It’s been said so many times… Vets are so expensive! The vets are overcharging me. Why does it cost so much for my pet to have a check-up? Vets are a license to print money! So where does all your money go?

A veterinary practice is fundamentally a business. Although practice employees dearly love animals and want to help them, unfortunately they can’t do it for free. A practice needs to make money in order to exist and continue to look after your pets. 

“If you loved animals you’d do it for free” doesn’t pay the business rates, or the electricity bill, or buy the drugs, or pay the nurse’s wages; let alone the vet’s mortgage or rent, their student loan, or provide them with food to eat.

In any business, there are costs/expenses that need to be paid. Turnover is the amount of money coming into the business i.e. the veterinary fees paid by clients. Profit is what is left over/the difference between costs and turnover.

Profit = Turnover – Costs

What are the costs?

The main costs of a practice can be split into the following categories:

1) Veterinary surgeons

Vets study at university for 5+ years to qualify, so, like other professionals, they need to be paid for their time and expertise. In the UK, vets get paid on average £35,000 – £50,000 per year, which does sound like a lot, but doesn’t compare well with other medical professionals e.g. doctors who earn up to £120,000 per year. 

2) Other staff

There are many people who work at a vet practice in addition to the vets who ensure your pets are well looked after and that the practice is run smoothly, including veterinary nurses, nursing care assistants, receptionists, practice managers.

3) Overheads

This is the cost of the premises – rent, electricity, gas, water, business rates. There are also other costs including phone/internet, lab fees, waste disposal, marketing, staff training, office equipment, vehicle costs, insurances, cleaning, professional fees, repairs and maintenance and more… As you can see, there is quite a long list!

4) Stock/drugs

If your pet needs medication, more often than not, the medication will be dispensed at the time of the appointment so you can take it home the very same day. This is a great service! But in order for it to happen, practices need to keep many drugs in stock and this costs money. Not only does it cost money to order the drugs, there are costs involved with storing and managing the stock.

Let’s put this into perspective using an example vet practice – a small one-vet practice with a veterinary nurse, student nurse and receptionist. The practice is open for 5 and a half days per week, with 24 bookable appointments per full day.

CostPer monthPer day 
Other Staff£6,000£240
Overheads £3,500£140
Cost per day£820
Cost per appointment (ex VAT)£34

This means it costs £820 per day just to keep this practice open and £34 to run one appointment. And that’s if all the appointments are booked; any empty appointment slots will push the cost up. This helps illustrate why veterinary appointments are priced at around £40. And even if the vet did work for free, that’s maybe 15% of your total bill including VAT.

Profit – is it a dirty word?

No! Although some would disagree. Some think that practices shouldn’t be profiting from poorly pets. 

In reality, veterinary practices are not hugely profitable. In the example practice, with a monthly turnover of £23,000, the profit is £2,500 (about 10% – this would be considered REALLY good for most vet practices). This is below average for UK service businesses (just under 15%) and well under big energy companies who make over 40% profit. So, veterinary practices are not “raking in” all the cash, contrary to popular opinion!

Profit is essential for any practice, as it means that a business can improve e.g. invest in more advanced equipment, and grow e.g. take on extra staff. These will enable a practice to improve the level of care they provide for your pet, so really, profit is a good thing.

Why do prices vary between practices?

Comparing vet practices will show variation between prices. Does this mean one practice is better than another? Not necessarily. 

Big practices will have higher costs due to bigger premises and more staff, but equally they may have more available appointments which can bring prices down. There will also be variation between the equipment; big hospitals often have CT scanners costing thousands of pounds while other practices may only have a simple ultrasound scanner costing much less.

When deciding on a practice for your pet, there are so many more things to consider other than price. Consider other factors, including the available equipment, the staff, the after-hours provision, and more.

The bottom line

Paying for a trip to the vets is always going to be more than we would like because there isn’t an NHS for pets and understandably, that’s our main comparison. When you get to the reception desk, if it’s not free, it’s disappointing!

Pet insurance is worth considering to help cover the cost of vet bills, if your pet unexpectedly gets injured or unwell. Make sure you always ask your for treatments options and estimates before agreeing to anything.

Remember, a vet practice is a business, so it needs to be profitable to continue to look after your pets. If the staff all leave because they can’t survive on what they’re being paid, or if the business goes bankrupt for not paying their electricity bill or their premises rent, there’s no-one to look after anyone’s pets.

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