Struggling to pay vet bills? Competition watchdog issues advice amid investigation

Pet owners have been given advice on how to avoid overpaying for vet treatment, and where to get medication, ITV News' Amy Lewis reports

Roughly 16 million UK households have pets, but many owners are struggling to pay vet bills and are potentially overpaying for medicines, the competition watchdog has found.

As a result, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into the veterinary sector, which is worth an estimated £5 billion a year.

While the investigation takes place, the CMA has issued advice to pet owners need to access medical treatment for their animals.

The vet services market is worth an estimated £5 billion a year. Credit: Pexels

Who are the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)? The watchdog was set up in 2013 to help people, businesses and the UK economy by promoting competitive markets whilst tackling any unfair behaviour in sectors.

The CMA can also make recommendations to government – for example, suggesting changes to the veterinary sector regulatory framework.

Since the initial review started the watchdog were contacted by 56,000 consumers and industry professionals.

In light of the authorities full investigation, Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the competition watchdog said "While we’re aware of acute staff shortages and difficult working conditions for vets, we consider a formal market investigation is essential to ensure good outcomes for the millions of pet owners in the UK as well as professionals working in the sector."

Why are the CMA investigating the veterinary sector?

The formal market investigation into the veterinary sector comes after a review found several concerns with how the sector operates. These include: Pricing More than 80% of the vets the CMA checked, had no pricing information on their websites and people reported to the watchdog they weren't informed about the cost of treatment until after they had agreed to it.

Lack of competition Across UK towns and cities, 60% of vets are owned by one of six corporate groups.

In 2023, the CMA said the number of independent vet practices had fallen, with these accounting for 89% of the UK veterinary industry in 2013, but only around 45% by 2021.

The authority had concerns that with a single group owning multiple practices in the same area, it could reduce competition and choice for pet owners.

Medication The CMA also found many pet owners weren't aware they could get a prescription from their vet but purchase medication elsewhere. They want to make sure that consumers aren't overpaying for their pets medication.

Regulation The rules around how are vet's are regulated were drafted up in 1966, as the sector has evolved the watchdog also want to look into whether regulations are still fit for purpose.

There has been no estimate on how long the investigation is expected to take.

Credit: Pexels

If you own a pet here's the advice from the CMA

  • Look further than the closest vet

It might feel convenient to go to your local vet, but fees and services do differ between practices so check to be sure it’s the right one for your pet and your budget.

  • Ask if there are other treatment options

Getting a treatment that works for you and your pet is what matters most. It’s important for you understand why your vet has recommended a particular treatment or test, so always ask about.

If you’re not sure about a treatment, or you’re worried about the cost, speak to your vet.

  • Not an emergency? Consider buying pet medication elsewhere

If it's not urgent for your pet to get medication it might be cheaper - even when you add in your vet's prescription fee- to buy the medication elsewhere, such as an online pharmacy or a specialist shop.

For more advice on choosing a vet practice and treatment for your pet go to the CMA website.

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