Q: Our six dogs and cats are on preventives throughout the year to protect them from heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks. We want to continue buying them from our veterinarian, but he can't match the prices we found online.
A friend learned the hard way, though, that some online pharmacies sell counterfeit medications. How can we be sure we're getting the real thing?
A: Buying drugs from an online pharmacy does present risks. Most manufacturers guarantee medications dispensed by your veterinarian but not those shipped from an online pharmacy. One reason is that freezing winter weather and summer heat and humidity can affect the potency and stability of drugs and vaccines.
In addition, many online pharmacies sell counterfeit or adulterated medications made by companies that ignore federal and state drug laws. One hint that a pharmacy isn't legitimate is that it doesn't require you to provide a prescription for a prescription-only medication such as heartworm prevention.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy investigated more than 25,000 online sources of prescription medications and found that only 5% comply with U.S. laws and industry standards. Many of the others are rogue pharmacies that distribute drugs that are useless or even harmful.
To address these problems, the association established the ".pharmacy" web address available only to legitimate pharmacies. The association thoroughly evaluates each internet pharmacy, investigating the entire supply chain, from the manufacturer through the distributor to the pharmacy dispensing the medication to the consumer.
You can feel confident buying from a ".pharmacy" website. To find these reputable pharmacies in the United States, Canada and elsewhere, visit Safe Pharmacy's website. Or buy directly from your veterinarian.
Q: My 2-year-old cat has had recurrent episodes of urinating outside the litter box, straining to urinate and producing bloody urine. His veterinarian, who ruled out bladder stones, infection and other diseases, diagnosed Pandora syndrome and recommended environmental enrichment. Amazingly, it's working. Please educate me.
A: Pandora syndrome, sometimes called feline idiopathic cystitis, is a group of physical manifestations of an abnormal stress response system. Pandora syndrome can't be cured, but it can be successfully managed.
In addition to recurrent urinary problems, these cats usually have another medical or behavioral condition that waxes and wanes, such as obesity, regurgitation, diarrhea or excessive grooming.
Cats diagnosed with Pandora syndrome often have a history of early abandonment or other trauma. They tend to be nervous, exhibiting heightened vigilance and slower return to normal behavior after a stressful event.
These cats differ from normal cats in physical ways, too. The region of their spinal cord that receives sensory nerve signals is larger, and they are more sensitive to pain.
At rest and during stressful events, a Pandora cat's nervous system produces higher levels of some neurotransmitters, particularly those related to stress. As a result, their response to external stressors, such as sudden noise, is more pronounced.
Their adrenal glands are smaller and function less well in response to stress. Moreover, the structure of the Pandora cat's bladder wall is abnormal.
While dietary modification and increased water intake have proved helpful, the most effective treatment is environmental enrichment.
The first step in lessening resource-related stress is to offer at least one more of each important resource than the number of cats you have. So, if you have two cats, you should provide at least three sleeping areas, food and water bowls, litter boxes and scratching posts.
For additional recommendations, read "What Your Cat Needs to Feel Secure" in the Cat Care at Home section of catfriendly.com.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at