This is a question I frequently hear asked by clients and amongst friends. There are many reasons why UK veterinary fees in 2020 are high. Typically and commonly, costs steadily increase year on year as well. This article shall discuss some of the relevant rationale behind these rises.

The family pet

Our pets play an increasingly important role in our modern lives. Dogs and cats are considered valued members of the family. (Confession: yes, my cats do have their photos on the wall alongside our children!) Our pets live closely alongside us within our homes and enrich our lives enormously. It comes as no surprise that we want them to be able to both access and receive the best level of medical care as and when the need arises.

Developments and discoveries

Just as in human medicine, there are constantly new advances and discoveries in Veterinary Medicine. Research is actively conducted by various Universities and within pharmaceutical companies around the world. Good quality trials and studies provide us with a range of modern and effective medicines. This accelerates robust and “evidence based medicine” upon which we recommend surgical procedures and prescribe drugs.  

NHS for pets?

Translated into practice, this confers a greater opportunity to diagnose and treat disease, but at a cost. Whilst it is a cliché; “there is no NHS for pets.” Owners must pay for their pets’ medical needs. Unfortunately, very few of us necessarily appreciate or understand the costs involved with the NHS. It is then perhaps no surprise that veterinary fees seem high. Did you know, for example, that a standard human hip replacement operation may cost up to £11,000? This procedure is now commonly performed in referral orthopaedic veterinary hospitals around the UK too and of course, the costs are comparable to those in human medicine. After all, it involves the same level of surgical expertise, anaesthetic monitoring and follow up nursing aftercare. 

Advanced veterinary procedures are also increasingly common in other body systems. Cataract surgery (phacoemulsification) and spinal surgery for slipped discs (laminectomy) in dogs are a couple of examples. Advanced 3D imaging techniques such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography), are increasingly used for diagnostic purposes and to better stage diseases such as cancer.

I do solemnly declare…

Like all other Veterinary Surgeons who gain accreditation with the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons), I promised and solemnly declared that I would pursue the work of my profession with integrity… and that my constant endeavour would be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care. Words that were heart felt and still resonant regularly in my mind to this day. Alongside my colleagues, vets will always want to offer what is best for your pet. We love gold standard care and act of course, as a voice speaking on behalf of your pet. 

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Options will always be discussed, but when asked the question “what would you do if it were your pet?” the knowledge that a treatment is available, inclines us to recommend it (as long as this is in the best interests for the patient). Remaining up to date with our knowledge and with many new treatment possibilities available, we strive to pass on this information to our clients.

So where does the money go?

Also, think about your average (non-corporate) small animal veterinary practice. As a unique and local business, we probably all agree, particularly in these hard times, that we should be supporting them. The practice will continually be investing and improving in the services offered to their clients. 

“Support” staff

However, consider the number of people that work in vital roles, often “unseen” behind the consulting room, supporting the vets. A large percentage of a practice’s budget will be spent on salaries for staff. A team of qualified registered veterinary nurses, receptionists, animal care assistants, laboratory technicians, accountants, the practice manager and the cleaner. All require a salary which is funded by the veterinary fees. 

Ongoing education

All clinical members of staff also have a professional duty to fulfil a level of CPD (continuing professional development) every year. Training courses, often practically orientated, cost hundreds of pounds but are vital for vets to keep up to date. The latest developments and skills are shared at big annual events such as BSAVA Congress and the London Vet Show with smaller regional day and evening meetings occurring throughout the year. 

Equipment

Equipment costs also need to be factored in too. Not only the initial layout associated with purchase, but in maintenance and servicing costs. You may be surprised to learn that we use the same calibre of devices as in human hospitals! X-ray machines, ultrasound, endoscopes, laboratory equipment, anaesthetic monitors and computing services all need paying for. The cost of medical supplies and medications will also continue to increase every year, fuelled by demand. COVID19 has only exacerbated this in 2020 with certain products and drugs becoming less available and/or increased in price.

Premises

The veterinary premises (not infrequently a residential property converted into a surgery), also consume costs in their upkeep, rent/mortgage, council tax and utility bills. 

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There is of course, also inflation, which affects many businesses too, with increased costs being passed down to the consumer or client.

So how can I help?

Previous blogs have discussed the cost of keeping a pet. My own advice would be threefold. Firstly, insure your pet with the best, comprehensive lifetime policy that you can afford, from the word go. Minimise frustration by not changing insurance companies after a few years of your pet’s life (any pre-existing conditions and possibly previously noted symptoms will not typically be covered). And if insurance is not desirable, set up a bank account for your pet and regularly save into this instead. 

Take out the preventative healthcare plan that your practice offers. Usually run as a monthly direct debit scheme, such health-plans are commonplace and popular. They offer the best complete preventative healthcare package, covering vaccinations, parasite control, neutering, microchipping etc; all at a discount: a bit of a no brainer!

Finally, feed your pet the best food you can afford. I personally recommend a well established pet food company based, complete and balanced, life stage diet. Do not allow your pet to become overweight as this can increase various internal metabolic disease, worsen strain on both the joints and the heart and decrease lifespan overall.

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