Merck & Co , slated to acquire Schering-Plough Corp later this year, reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit amid strong demand for its Januvia diabetes pill and gains from the sale of its share of the Merial animal health business.

Merck on Thursday said it earned $3.46 billion, or $1.61 per share, in the third quarter. That compared with $1.12 billion, or 51 cents per share, in the year-earlier period.

Excluding special items, Merck earned 90 cents per share. Analysts on average expected 82 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Global company sales rose 2 percent to $6.05 billion, a bit higher than Wall Street's expectations of $6 billion.

To pave the way for its planned $41 billion purchase of Schering-Plough, Merck in July agreed to sell its half stake in the Merial pet care business for $4 billion to long-standing

partner Sanofi-Aventis SA .

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson, editing by Maureen Bavdek)