Have you ever spent time phoning around different practices to find the lowest prices for veterinary treatments for your pet? Wouldn’t it be great if there were a quicker way to ‘shop around’ to find the cheapest vets in your area? Perhaps a price comparison website like Google Shopping or ShopMania would be the answer? Unfortunately, search engines like this do not exist for veterinary services (apart from pet insurance). But there is a good reason why.
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Duty of care
Pet owners are legally required to take reasonable steps to make sure their animals’ needs are met (and ideally exceeded), regardless of their personal circumstances. Pets should be given; appropriate food and have access to water at all times, a suitable living environment, companionship (the opportunity to live with, or apart from, other animals, depending on the species), opportunities to express normal behaviour as well as protection from pain, suffering, injury, and disease i.e., veterinary care.
There is a misconception that veterinary fees are ‘expensive’ and that vets are ‘just in it for the money’. In the UK and parts of Europe we are lucky enough to be entitled to free healthcare (NHS). This is perhaps a reason why so many people have an unrealistic view of how much healthcare really costs. Unlike US citizens who are probably acutely aware of the cost of healthcare. Therefore, you may be surprised to learn that veterinary fees are significantly less than the cost of similar procedures and medication for people.
It is true though that price can vary widely from clinic to clinic. But there are several factors that determine how individual veterinary practices set their fees including:
- Property and building costs
- Staff salaries and ongoing training
- Diagnostic, medical and surgical equipment
- Drugs and stock
- Taxes and rates
- Whether they are privately owned, part of a larger conglomerate or a not-for- profit organisation
Costs can also be influenced by other demographic information such as where you live, the size, breed and age of your pet, and the severity of their condition.
When choosing a vet there may be more important things to consider aside from cost like continuity of care (seeing the same vet), the relationship you and your pet have with the staff, the veterinary team’s skill set, the practice’s opening hours and appointment availability, access to specialist equipment, cleanliness and overall presentation of the premises and the team.
Online pharmacies appear to offer cheaper alternatives to purchasing from a veterinary practice, although this can sometimes be a false economy. These businesses often have lower running costs than veterinary practices and buy in bulk for a discounted rate which allows them to sell products more competitively.
A word of caution though if you are planning to buy prescription products from an online retailer. You will still need to get authorisation from your vet to purchase prescription items online and there is usually a small administration fee for this request. The vets may also wish to see your pet if they have not been examined in a while which may also incur a charge. This a legal requirement before they can dispense any POM-V’s – prescription-only medications. You may also have to pay for delivery of products bought online so costs can quickly mount up.
Affording veterinary care
It is understandable, and wise, to want to manage your finances carefully especially in the current economic climate.
When it comes to affording veterinary treatment, pet insurance can be a lifesaver (see our other blogs for more information). Pet insurance will help cover the cost of unexpected bills due to injury, illness and disease. However, they do not cover routine pet care treatments and procedures like neutering/desexing, dentistry and preventative healthcare. Therefore these expenses need to be budgeted for separately.
Pet Healthcare plans
A lot of small animal veterinary clinics now offer pet healthcare plans which are typically available for cats, dogs and rabbits. These plans can save you money on veterinary fees by providing discounts on routine products and services and allowing you to spread the cost with regular monthly payments.
Although each practice will offer unique and/or tailored health plans for your pets, generally all plans include the following:
- Annual vaccinations
- Parasite control (flea and worm treatment)
- Regular health checks
In addition to these services, you may also receive other perks such as significant discounts on food, diagnostic treatments, medications and a variety of procedures like neutering, nail clipping and dental treatment.
If your pet is not insured and you are unable to afford veterinary treatment, you may still be able to get help for your pet from an animal charity such as the RSPCA, Blue Cross or PDSA. These charities provide basic and emergency care for pets either free-of-charge or at a subsidised rate to people on benefits or with limited incomes. Specific criteria needs to be met, and only people on certain means-tested benefits are likely to be eligible for aid.
There are even charities who provide free veterinary care to pets owned by people who are homeless. StreetVet is one such charity which is based in the UK.
Financial status should not prohibit you from the joys of owning a pet. However, pet owners do have a duty to provide appropriate and ongoing veterinary care for them.
As you can see, there are options for every budget but for the average pet owner, pet insurance is essential and perhaps also consider joining a pet health plan too. They are often great value for money and will help spread the cost of everyday pet care across the year.