Just like with humans, certain drugs are available over the counter at pharmacies, but other medications require a prescription (these medications usually say “PRESCRIPTION ANIMAL REMEDY” or “PRESCRIPTION ONLY MEDICINE”, and are schedule 4 medications).
Regulations pertaining to prescription medications are in place for the wellbeing of your pet, as well as people. Prescription medications can have significant side effects, especially if used incorrectly. If antibiotics are used inappropriately they can contribute to antibiotic resistance (bacteria that are not controlled or killed by antibiotics), which can cause serious disease in people and pets, and is an important public health problem.
In order to dispense prescription medications, vets are required to have recently examined your pet, and have a good knowledge of your pet’s condition. They need to determine that the use of a particular medication is warranted, and necessary. They also need to know that you understand the instructions, and are able to correctly administer the medication.
If a vet determines that an animal requires long-term medication for a particular condition, and they have rechecked the patient to assess their response to the medication, they may be able to write a script with repeats for that medication. In most cases 6 months is the maximum time a vet will write a script for. To ensure the vet has good knowledge of the pet’s condition, examination will usually be required least every 6 months (more frequently in some cases). Remember pets age must faster than people, and this is equivalent to a human being seen by their doctor every few years!
Vets are not able to write scripts for certain medications, and examination may be required each time the medication is dispensed (for example antibiotics, and ear medications containing antibiotics).
While veterinarians are able to prescribe and dispense Shedule 4 medications if they follow the regulations appropriately, veterinary nurses cannot.
If you would like more information on the legislation, the Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act of the Northern Territory can be accessed online here.