Saturday 13th July 2024

Private equity investors are the reason your vet bills are so high

The Money Mole lifts the lid on why vet bills seem crazily high. The reason might surprise you: greedy private equity investors hungry for a profit.

I’ve always wanted a “proper” pet (not another fish!) for years but have been putting it off for various reasons: “I don’t have time to look after it”, “what about when I go on holiday”, etc.

So after years of umming and ahh-ing, I finally took the plunge and adopted a cat from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. But something I didn’t give as much thought to as I should have was the cost.

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I’ve heard stories about ridiculous vet bills, but, around 60% of adults own a pet. So, in the back of mind, I always thought it surely couldn’t be THAT expensive… could it?

In the past, maybe not. But the cost of vet services has risen so much recently that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a review into the sector.

Rising prices are also pushing up insurance premiums, meaning many owners can’t get affordable cover.

There are several reasons vet fees are surging, including the wider cost-of living-crisis and a lack of qualified vets.

But, as usual, greedy private equity consolidators also appear to be playing a major part.

In 2013, 89% of all vet practices were independent. By 2021, this had fallen to just 45% according to the CMA.

This is creating regional monopolies, leaving desperate owners with no choice but to pay higher prices.

Consolidators are also taking over specialist clinics, encouraging referrals within the group over independent recommendations.

In this race for profit, vets have eroded what once separated them from most other professions – trust. You can no longer tell whether you’re getting the best advice for your animal, or whether they’re just trying to squeeze as much money out of devoted owners as possible along the way.

I got my first taste of this when I tried to book in my cat’s second vaccination.

Battersea had already given the first dose and said I just needed to get the final one as soon as possible, as if that would be so simple.

I rang at least six local vet practices, but, lo and behold, not one of them had the same type of vaccine as the shelter in stock. I would have to start an entirely new course from scratch, they said – with the full price tag to match.

I have pet insurance, but vaccinations aren’t usually covered.

When I went back and asked the shelter where I might find a second vaccine, a volunteer confessed supply is generally short and most vets stock different treatments to them, so I probably would have to start a new course. Funny that.

I then asked the charity, followed by two veterinary practices whether you can “over-vaccinate” a cat. The shelter said yes; both vets said no.

The variation in prices from practice to practice was also astonishing. One vet quoted me £120 for two doses, while the one I went with 15 minutes away cost £75 for the same jabs.

Litany of stories

The Money Mole heard the story of one reader’s 14-year-old golden retriever. Her vet recently recommended a series of invasive – and very expensive – operations she could have to ease the arthritis in her legs.

The reader said no, and the vet didn’t push it – but that’s not the point. Is it really right to suggest putting a 14-year-old dog through that much stress and painful recovery to potentially extend her life by months, at most?

Would vets have recommended that in the past?

The anecdotal rip offs don’t end there. Mouthy Money editor Edmund Greaves recounted his experiences when his Labrador developed itchy ears.

One vet appointment and £120 later he was given ear wash and drops for the dog. But a cursory google found the same medications online for less than £30. With the cost of the appointment running at £60 the vet was marking up the price by DOUBLE compared to online.

The cost of something like this comes under the excess of an insurance policy, making claiming a futile exercise. Instead vets, pushed by profit-driven backers, are taking advantage of our love for our four-legged friends to earn cold hard cash.

I’ve already started researching exactly what my cat needs, as I can’t be certain my vet won’t suggest some pricey, unnecessary treatment. What a shame we need to be so cynical.

Hopefully the CMA cracks down on this profiteering and we can once again put faith in the profession to really care for our pets rather than viewing them as a cash grab.

Money Mole very much looks forward to the findings of the CMA review, and that fairness is restored to the pet health market soon.

Have you been affected by absurd vet prices? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

Money Mole

The Money Mole is a true personal finance insider - working in the financial media to expose and castigate companies that treat their customers badly and call out general shithousery from businesses in the UK. Have you got a story you want to dish? Email moneymole@mouthymoney.co.uk

  1. Utter nonsense. No-one this ignorant about commerce, the economy, or real life in general has any business telling you what to do with your money.

    Here’s a clue… the Government are stupid and corrupt. Follow their rhetoric on subjects like this, and you’re almost guaranteed to be wrong. Much like the buffoon who wrote this article.

    Don’t let journalists give you financial advice.

  2. Your article is spot on. The private investment groups have infiltrated most of the private practices in the US. They hide and try to look like they are still “family owned” because the public responds better to that, but looking under the hood or asking them who owns the practice you find it isn’t family owned anymore. They have jacked up the prices so much more than 50%, my vet used to be 65.00 in 2022 for office visit now 130.00 and all of them have a monopoly on prices so if you call around it is the same price because they are all owned by the same private equity. I read an article that said when the pandemic kicked in there was a think tank of investors who evaluated what busineess could withstand Covid shut downs, and they decided the best investments were ones that made it hard for people to refuse to pay like elder care, nursing homes, Vets, dental etc. and they made it their mission to consoldate those small businesses. It is so ugly. It is ruining people and although most will pay, there are those who simply can’t afford outrageous prices and won’t get it. Money over health of people and their pets. Already causing a big rise in people having to give up their pets. Private equity is the devil.

  3. I am having the same problem. My cats aged and is losing weight. The vet recommended a blood test (£260.00). Waited for the results to be told she needed a scan (£350). Then told she has a mass and an operation would be advised with a biopsy to check her (£1000). Point is if they find cancer they will put her to sleep in the end. So why should she suffer at her age.

  4. Yes. The new idea of charging you for them putting in your insurance claims, and then the vets I was with said they wouldn’t put in a claim unless each conditions meds were over £100. Plus meds cost4x more than I could get online with a prescription. It’d help if they liaised with professional vets on certain animals, instead of telling you to do it!

  5. I was quoted 600 pounds to remove a tooth which looked healthy and i decided not to go for it as tge cat is eating about 5 sachets and biscuits and no bleeding in the mouth. If i had been quoted for dental hygiene at about 40 pounds or on the healthy cat plan i would have accepted but i was not offerred that for my cat

  6. Linda
    I have just returned from the veterinary having paid 89.00 for a consultation and Metacam. My cat is sneezing and mucus around the nose. I went to the vet previously who said asthma, that trip was 76.00 and some steroids which made the flu worth. I also need teeth removed at 920.00. Todays trip I asked for antibiotics, no, Metacam and we will get him in for extractions asap. The cat is 17 years old. No teeth bleeding, he has a dot on his gum which is quite obvious but is still eating meat and biscuits. Infact he put on 100gms since the last visit. What happened to the good old fashioned vet that had a clue? Not these days, the judgement is no where near as good as it used to be. I am in a quandary.

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