Purchase of veterinary medicines online and accessing or importing them

Every veterinary medicine supplied in Ireland must be authorised for use in this country. Stringent legislation exists governing:

  • The purchase of veterinary medicines on-line.
  • The importation and use of veterinary medicines from abroad.
  • The use of human medicines for the treatment of animals.

Indeed, under national legislation (Veterinary Medicinal Products, Medicated Feed and Fertilisers Regulation Act), it is illegal for a person to have in his possession or to supply a veterinary medicine that is not authorised here.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) is responsible for regulating the purchase, supply, use and importation of veterinary medicines in Ireland. The HPRA does not have a direct role; we are occasionally consulted by DAFM regarding specific applications for special import.

DAFM has provided useful information on the purchase of veterinary medicines over the internet, which is available on the DAFM website

Veterinary medicines that are authorised in the UK or in an EU Member State might not have a marketing authorisation in Ireland. DAFM considers them as not being compliant. The products may be withheld by Customs officials on importation into the country.

Experience has shown that veterinary medicines ordered on-line and supplied from abroad using unlicensed websites might:

  • be counterfeit, and not contain the active substance or contain it at a much lower concentration.
  • be out-of-date, or be short-dated.
  • be supplied in foreign labelling, not compliant with national legislation. 
  • have been compromised during storage (for example. not stored or transported under the specified storage conditions).

Such products may not be effective at best and could cause injury to you or the animal concerned.

Veterinary practitioners should note that particular national rules apply to the importation of needed veterinary medicines from abroad. In these cases, vets should apply to DAFM for a special licence to import a veterinary medicine under the ‘cascade’ provisions of the legislation (a system for exceptional use where no authorised veterinary medicine is available in Ireland).

The HPRA continues to work to improve the range of authorised veterinary medicine in Ireland through a range of national and international initiatives. 

Supply and use of human medicines in veterinary practice

Veterinary practitioners are entitled to use certain types of human medicines exceptionally, where justified, under the terms of Article 112-116 of Regulation 2019/6 (the ‘Cascade’ principles).

The supply of human medicines from a wholesaler is covered by the Medicinal Products (Control of Wholesale Distribution) Regulations, 2007 (S.I. No. 538 of 2007) as subsequently amended. These regulations define the ‘sale by wholesaler’ as meaning ‘the sale or supply for the purposes of sale in the course of a business or for the administration to patients in the course of a professional practice’. The HPRA interprets ‘professional practice’ as including professional practice by a registered veterinary practitioner; it is understood that veterinary practitioners have an ethical, professional obligation to relieve and prevent animal suffering.

The HPRA has advised that human medicines which might include poison antidotes, large volume parenterals, certain anti-cancer drugs as well as certain medicines used as supportive or adjunct therapy for cardiovascular and other diseases can be supplied to veterinary practitioners for compassionate use in animals where there is no authorised veterinary alternative available. Generally, such use will be restricted to compassionate use in companion animals, as particular legislation on consumer safety of drug residues applies to the use of medicines in food-producing animals.

Veterinary practitioners ordering human medicines from a human medicines’ wholesaler should not write a prescription (which should only be filled by a pharmacy currently). However, records of the order should be kept in the veterinary practitioner’s order book. Veterinary practitioners making such orders could confirm in his/her order that the medicines sought were for use in animals under their care in accordance with the cascade and that the use was in accordance with his/her professional practice.