Is Your Vet Ripping You Off?

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about whether vets are ‘fleecing’ their trusting, loyal customers aka you and me, ordinary dog owners.

Vet Fees Rip Off (aired by Panorama in 2009) left many in little doubt, vets are profiting from the nation’s animal lovers.

Well I wanted to just try and condense my feelings on this issue because I think there’s trouble ahead if things don’t change.

Do I think vets are ripping pet owners off? No. I don’t.

I lost a Springer Spaniel to cancer back in the 90′s. I didn’t know she had cancer until the autopsy report confirmed it. It was THAT quick. She was fine, then one afternoon she wouldn’t stop panting and wouldn’t eat – it was a Sunday – I called my vet and took her to the practice where a lokum met me. I explained that she was very unwell. She was only a young dog but had shown no signs of illness, weight loss or anything else to give cause for concern up until this particular day.

They put her on a drip overnight. I didn’t sleep a wink. I made the call at 8.00am, I remember my hands were shaking because I knew that she was seriously ill, when its your dog you can just tell. The difference between being off colour or acting up and being seriously ill is palpable. I asked how she was. “I’ll get the vet for you.” I knew at that very moment what I was about to be told.

“She died I’m afraid, Ryan.”

24 hours earlier I was working her. She worked well, full of energy. But she never recovered. Literally, she worked and never stopped panting afterwards, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink, couldn’t rest.

I asked for a post-mortem to be done and it transpired there was a massive problem with her bloodcell count. Either there was a huge dip in white, or red, I can’t remember which – what I do know is that the cellcount had dropped to a level that meant when I worked her, she couldn’t recover. I felt like I had killed her.

“What could I have done?”, I asked the vet.

I was informed that with medication the bloodcell issue can be controlled. Yes, it would mean she’d have needed to be on medicine for her whole life and I may have had to simply steer clear of working her and expose her to more of an energetic pet lifestyle rather than fully fledged working life, but she’d have lived. Lived to a normal age too.

But all along, I didn’t know there was actually anything wrong with her. I didn’t know she had this time-bomb like condition which was going to take her before she even reached her 2nd birthday.

Now I would.

Now I know that predictive pet healthcare exists and it is coming on in leaps and bounds. And if I had a dog with a serious, lifelong condition – my insurance company would ensure I could afford the best treatment.

Veterinary care has come so far in the past 20 years alone. Vets can do more for our pets. They know more, they are capable of not only treating previously terminal conditions, they can do more to predict and prevent. It costs money. Lots of it. There is no pet NHS.

Vets are exceptionally skilled and exceptionally valuable. Invaluable actually.

The issue – I feel – that leaves pet owners with a bitter taste in their mouth regarding the pet healthcare experience is not with what their vets can do, how they do it or in fact how much professional treatment costs. No, it’s that feeling we sometimes get which makes us feel like a number on a spreadsheet.

Pet food, treats, additional products, pet medicines sold at a MASSIVE mark up. It is THIS that annoys people. People are not stupid. They do know when someone is trying to make a margin from them. And they particularly dislike it if that person happens to be in an exceptionally trusted position.

If a prescription pet medicine is being sold at £35 in the veterinary practice and is available for £15 inc delivery from a website, it leads pet owners to question the whole relationship.

Is it worth it?

Is it worth potentially soiling the entire relationship between pet owner and vet just to add to the profit margin by flogging some high priced pet stuff?

Why would it be so hard to standardise the cost of pet medicines across the board?

Pet owners with even a shred of doubt about whether their vets are fleecing them is bad news. It’s really bad news, especially for dogs.

Do I really need this treatment?

Is my vet trying to leverage my trust and convert it in to profit?

Is the fact that I have pet insurance the reason why my vet has recommended these skin scrapes?

This is a road we don’t want to go down. Dogs WILL die if pet owners lose trust in the recommendations of their vets.

Vets are, ultimately, small businesses. They operate in a relatively free market, they can (and do) charge vastly different prices for similar procedures. If vet A) in Essex charges £300 for a spaying operation on a 3-year old Labrador and vet B) charges £120 for the same medical procedure, has Essex dog owner been ‘ripped off’? Or is this fair, market forces in effect?

