As vets, we know how distressing it can be to find yourself with an unexpected vet bill. Scientific advances over the last 10-20 years have made a much higher level of veterinary care the norm now, but unfortunately this comes with a cost, which a lot of people won’t have budgeted for. As vets, we get asked week in, week out if we can offer a payment plan, and allow our clients to spread the cost of veterinary care over several months. You may think that this seems like the most logical solution for such a conundrum, but unfortunately it is not that simple!

Why not just offer credit?

Unfortunately, setting up a payment plan, whereby payment is made in instalments over several months, constitutes providing credit and is a form of lending money. Offering credit in this country is tightly regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA); and only registered and regulated lending companies are allowed to do this. It is illegal for a company that is not FCA regulated, to lend money. Before you ask your vet practice to do this, please bear in mind that they could be getting themselves into hot water if they do!

But, if you cared about my pet, you would offer me a payment plan?

Unfortunately, vets are subject to these kinds of sentiments all the time, and not only is it untrue but it is also really demoralising and damaging to vets mental health. Being a vet is a vocational career, with many vets having decided on it from a very early age. We are all animal lovers through and through. We all worked very hard in school to get the grades necessary, we spent all our free time doing unpaid work experience, we made lots of sacrifices to get through a gruelling 5 year degree and we work long hours, often sacrificing time with our families and loved ones to care for your pets. Of course we care. We are in an impossible position; remember, we’re continually being torn between wanting to help you and your pet and knowing that the business just can’t sustain it.

The fact is, a veterinary practice is a business with very high overheads.

Lots of vet hospitals are purpose built buildings with big mortgages on them; they contain state of the art equipment which all comes at a high cost; there are lots of staff (not just vets, but nurses, receptionists and admin staff) who all have to be paid. There are also lots of drugs to keep in stock – many of which will end up going out of date without being used as they are emergency drugs that we are obliged to keep in case of emergency, but nevertheless don’t get used very often.

All of these costs add up and mean that the profit margin in veterinary is surprisingly low. These costs all need paying every month, and so it is vital that we are paid on time. Without the money coming in for work we have done, we simply won’t be able to afford to keep running. 

Are there any exceptions?

It is of course, becoming more common these days, to be offered a credit plan for all kinds of purchases – cars, household appliances, holidays etc. It may seem then, that if these retailers can do this, then why can’t the vets? But the truth is, it is not the retailer themselves that are offering this credit. They are working in conjunction with an accredited, FCA regulated lending agency who handle the loan on behalf of them – usually at a cost to both the business and the customer. 

There are some companies working in this way within the veterinary field (such as Care Free Credit). So, if your vet practice has an agreement in place with one of these companies, then they may be able to offer you a loan through the company. These loans sometimes have an initial interest-free period, but bear in mind that the interest rates can get quite high. Offering you the loan will also be subject to a credit check, so if you have a poor credit rating, you may not qualify. 

What can you do?

When you take on a pet, you agree to take on all the responsibilities that come with that. One of those responsibilities is ensuring that you have the financial means in place to pay for any veterinary treatment they might need. That includes emergencies and long term health conditions.

Obviously, not everyone has thousands of pounds saved in the bank… And as vets we don’t expect all our clients to have immediate access to huge sums of money. However, if you are in the majority of people who would struggle to pay a large bill like that at short notice, then it is absolutely vital that you have pet insurance. A good insurance policy will cover any injury or illness that your pet may get (as long as the illness didn’t start before the policy was taken out!), and will cover for up to several thousand pounds. 

Choose your policy carefully

Beware when shopping around for insurance policies. Remember, policies which appear to be a lot cheaper are usually cheaper for a reason! It is important to look for a policy that will continue to cover ongoing conditions for the duration of your pet’s life, rather than just for a year or up to a certain amount of money. Policy limits are also something to be aware of. Every insurance policy will have a maximum amount that they will pay out for vets fees per year. For many basic policies, this will be about four thousand pounds. This was a reasonable amount a few years ago, but not now modern technology is available and standards are rising. Actually, many high-end surgeries are costing quite close to that amount on their own, not including any aftercare. 

When a pet is in hospital for several days, even for something as simple as an upset tummy, the costs build up from day to day. It is not uncommon for owners to be left with a bill of several thousand after a few days in hospital without even any surgery being carried out. In most cases, it would be prudent to go for the highest level insurance cover you can afford. This is especially true if you have a larger dog (the larger the dog, the bigger the bill in general!).

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The problem in a nutshell

I hope that you now see why, when you ask your vet for a payment plan, and they say no, they aren’t simply being greedy, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t care about your plight. We all understand how stressful it is to be faced with a large, unplanned bill! However, you won’t have been the first person to ask this all week, or even all day. If we said yes to even a small portion of the people who ask, then we won’t be able to afford to keep running our business. 

Furthermore, it is not the vets responsibility to lend you money to pay for your pets treatment (and that is essentially what you are asking them to do). Trying to make it their responsibility in this way leads to a huge amount of stress and pressure on vets… Which probably does contribute to vets having a suicide rate that is 4 times higher than the general population. Your vet could also get in trouble for offering this, as they are not legally allowed to. 

Please think about this before accusing vets of not caring about your pet and being only interested in money. Credit companies in the veterinary industry do exist, but it is best not to rely on this. Remember, they may not have a working agreement with your practice. Plus, they will rely on you passing a credit check first, and there may be high interest rates involved. The solution is to have a good insurance policy in place! This can give you peace of mind and cover any unexpected eventualities quickly and with minimal stress!

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