Do vets charge too much for bitch spays?

As part of my work as a “media vet”, I’m a strong advocate for spaying and neutering pets as the best way to control the problem of pet overpopulation. Accidental pregnancies still account for a high number of unwanted puppies and kittens, and routine spaying/neutering of young adult pets is the best way to prevent these. This doesn’t meant that every pet needs to be spayed/neutered when young (there are some good reasons to delay or even not to do the operation for some individual animals), but it does mean that every pet owner should at least discuss the options with their vet around the time of puberty.

Why do people refuse to have their pets spayed?

People have a variety of reasons for not having the operations done on their pets, and the cost is a major factor. In a recent social media discussion, the following comment came in.

“Vets should reduce their fee to £120 for a female dog. A lot of people genuinely just can’t afford it.”

Why don’t vets reduce their fees?

This is a good point. Why don’t vets reduce the price of spaying? Let’s look at how this could be done: what makes up the cost of an operation, and how can those items be reduced?

To put this in perspective, what are the typical fees for spaying? The recent SPVS survey found that the median fee nationwide for an adult bitch spay was £204. There is significant regional variation on this, but the figure acts as a reasonable starting point for discussion. How could it be reduced to £120?

If you look at the pie chart at the foot of this page, you can see that over half of the costs of vets’ fees are made up of overheads that are difficult to reduce: rent, heat, light, phone, drugs, surgical supplies, cleaning, nurses’ wages and administration costs. Vets already do as much as they can to keep these costs down: it’s in their own interests to do so. So let’s leave these alone for the sake of this discussion.

So what about the obvious “top item” on the cost list for most people: the money that goes to the vet. Surely vets can manage with less? For every £10 you give the vet, typically only £2 to £2.50 goes to the vet. If a vet gives you a 20 to 25% discount, they are working for nothing. Vets are well enough paid, but their salaries are lower than most people expect. A typical new graduate vet earns around £30000, and a vet qualified for 20 years might earn £50000. Should vets work for less than that, with five years of tough training and high costs in getting through college?

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say yes, and agree that vets will operate for free on bitch spays: take 25% off £204, and you’re left with £153. What next?

What about VAT? The government charges 20% on all vet fees, making up £34 of the £204. If this was not charged, £153 minus £34 = £119. Bingo: it’s less than £120.

So if vets work for nothing, and the government agrees to stop charging VAT, the cost of a bitch spay would reach the desired target. Is this going to happen? Of course not.

In the real world, how can pet owners pay as little as possible for bitch spays?

So what can impoverished pet owners do? Here are three tips.

First, plan in advance. You should budget for the spay/neuter surgery when you get a pet, just as you should think about how much it will cost you to feed your new animal. If you genuinely can’t afford it, perhaps you should not get a pet. For the financially disadvantaged, there are some subsidised schemes to help, but charity resources are limited, and most of the working population will not qualify for these.

Second, shop around, but don’t do this on price alone. You should physically visit at least three vets, eyeballing the premises (are they clean?), talking to staff (do they seem to care?) and asking some specific questions:

• Do they have qualified veterinary nurses?

• Do they use up-to-date anaesthetic, pain relief and monitoring equipment?

• Does they monitor all pets after anaesthesia until they are awake?

You may not be fully aware of the “right answers” to these questions, but even just by asking the questions and judging the tone of the response, you will learn a lot about the practice.

Third, ask for a discount. Some vets may just say “no” ( this is understandable – it directly eats into the 20 – 25% that they are paid), but as in any other consumer transaction, there is no harm in asking the question.

If you think a bitch spay is expensive at £200, remember that it would cost around £5000 to have a similar operation carried out on a human. And if you want to help with the pet overpopulation problem, as well as benefitting your own pet’s health, it’s a price that’s well worth paying.

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4 thoughts on “Do vets charge too much for bitch spays?

  1. How about vets start lobbying the big animal welfare charities to come up with a nationwide scheme that would offer low cost spay/neuter to owners who are of limited means. It can be hell getting a voucher out of say CP or RSPCA and can be demeaning for people to ask directly depending on the attitude of whoever is running the branch of the charity.

    A national scheme based in veterinary practices could really help. The big charities do sit on huge bank balances with exceedingly well paid CEOs et al. Their voucher schemes are often not well run or easy to access.

    I once knew someone who had sat down and done a lot of sums, she worked out that 1p onto income tax would fund an NHS for animals. What would vets think about that? My vets say it would be excellent for animals, as more would bring their pet in for help in the early stages of a problem. So many people are deterred from seeking veterinary help because of the cost. I do however, understand how expensive running a viable practice is.

    We will need to do something soon in this country or else we will end up with systems like the New York Animal Control run shelters, which are pretty much slaughterhouses for dogs and cats.

    The big charities could wield some power in promoting spay/neuter, but they just don’t do enough (yet)

  2. How about vets start lobbying the big animal welfare charities to come up with a nationwide scheme that would offer low cost spay/neuter to owners who are of limited means. It can be hell getting a voucher out of say CP or RSPCA and can be demeaning for people to ask directly depending on the attitude of whoever is running the branch of the charity.

    A national scheme based in veterinary practices could really help. The big charities do sit on huge bank balances with exceedingly well paid CEOs et al. Their voucher schemes are often not well run or easy to access.

    I once knew someone who had sat down and done a lot of sums, she worked out that 1p onto income tax would fund an NHS for animals. What would vets think about that? My vets say it would be excellent for animals, as more would bring their pet in for help in the early stages of a problem. So many people are deterred from seeking veterinary help because of the cost. I do however, understand how expensive running a viable practice is.

    We will need to do something soon in this country or else we will end up with systems like the New York Animal Control run shelters, which are pretty much slaughterhouses for dogs and cats.

    The big charities could wield some power in promoting spay/neuter, but they just don’t do enough (yet)

  3. Any the costs of not having your bitch neutered…well if they get pyometra (infection in the uterus) then the surgery can be a lot more expensive sometimes £800-1000+ for all the treatment and extra care.

  4. Any the costs of not having your bitch neutered…well if they get pyometra (infection in the uterus) then the surgery can be a lot more expensive sometimes £800-1000+ for all the treatment and extra care.

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