SALT LAKE CITY — When a doctor writes a prescription, the patients have the option to shop around and choose a pharmacy.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, believes pet owners should be able to do the same thing.

"There's potential for consumers to save a lot of money," Matheson said Tuesday at a news conference. "Right now, if consumers go to a veterinarian, the veterinarian doesn't offer them a prescription, they just buy the meds from the vet."

Matheson is sponsoring what he calls the Fairness to Pet Owners Act. He says the bill has bi-partisan support because of the benefit it could provide to consumers.

"In a time when budgets are tight, and the economy's having a tough time, here's an opportunity for them to find a way to take care of their pet," Matheson said.

The proposed act, Matheson added, would also save pet owners money.

An estimated 70 percent of households with pets will need some sort of prescription pet medication at some time. Temma Martin, spokeswoman for Best Friends Animal Society, said pet owners sometimes put their animals up for adoption because of medical costs.

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"We're hoping that this will actually result in not having to make the heartbreaking decision of deciding to give up their pet because they can't afford treatment," Martin said, "or keep the pet and deny it the medical care that it needs."

Matheson said opening the market to pharmacists and other suppliers will create more competition, allowing for lower prices.

"The opportunities for savings are significant," Matheson said. "For chronic pet medications where pets take the same meds every month, being able to buy it at a different drug store, or pharmacy — as opposed to a vet — could result in significant savings to all pet owners."