When choosing a vet, there are a number factors that influence a pet owner’s decision. Location, facilities and more are all considered. But the most common one that we receive questions about is cost. While we all want the best for our pets, the price of veterinary treatment can be a limiting factor for some people. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the term ‘cheap vet’ is such a frequently used search term on Google. But why is vet care so expensive? How can you really know if a vet is offering a good value service? And is there really such a thing as a cheap vet?
Why is vet care so expensive?
The short answer to this question is; because healthcare is expensive! There are two main reasons that pet owners in the UK consider vet care overpriced. The first is that they are unaware of the cost of their own healthcare. The second is that they have no idea of the running costs associated with running a veterinary surgery.
In the UK, we are in the very fortunate situation whereby every citizen has access to free universal health care. This is fantastic for ensuring that everyone is able to have access to health care when it is needed. But it also leads to a lack of understanding about the actual cost of this health care.
A standard consultation with a GP at Bupa is currently £70. This is more than twice the fee that we currently charge at Yorkshire Vets. Pharmacies are able to administer certain human vaccinations. Superdrug, for example, charges £49 for a hepatitis A vaccine. An annual dog vaccination (protecting against Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Leptospirosis) at Yorkshire Vets is currently priced at £35.50. The cost of a privately funded hysterectomy with Nuffield Health in Leeds is £7,340. The equivalent neutering operation on a female dog, similar in size to the average woman, is £340.
The cost of running a veterinary surgery is high. There are overhead costs for buildings and their maintenance. We require vet specific IT systems to securely hold patient records. All of our staff need payment, administrative, veterinary and support staff alike. Medications need holding in stock so that they are there when you need them. We have to purchase and maintain expensive surgical equipment and facilities. And none of this comes cheap. Additionally, here at Yorkshire Vets, we try to offer ‘pay vet direct’ insurance claims where possible. This means that, rather than pet owners paying for treatment up front, we are able to claim the costs back from the insurance company directly. This understandably means that we carry a lot of debt on our accounts, which has an impact on our finances. Please also remember that the tax-man is responsible for 1/6th of your vet fees!
How cheap is a ‘cheap vet’?
The most common pricing enquiries that we receive are for routine services, such as boosters, neutering and parasite prevention. It is not uncommon for people to look for a ‘cheap vet’ by comparing the prices of these products and service. But are these prices really representative of the overall cost of your vet compared to other practices? Are they really the best way to find a cheap vet? The truth is that these prices are typically kept deliberately low. There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, it encourages pet owners to properly protect their animals. As you are most likely aware, pet insurance does not typically cover preventative care. Consequently, if we were to price vaccinations or neutering surgery at true market value, the price may put people off choosing these services. Contrary to a vocal minority of pet owners on social media, vets care a great deal about their patients. We always want to give a pet the best possible chance for a long and healthy life, and preventative care is key to this.
Secondly, it is down to competition in the market. Because the first reason that most people visit their vet is for vaccines or neutering, it is not uncommon for vet practices to price these services as loss leaders. By pricing these routine services so low, businesses are able to entice pet owners to register with them rather than their competitors. While this may benefit owners in the short-term, you can be sure that a vet surgery that is making a loss on its vaccine sales will be making their money back somewhere down the line.
As a result of the pricing strategies outlined above, these services are not the best way to judge how expensive a vet practice will actually be when you need them most.
How do I know how expensive my vet is?
The truth is that this is very difficult to find out. The vast majority of vet fees very much depend on a number of factors. These include the weight of the animal, the specific treatment required, or how a vet practice breaks down their fees. Here at Yorkshire Vets, for example, we include pre-operative sedation as part of our general anaesthetic fee. At other vet practices, this may not be the case. With that said, finding out the cost of a general anaesthetic, or something like an x-ray can be a good place to start. When enquiring, you can ask for the specific fee for your pet, based on its species and weight. You could also ask whether there are any additional fees, such as sedation.
If you are not happy with an estimate for your pet’s treatment, you can always take your pet to another vet for a second opinion. While this will usually involve paying for another consultation fee, you may be more satisfied with the costs and treatment options elsewhere. Please remember that, while these services may differ in price from one vet to another, they are typically expensive to you because they are expensive for us to provide.
How can I keep my vet costs down?
While it may not be possible to find a truly cheap vet, the best advice we can give to keep your vet costs down is to take out a good insurance policy. Unfortunately, the better insurance policies on the market are rarely the cheapest. With that said, in the event that your pet suffers from a serious illness or injury at some point in its life, the extra monthly cost may well be worth the money. For a run down on insurance terminology, you can check out our video on insurance terms. Rather than provide too much detail on insurance here, we will follow this article up with a more in-depth look at pet insurance in the future. If you would like to discuss pet insurance further, please feel free to ask one of our vets at your next appointment.
As mentioned above, there are a number of preventative treatments that insurance policies do not cover. To reduce, and spread out, the cost of these routine treatments, we offer a Pet Health Club. This provides all of the preventative care that your pet needs throughout the year. It even includes a discount on neutering!
But it’s still too expensive!
We always do our best to price our veterinary within a pet owner’s means. Sadly, this is not always possible. Dealing with a sick pet that a family cannot afford to treat is very hard for both the vet and the family. When choosing to own an animal, you are accepting the responsibility to provide for that animal, as mandated by the 2006 animal welfare act. Part of this act requires pet owners to ensure that their pet has access to healthcare as and when it is required. While there are solutions for those in need, such as the PDSA, they operate with limited resources. As a charity, the PDSA relies entirely on donations and, due to overwhelming demand for their services, have to enforce strict eligibility criteria. With this in mind, it is vital that pet owners are aware of the cost of veterinary treatment.
So is there really such a thing as a cheap vet? In reality, the answer is no. Unfortunately, vet care costs money to provide. If this cost was not passed on pet owners, vet surgeries would be unable to provide the services that we do. Surely a good vet, charging a fair price, is better than no vet at all.