Why do my dog’s Lyme disease pills cost so much?

The world of drug pricing is shadowy. It pays to shop around

Carol came into the pharmacy with a prescription for her beloved dog Mandy, a border collie. “The vet said she has Lyme disease caused by a tick bite,” said Carol. “Do you think she will be better with these pills?”

The prescription was for doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat infections like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever – bacterial diseases that both wild and domesticated animals – and well as humans – pick up in fields, woods, and even lawns from ticks that are infected with the causative bacterium.

The bad news for Carol was that, because her dog does not have health insurance, the medication would cost a bundle. “What happens if I do not treat her for this condition?” she asked the pharmacist.

The pharmacist explained that many dogs with Lyme disease have recurrent weakness of the limbs due to joint inflammation. Others may develop sporadic lameness, hobbling on one leg for a few days and then favoring either the same leg or the other leg a week or so later. One or more joints may be swollen and warm; a pain response is elicited by gently feeling the joint. These symptoms usually respond favorably to antibiotic treatment.

Lyme disease can also result in an inflammation of the heart tissue, causing palpitations, slowing of the heart, breathlessness, throbbing in the neck, dizziness or faintness, fatigue, and difficulty breathing when lying down or sleeping. 

Kidney problems

In time, some dogs may also develop kidney problems. If left untreated, these kidney problems may lead to an inflammation of the parts of the kidney that filter the blood, a condition called glomuleronephritis.

Eventually, total kidney failure sets in and the dog begins to show signs like vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased urination and thirst, fluid buildup in both the abdomen and in the tissues, especially the legs and under the skin.

At this point, the prognosis is poor. The pharmacist added, “Compared to the cost of an antibiotic while the dog is still healthy, when the organs begin to fail because the pet was not treated, the costs of saving the animal can increase 10 to 50 times more.”

Shop around

Why does doxycycline – or any other previously cheap, old-time generic – cost so much now? The world of drug pricing is shadowy. Manufacturers can charge outrageous prices based on supply and demand.

As the incidence of Lyme disease rises, so does the cost of the drug that will treat it. In turn, pharmacies can rake in tremendous profits by passing along marked-up meds to patients without the slightest explanation. It’s called the “take it or leave it” philosophy. Amoxicillin, another antibiotic, is still reasonably priced and can be given to the dog on a 2 to 4 week course. Consult with your vet.

The pharmacist gave Carol a reasonable price on the doxycycline for Mandy. She was lucky because the pharmacy she uses is an independent store which has some wiggle room when it comes to setting prices. Chain pharmacies can charge many times more for the same medication.

Advice: look around online for more affordable doxycycline. Google “Lyme disease dogs doxycycline.” From whichever company you decide to purchase the drug, you will be asked for a prescription from your veterinarian or they can call your vet directly and receive a verbal order.

Vaccine available

As for a vaccine for this heartbreaking disease, you and your vet will have to decide whether your dog warrants a shot, since there are side effects associated with the vaccine as well.

The recombinant type of Lyme disease vaccine appears to be the safest at this time. However, having your dog vaccinated for Lyme disease should not be reflexive. The dog’s age, home environment, other medical conditions, and other animals in the vicinity should also be considered.

Many flea and tick applications – now generic – can be found at pet centers; these must be applied on a monthly basis to stop the bugs from latching on to your pet. Be an advocate for your pets’ health.

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