There is work to be done. Pet owners have been rumbling for a number of years now about being overcharged by vets. The debate about pet medicines and inflated prices has been in the public eye for a while now. Programmes like ITV’s ‘Pets Uncovered’ will further sully the waters. As pet insurance becomes more popular more pet owners (and in fact, pet insurance providers) have made accusations about ‘un-needed’ procedures or tests being performed on their pets. But if we stop for a moment to consider just how serious that accusation is, it’s truly frightening! If vets are doing this, we have a huge problem. If vets are NOT widely engaged in this (as I personally happen to believe is the case) then some animals are going to die when their suspicious owners opt not to have that scan or not to agree to let their animal be operated on. If a vet does do this, and is caught, then come on RCVS – no half measures here, they should be gone. Struck off for good. Not suspended and re-instated, booted. The breakdown in trust is caused by this rogue operators and the knock on effect can and will be devastating to the entire profession.

If bridges need to be re-built, it should start with the veterinary profession becoming more transparent about charges and the sale of non essential pet products such as food.

If my vet tells me my dog needs a particular course of medicine, I would like full disclosure on whether I can purchase it elsewhere cheaper. If my vet recommends a procedure, I want them to advise me what the reasons are if that operation could be performed by another vet in a 25 mile radius for upwards of 30% less. Just give me the choice. Start by addressing the little things and the big ones will begin to take care of themselves. A lack of trust between pet owners and their local pet health professional IS a VERY big problem and it’s going to get worse unless steps are taken to restore trust.

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11 Comments » for Is Your Vet Ripping You Off?
  1. Nick C says:

    Great read. This article helped me put some of my thoughts into words and doubts into perspective nicely.

    Thanks!

    (now if I could just get my Vet to read it…wonder if she’d be offended by a anonymous email or casually dropped-off hard copy?)

  2. Arnie says:

    Some costs incurred at the veterinary are probably not necessary. Overall I trust what the veterinarian says although from my reading I find the vets want to give some inoculations too often. When I tell the vet I don’t want my dog to have the inoculation she accepts my decision. The rabies vaccination of course must be given by law.

    • joshua robertson says:

      Considering rabies hasn’t been an epidemic since 1982, I think annual rabies boosters is too often. In fact ever is too often. When’s the last time you’ve seen or heard of a rabid dog?

  3. Ryan O'Meara says:

    The annual vaccinations debate is certainly a hot topic. We’ve actually got an article coming up in http://www.k9magazine.com on this very subject.

  4. I think vets do rip you off when it comes to getting vaccinations done.

    My vet charges £40 for annual boosters.

    I know of a company called JABS who work on the Fylde coast, they charge £25 for booster and £40 for full course of puppy jabs.

    I feel that vaccinations should be one of the cheaper forms of treatmets as you are preventing dieseases in your animals and beigna responsible owner.

    Vets charge far too much for the basics these days

  5. suzanne says:

    I trust my vet and dont care that it is infact more expensive than some of the other vets where i live, i think sometimes you get what you pay for.i chose them for their very good reputation and the fact that they have an out of hours emergency service and a vet ambulance if needed (which not all vets have)i feel reassured that my pet is in the best hands possible…i think that the £30 per year for vaccinations is a very small price to pay to prevent the potentially fatal diseases my dog could catch without them..i would never forgive myself if my dog died from Parvo because i wasnt willing to part with £30..and come on, it is a business with high bills and overheads and hourly rates to staff not to mention the cost of the medicine, if people dont want to pay the necessary costs involved in having a dog then they really shouldnt own one.

