet has a reaction to a medication purchased from an unknown source, bring them to us or the nearest emergency veterinary hospital immediately. Bring the product, if possible, so we can determine exactly what your pet has ingested.