In the last 20 years, the percentage of U.S. households owning pets has risen from just over half to more than two-thirds. Those 85 million families spend generously on their animals, to the tune of $69.51 billion last year and a projected $72 billion in 2018, according to the American Pet Products Association.

For independent community pharmacists, that spending represents a significant business opportunity. Americans spent almost $45 billion on pet food, supplies, and OTC medications, all of which a community pharmacy could provide. Stocking specialty food and high-end health and wellness products could make your pharmacy a destination for pet owners, particularly if the pharmacy also offers medications.

While veterinarians may initially see pharmacists who fill pet prescriptions as competition for a lucrative portion of their practice, pharmacists can reduce resistance and create mutually beneficial partnerships by focusing on compounding, which many veterinarians no longer do, and stocking medications veterinarians do not typically keep on hand. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the most common drugs used for companion animals are antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, opioid pain relievers, steroids, antiparasitic drugs, antianxiety drugs and sedatives, hormones to treat diabetes and thyroid disorders, heart medications, and chemotherapeutics.

Pharmacists can work with veterinarians in their communities to provide compounded versions of drugs that ease medication administration for their owners and offer variations that the veterinarian cannot afford to stock. Many pet owners who struggle to give their animals oral medications would be grateful for compounded medications that offer flavors their dog eagerly anticipates or a liquid form that reduces the daily battle with a resistant cat. Compounding can also enable a pet to continue on a medication no longer offered by a manufacturer or to receive the exact dosage appropriate to its size and needs, according to the Professional Compounding Centers of America.

Entering the veterinary medicine arena requires specialized training, as many medications designed for humans can kill pets. Acetaminophen, for example, is toxic to cats, and vancomycin would kill a pet rabbit. Demonstrating knowledge of safe prescribing practices and the unique challenges of veterinary pharmacology goes a long way toward building trust between veterinarians and pharmacists who want to partner with them.

Some pharmacy programs incorporate veterinary pharmacy into their core classes and many others offer electives in the field, but practicing pharmacists who decide to add this specialty to their services after graduation can get up to speed several ways. A number of veterinary schools offer residencies for pharmacists interested in full immersion. Those who need to fit in education around a thriving practice can take advantage of online courses offered by pharmacy continuing education providers. Look for those that cover a wide range of topics, including animal physiology, toxicology, patient counseling for common conditions in pets, compounding, drug information, and legal and regulatory issues.

Other resources for pharmacists interested in learning more about veterinary pharmacy include:

American College of Veterinary Pharmacists
Professional Compounding Centers of America
University of Georgia College of Pharmacy

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