UK pet owners go abroad to cut bills for veterinary treatments

NEWS AND VIEWS-UK: In an extraordinary development, I’m told that in the UK, cat and dog owners are flying abroad to places like France and Turkey to seek treatments for their companion animals which are priced reasonably and which are a fraction of those charged in the UK. And the reason why many veterinarians in the UK now charge exorbitant fees is because thousands of independent veterinary clinics have been brought up by businesses owned by equity funds. Equity funds have one objective: to make a lot of money. They don’t mind how they achieve it. They can be ruthless. They can be exploitative and this is how many British pet owners are feeling at the moment.

Equity funds have bought vet clinics in UK and are exploiting the business
Equity funds have bought vet clinics in UK and are exploiting the business. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is actively monitoring the situation in the UK regarding the buyout of independent veterinarians because there are competition questions. When a business buys up a whole range of veterinary clinics in a certain area, they all then fall under one umbrella, a single business. There is no longer any competition. This helps them to up the prices and squeeze the public.

One person who feels aggrieved and exploited is a woman whose name is Abeer Alaydi. She adopted a kitten she named Charcoal. The lady works as a customer services assistant and lives in Leeds, UK. Her kitten is seven months of age. He became lethargic and stopped eating.

Her veterinarian initially charged £47 for a consultation and then charged £700 for an x-ray and a blood test. She felt manipulated and exploited but had to go along with it because the veterinarian knows best and perhaps, she had no other options in the area. And let’s be honest, when you go to veterinarian with a sick cat or dog you are in a vulnerable position, ready to be exploited because above all else you want your cat to be healthy. You are prepared to throw some money at it but when you get home you ask yourself what happened!

In America, the average veterinarian’s x-ray falls in the $150-$250 range although it does vary and can be higher than that. But when you adjust for pounds sterling you can see a massive difference in charges.

In France, The Times discovered that the average charge for a consultation is £30 whereas in Britain it is now £55. On the continent the charge for a female dog sterilisation procedure is £250. In Britain, on average, it is £400.

Some fees are enormous and can be as high as £20,000 for a double hip dysplasia surgery operation.

What is happening is not only are the independent veterinary clinics selling out to corporate businesses and charging more, cat and dog owners are increasingly taking up pet insurance to help see them through these extraordinary costs. And when veterinarians know that their client is paying through health insurance, they feel emboldened to increase their charges. This is an inflationary spiral: increased charges, increased insurance take up, increased charges. Research by Tesco Bank suggest that more than 50% of pet owners in the UK now have pet health insurance.

In defence, the veterinary conglomerates would say that they are providing a gold standard service but in truth – and I’m being a bit cynical – they are simply justifying exorbitant and exploitative costs.

Susie Samuel of VetHelpDirect said that most people who take their pets abroad for treatment do so while they are on holiday abroad. They might go to France, Spain, Poland or perhaps Turkey. The problem of course is, as you might imagine, that there are pet passport issues in travelling with your pet to a foreign country and further, there is the issue of after-care. It would seem to me to be next to impossible to receive proper after-care if your cat or dog received an operation in Turkey.

But despite those barriers, people feel compelled to go abroad for pet treatments.

The Dogs Trust said that it is seeing “more and more dog owners in desperate situations” because of the extraordinary high veterinary charges. They state that nearly two-thirds of dog owners would struggle to pay an unexpected veterinary bill of £500. They have received 50,000 enquiries last year from people who felt that they needed to give up their dog. They want the government to do more and put a pause on VAT on veterinary services for 12 months.

As mentioned above, the competitions watchdog is keeping an eye on things because conglomerate businesses such as IVC operating in one area can stifle competition. That particular business is under investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority.

About 20 years ago, if you went into a veterinary clinic, it would almost invariably have been owned by the veterinarians who worked in it. They would be partners. They would be committed to one primary objective which was to provide a good service. They weren’t business people. Their mentality was to be a veterinarian, and a good one.

When raw businesses owned by equity funds take over their primary objective is to make money and it shows in these exploitative charges. Britain is known as ‘treasure island’ to outsiders. And Brits are known to soak up exploitation because of their phlegmatic character but this is going too far.

Here is an earlier article on this topic:

Disgruntled pet owners disillusioned with private equity-owned veterinary practices in UK

2 thoughts on “UK pet owners go abroad to cut bills for veterinary treatments”

  1. I am sceptical about this. Most people in the UK have pet insurance or can afford any vets bills. Many couldn’t afford to go abroad, especially for a week or so

    Reply
    • Agreed, that to go abroad for vet treatment is exceptional but this MO does indicate a problem with the veterinary business model in the UK with rapidly rising prices. This is certain to negatively impact animal health.

      Reply

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