There’s a lot of talk about recently about whether vets are ‘fleecing’ their trusting, loyal customers aka you and me, ordinary dog owners.
An ITV programme this week left many in little doubt, vets are profiting from the nation’s animal lovers.
Well I wanted to just try and condense my feelings on this issue because I think there’s trouble ahead if things don’t change.
Do I think vets are ripping pet owners off? No. I don’t.
I lost a Springer Spaniel to cancer back in the 90’s. I didn’t know she had cancer until the autopsy report confirmed it. It was THAT quick. She was fine, then one afternoon she wouldn’t stop panting and wouldn’t eat – it was a Sunday – I called my vet and took her to the practice where a lokum met me. I explained that she was very unwell. She was only a young dog but had shown no signs of illness, weight loss or anything else to give cause for concern up until this particular day.
They put her on a drip overnight. I didn’t sleep a wink. I made the call at 8.00am, I remember my hands were shaking because I knew that she was seriously ill, when its your dog you can just tell. The difference between being off colour or acting up and being seriously ill is palpable. I asked how she was. “I’ll get the vet for you.” I knew at that very moment what I was about to be told.
“She died I’m afraid, Ryan.”
24 hours earlier I was working her. She worked well, full of energy. But she never recovered. Literally, she worked and never stopped panting afterwards, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink, couldn’t rest.
I asked for a post-mortem to be done and it transpired there was a massive problem with her bloodcell count. Either there was a huge dip in white, or red, I can’t remember which – what I do know is that the cellcount had dropped to a level that meant when I worked her, she couldn’t recover. I felt like I had killed her.
“What could I have done?”, I asked the vet.
I was informed that with medication the bloodcell issue can be controlled. Yes, it would mean she’d have needed to be on medicine for her whole life and I may have had to simply steer clear of working her and expose her to more of an energetic pet lifestyle rather than fully fledged working life, but she’d have lived. Lived to a normal age too.
But all along, I didn’t know there was actually anything wrong with her. I didn’t know she had this time-bomb like condition which was going to take her before she even reached her 2nd birthday.
Now I would.
Now I know that predictive pet healthcare exists and it is coming on in leaps and bounds. And if I had a dog with a serious, lifelong condition – my insurance company would ensure I could afford the best treatment.
Veterinary care has come so far in the past 20 years alone. Vets can do more for our pets. They know more, they are capable of not only treating previously terminal conditions, they can do more to predict and prevent. It costs money. Lots of it. There is no pet NHS.
Vets are exceptionally skilled and exceptionally valuable. Invaluable actually.
The issue – I feel – that leaves pet owners with a bitter taste in their mouth regarding the pet healthcare experience is not with what their vets can do, how they do it or in fact how much professional treatment costs. No, it’s that feeling we sometimes get which makes us feel like a number on a spreadsheet.
Pet food, treats, additional products, pet medicines sold at a MASSIVE mark up. It is THIS that annoys people. People are not stupid. They do know when someone is trying to make a margin from them. And they particularly dislike it if that person happens to be in an exceptionally trusted position.
If a prescription pet medicine is being sold at £35 in the veterinary practice and is available for £15 inc delivery from a website, it leads pet owners to question the whole relationship.
Is it worth it?
Is it worth potentially soiling the entire relationship between pet owner and vet just to add to the profit margin by flogging some high priced pet stuff?
Why would it be so hard to standardise the cost of pet medicines across the board?
Pet owners with even a shred of doubt about whether their vets are fleecing them is bad news. It’s really bad news, especially for dogs.
Do I really need this treatment?
Is my vet trying to leverage my trust and convert it in to profit?
Is the fact that I have pet insurance the reason why my vet has recommended these skin scrapes?
This is a road we don’t want to go down. Dogs WILL die if pet owners lose trust in the recommendations of their vets.
Vets are, ultimately, small businesses. They operate in a relatively free market, they can (and do) charge vastly different prices for similar procedures. If vet A) in Essex charges £300 for a spaying operation on a 3-year old Labrador and vet B) charges £120 for the same medical procedure, has Essex dog owner been ‘ripped off’? Or is this fair, market forces in effect?
There is work to be done. Pet owners have been rumbling for a number of years now about being overcharged by vets. The debate about pet medicines and inflated prices has been in the public eye for a while now. Programmes like ITV’s ‘Pets Uncovered’ will further sully the waters. As pet insurance becomes more popular more pet owners (and in fact, pet insurance providers) have made accusations about ‘un-needed’ procedures or tests being performed on their pets. But if we stop for a moment to consider just how serious that accusation is, it’s truly frightening! If vets are doing this, we have a huge problem. If vets are NOT widely engaged in this (as I personally happen to believe is the case) then some animals are going to die when their suspicious owners opt not to have that scan or not to agree to let their animal be operated on. If a vet does do this, and is caught, then come on RCVS – no half measures here, they should be gone. Struck off for good. Not suspended and re-instated, booted. The breakdown in trust is caused by this rogue operators and the knock on effect can and will be devastating to the entire profession.
If bridges need to be re-built, it should start with the veterinary profession becoming more transparent about charges and the sale of non essential pet products such as food.
If my vet tells me my dog needs a particular course of medicine, I would like full disclosure on whether I can purchase it elsewhere cheaper. If my vet recommends a procedure, I want them to advise me what the reasons are if that operation could be peformed by another vet in a 25 mile radius for upwards of 30% less. Just give me the choice. Start by addressing the little things and the big ones will begin to take care of themselves. A lack of trust between pet owners and their local pet health professional IS a VERY big problem and it’s going to get worse unless steps are taken to restore trust.