  6. Janine says:

    i believe vets DO take advantage of customers, especially out of hours emergency appointments. A woman’s 4yr old much loved dog died at home today because she didnt have enough money to pay the vet this week, until her small wages come through today. The dog become poorly on monday, she managed to book an appointment for 5.50 this evening, the poor dog died this afternoon at 2pm. The vet refused to come out without advance payment. The vet wouldnt let her pay in installments as she suspected the dog had swallowed something so needed xray/scan/operation. The said she could have her PTS free!!!! or sign her over to a rescue who MAY pts anyway as she was a staffie, or will rehome her to someone else. This dog was only 4 1/2, not even lived half her life. This could have all been avoidable. The woman is distraught at losing her lovely dog, the youngest kids were at home to watch this happenings, and the older kids would have had to come home from school to be greeted with this awful news. And of all times – just before Xmas!!
    what happened to the vets being there for the animals??? now its all about the MONEY! this is just one very tiny incident – and there are many many more like it.
    There needs to be strict guidelines in place over pricing, animal welfare to be met whatever means necessary to avoid things like this happening and also a much greater reduction to the cost they are allowed to charge you to issue prescriptions so you can source products online at cheaper cost – my vet charges £19 PER ITEM on a script so it prevents you shopping around!!!! £5 per script with a health check every 4mths is much more sensible and fair.

  7. joshua robertson says:

    My “Vet” said my dog needed a $1200 dollar surgery for an abscessed anal gland. I took the dog home and squeezed it out myself for free…It took 90 seconds. I rest my case.

    Oh I forgot to mention the other vet in LA who charged me $40 for a 2 ml bottle of sugar solution when my dog was constipated. Why didnt the vet just tell me the truth, which was that most likely the constipation would resolve on its own which it did (the sugar solution didnt work). A vet will try to sell you surgery with the Quickness. Mark my words.

  8. Bender Rodriguez says:

    I don’t trust my vet. I can tell that they have significant overhead (operating costs). In a small town, that’s hard to keep a business in the black. Our pet went in, sick. The Dr. says “surgery!” over $900 later, and two rounds of antibiotics, the Dr is still convinced that the pet needs more testing, and lab work usually at a minimum of $100.00 a visit. I think that since we ponied up the $800 for surgery, the Vet has us made as chumps with deep pockets. I feel like he’s interested in putting a catheter in my wallet. My pet is back to normal, but now always has an appointment on the calendar. Everytime we go in its ” buy this special diet food, and I need your pet back in so many days to run more lab work.” I’m not saying my vet is crooked, he’s just doing exactly what he has to do to keep his business from going under, and sometimes that includes preying on peoples love for their animals. How do you get what your pet needs (and be sure of it) and then get the Vet off your payroll? .

  9. Steve says:

    Vets over charge on meds prescription available online at 60% cheaper but the vets at Goddard charge £9.65 plus £4 per extra item just to write a pescription and refuse to do repeat pescriptions.

    Our vet Goddards charge £30+ consultation and then £24.65 in paperwork i.e the pescription charge making it over £55 in total, negating the prospect of saving £31.58 by buying on line .

    Well done on the profits anything esle you like to squeeze from us? Rant over shame the same can’t be said for these rip off vets.

  10. Jo says:

    I am sure there are lots of vets who are honest and trust worthy,but on the whole my experience has not been good, and the vets eyes light up when they know your animal is insured. Today my cat was put to sleep at my request, he had had an x -ray they showed his tummy was full of tumours that could not be removed, I said to the vet it was best to put him to sleep, he said that we didn’t have to do that and to put him on steriods and see how he went, basically my cat was slowly starving to death because his tummy was full of tumours and there was no room for food, yet the vet seemed to think it was option I should consider, to me the vet just wanted to squeeze what he could out of the insurance and had no consideration for my cat.

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About Me
Ryan O'Meara
Ryan O'Meara is the founder of Total Pet Publishing, a former professional dog trainer, current publisher of K9 Magazine, author and commentator on social issues relating to dogs and business. He is a World Animal Day ambassador and one of the co-founder's of the leading UK dog adoption website DogsBlog.com.
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Ryan O'Meara

Total Pet Publishing : K9 Magazine : ViVo Media

My name is Ryan O'Meara.

I am the publisher and editor-in-chief of K9 Magazine. I founded Total Pet Publishing, a specialist media company deciated to pets and pet owners as well as ViVo Media, a hyper-local media venture. I am a former professional dog trainer and author of three books, Clever Dog (life lessons from man's best friend), Newshounds and Amazing Dog Facts & Trivia.

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Is Your Vet Ripping You Off?